Our Workplace History and Potential Future
Labor Day Books to Read
The first Labor Day Parade took place in NYC on September 5th, 1882. It was a demonstration for worker’s rights. Twelve years later, Labor Day was signed into a law as a national holiday to celebrate and honor the working class by giving them a day off.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go in regards to truly celebrating and honoring the workers of our country. We’re continuing to widen the wage gap, are facing more controversy and debate than ever between political opinions, and we’re experiencing one of the largest face-offs between workers and employers in our history.
So, where does that leave us for the future? Will American workplaces ever look the same again? Will we ever again have booming office buildings and daily commutes? Or has this been the reckoning that was needed after years of an imbalance in American working culture?
In honor of this year’s Labor Day- I wanted to provide you with a book list of some Labor Day books that will hopefully make you think and force some conversation about these issues and examine not only our present-day working issues, but also those from our past. You might find many systemic issues that have been present for a while. And most importantly, if this is our time of reckoning, we might need to look deeper to truly fix what is broken.
I want to add, it has been brought to my attention that some might question one or two of the books on the list. I want to explain that I chose these books not necessarily because I believe they will individually provide a solution, but because they will hopefully open a dialogue. One of the biggest problems facing us today is our distrust of the “other side”. We have become so polarized and defensive, we’ve forgotten how to listen and learn. But looking at all sides and beliefs and being open to why a solution is being offered is important to finding compromise. As Walter Cronkite once said, “In seeking truth you have to get both sides of the story.”
With that thought in mind, I’d love to continue to add to this list. If you have other resources or books you think I should add, please add them to the comments or feel free to reach out.
Labor Day Books To Read List
The Great Resignation: Why Millions are Leaving Their Jobs and Who Will Win the Battle for Talent by Russ Hill and Jared Jones
The era of adult daycare is over. The way we work has changed permanently. Leaders who fail to adapt will lose their best people. It’s why millions are leaving their jobs!
“We’ve had every leader in our organization read The Great Resignation. Employees are demanding more flexibility and other changes in how we lead. We must adapt or risk losing our best people.” – John Dawson
You can’t send 70% of the global workforce home for an extended period of time and not expect their priorities to shift. Add to that the discontent that’s been growing in most companies for years and you can start to see why there’s so much movement in the job market.
In The Great Resignation, Russ Hill and Jared Jones show how two trends have been building for years and how the pandemic accelerated both of them. Hill and Jones share data from Microsoft, Deloitte, McKinssey, LinkedIn, and Gallup alongside stories from their consulting and coaching clients that include executives at some of the world’s largest companies like Amazon, Cigna, Lockheed Martin, Johnson & Johnson, Fox, Kohler, and many others.
The Great Resignation is a casual, insightful read that gives you actionable ideas you can implement with your team immediately. Whether you’re a seasoned senior executive of a Fortune 50 company or a new leader seeking to strengthen your ability to lead in today’s competitive environment you’ll find tons of value in The Great Resignation.
Wage Theft by Kim Bobo
“This book will give you an entirely new perspective on work in America.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
In what has been described as “the crime wave no one talks about,” billions of dollars’ worth of wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year―a grand theft that exceeds every other larceny category. Even the Economic Policy Foundation, a business-funded think tank, has estimated that companies annually steal an incredible $19 billion in unpaid overtime. The scope of these abuses is staggering, but activists, unions, and policymakers―along with everyday Americans in congregations and towns across the country―have begun to take notice.
While the first edition of Wage Theft In America documented the scope of the problem, this new edition adds the latest research on wage theft and tells what community, religious, and labor activists are now doing to address the crisis―from passing state and local wage-theft bills to establishing mayoral task forces and tapping agencies that help low-wage workers in spotting wage theft.
Citing hard-hitting statistics and heartbreaking first-person accounts of exploitation at the hands of employers, this updated edition of Wage Theft In America offers concrete solutions and a roadmap for putting an end to this insidious practice.
Stayin’ Alive The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class by Jefferson Cowie
A wide-ranging cultural and political history that will forever redefine a misunderstood decade, Stayin’ Alive is prize-winning historian Jefferson Cowie’s remarkable account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s. In this edgy and incisive book―part political intrigue, part labor history, with large doses of American music, film and television lore―Cowie, with “an ear for the power and poetry of vernacular speech” (Cleveland Plain Dealer), reveals America’s fascinating path from rising incomes and optimism of the New Deal to the widening economic inequalities and dampened expectations of the present.
Winner of the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians for the Best Book on American History
Winner of the 2011 Merle Curti Prize from the Organization of American Historians for the Best Book in American Social History
Winner of the 2011 Labor History Best Book Prize
Winner of the 2011 Best Book Award from the United Association for Labor Education
We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism- American Style by Kate Aronoff
A stunningly original and timely collection that makes the case for “socialism, American style”
It’s a strange day when a New York Times conservative columnist is forced to admit that the left is winning, but as David Brooks wrote recently, “the American left is on the cusp of a great victory.” Among Americans under thirty, 43 percent had a favorable view of socialism, while only 32 percent had a favorable view of capitalism. Not since the Great Depression have so many Americans questioned the fundamental tenets of capitalism and expressed openness to a socialist alternative.
We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style offers a road map to making this alternative a reality, giving readers a practical vision of a future that is more democratic, egalitarian, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. The book includes a crash course in the history and practice of democratic socialism, a vivid picture of what democratic socialism in America might look like in practice, and compelling proposals for how to get there from the age of Trump and beyond.
With contributions from some of the nation’s leading political activists and analysts, We Own the Future articulates a clear and uncompromising view from the left—a perfectly timed book that will appeal to a wide audience hungry for change.
Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor by Kim Kelly
“Kelly unearths the stories of the people- farm laborers, domestic workers, factory employees—behind some of the labor movement’s biggest successes.” —The New York Times
A revelatory and inclusive history of the American labor movement, from independent journalist and Teen Vogue labor columnist Kim Kelly.
Freed Black women organizing for protection in the Reconstruction-era South. Jewish immigrant garment workers braving deadly conditions for a sliver of independence. Asian American fieldworkers rejecting government-sanctioned indentured servitude across the Pacific. Incarcerated workers advocating for basic human rights and fair wages. The queer Black labor leader who helped orchestrate America’s civil rights movement. These are only some of the working-class heroes who propelled American labor’s relentless push for fairness and equal protection under the law.
The names and faces of countless silenced, misrepresented, or forgotten leaders have been erased by time as a privileged few decide which stories get cut from the final copy: those of women, people of color, LGBTQIA people, disabled people, sex workers, prisoners, and the poor. In this assiduously researched work of journalism, Teen Vogue columnist and independent labor reporter Kim Kelly excavates that history and shows how the rights the American worker has today—the forty-hour workweek, workplace-safety standards, restrictions on child labor, protection from harassment and discrimination on the job—were earned with literal blood, sweat, and tears.
Fight Like Hell comes at a time of economic reckoning in America. From Amazon’s warehouses to Starbucks cafes, Appalachian coal mines to the sex workers of Portland’s Stripper Strike, interest in organized labor is at a fever pitch not seen since the early 1960s.
Inspirational, intersectional, and full of crucial lessons from the past, Fight Like Hell shows what is possible when the working class demands the dignity it has always deserved.
$2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
The story of a kind of poverty in America so deep that we, as a country, don’t even think exists—from a leading national poverty expert who “defies convention.” (The New York Times)
Jessica Compton’s family of four would have no income if she didn’t donate plasma twice a week at her local donation center in Tennessee. Modonna Harris and her teenage daughter, Brianna, in Chicago, often have no food but spoiled milk on weekends.
After two decades of brilliant research on American poverty, Kathryn Edin noticed something she hadn’t seen before—households surviving on virtually no cash income. Edin teamed with Luke Shaefer, an expert on calculating incomes of the poor, to discover that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, was one and a half million households, including about three million children. Where do these families live? How did they get so desperately poor?
Through this book’s eye-opening analysis and many compelling profiles, moving and startling answers emerge. $2.00 a Day delivers provocative ideas to our national debate on income inequality.
“Powerful . . . Presents a deeply moving human face that brings the stunning numbers to life. It is an explosive book . . . The stories will make you angry and break your heart.”—American Prospect
“Harrowing . . . [An] important and heart-rending book, in the tradition of Michael Harrington’s The Other America.”—Los Angeles Times
In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers by Bernice Yeung
“A timely, intensely intimate, and relevant exposé.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The Pulitzer Prize finalist’s powerful examination of the hidden stories of workers overlooked by #MeToo
Apple orchards in bucolic Washington State. Office parks in Southern California under cover of night. The home of an elderly man in Miami. These are some of the workplaces where women have suffered brutal sexual assaults and shocking harassment at the hands of their employers, often with little or no official recourse. In this heartrending but ultimately inspiring tale, investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Bernice Yeung exposes the epidemic of sexual violence levied against the low-wage workers largely overlooked by #MeToo, and charts their quest for justice.
In a Day’s Work reveals the underbelly of hidden economies teeming with employers who are in the practice of taking advantage of immigrant women. But it also tells a timely story of resistance, introducing a group of courageous allies who challenge the status quo of violations alongside aggrieved workers―and win.