Matti Ron Wins the Literary London Society Prize for Best Paper Presented by a Postgraduate Researcher at Their 2019 Conference

WCSA member and current Elections Chair Matti Ron has won the Literary London Society prize for best paper presented by a postgraduate researcher at their 2019 conference.

Ron’s paper ‘Zadie Smith’s and James Kelman’s counter-narratives of working-class (de)composition in post-industrial London’ stood out to judges, and received the following feedback:

A lively and sharp-sighted account which developed an innovative approach to Smith and Kelman’s sounding out of the death of the working-class political subject. This evaluative enquiry is additionally prescient during times ‘after Brexit’ when questions of race, ethnonationalism, and the ‘nativist instrumentalisation’ of class are uppermost in public and political discourse.

The focus on ‘lost radicalism’ is a fascinating topic – one that is intently cross-disciplinary in its attention to tracing ‘existential angst’, detachment and destitution within British society. There is a value in this work and the way it traces the attempt to build counter-narrative to ‘nativist notions of class’ in post-crisis times (now post- post- crisis!). I was convinced by the argument that such a process of ‘constructive deconstruction’ also has a role in identifying new forms of class solidarity, affiliation and self-definition.

Congrats to Matti!

2020 Working-Class Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award ~ Janet Zandy

PRESS RELEASE

July 21, 2020

CONTACT:

Terry Easton, past WCSA president

The WCSA, an international network of scholars, activists, and artists interested in working-class issues, offers lifetime achievement awards to those who have made significant, long-running contributions to the field of Working-Class Studies.

Janet Zandy’s body of work fuses the lived experience of working-class people with theoretical sophistication and commitment to democratic ideals. For over thirty years, her scholarship has provided foundational ideas and texts for the emergence of working-class studies as a field. In Calling Home: Working-Class Women’s Writing (1990), Zandy challenges canonical notions of literary value when introducing readers to the lived and imagined experiences of working-class and poor women writers. In Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working-Class Consciousness (1994), Zandy reveals the power of memory and identity as a usable past through voices of academic and cultural workers from working-class origins who had migrated to middle-class institutions or settings. Emerging from an expanded version of the 1995 special issue of Women’s Studies Quarterly on class, What We Hold in Common: An Introduction to Working-Class Studies (2001) connects the visionary with the possible through scholarship, creative writing, educational initiatives, syllabi, and bibliographies from new and established writers and workers. In Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work (2004, Honorable Mention, John Hope Franklin Prize in American Studies), Zandy creates a juncture where seemingly disparate voices and events coalesce to enable meditation on the architectonics of human bodies, particularly workers’ hands, the body part that provides “lucid maps to the geography of human complexity” (1). Zandy’s collaboration with Nicholas Coles, American Working-Class Literature: An Anthology (2007), offers an astounding collection of 150 non-canonical and canonical writers of varied races, ethnicities, genders, geographies, and religious backgrounds across 400 years of cultural expression, and has become an essential sourcebook for working-class studies pedagogy and historical reclamation.

After developing a course in photography and writing in 2005, Zandy turned her scholarship toward photography, probing how class shapes the history of photography. She published two articles in exposure, “Photography and Writing: A Pedagogy of Seeing,” and “Seeing Beyond Dirt: The Language of Working-Class Photography,” a study of photography by and about workers that received the Society for Photographic Education award for outstanding historical and cultural writing on photography in 2010.  Zandy received an Ansel Adams Research Fellowship and Peter E. Palmquist award for research on women photographers Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. Her book on Mieth and Palfi, Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi, was published in 2013. Zandy also published on photographer Milton Rogovin in New Labor Forum and Transformations. Forthcoming in the Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies is “Mapping Working-Class Art,” a chapter that led to her current project, Common Art/Common-ing Art, a book on class, art, and workers that identifies power relationships and constitutive elements of working-class art expressed in presentations of laborers, slaves, peasants, servants, sowers, planters, and reapers in printmaking, painting, photography, and sculpture.

Pedagogy is another component of Zandy’s contribution to the field of working-class studies. As a professor in the English Department at Rochester Institute of Technology (now Professor Emerita), where for many years she taught up to nine courses a year, Zandy guided several generations of undergraduate students through analysis of the intersections of class, gender, race, sexuality, and environmental justice. With a devotion to teaching as energetic as her attention to writing, Zandy’s students learned how to see themselves as part of something larger. In an end-of-the-semester reflection in her New American Literature course, a student responded to Zandy’s prompt drawn from Antonio Gramsci’s  ideas about the purpose of education (“to know oneself better through others and to know others better through oneself”): “We rarely are pressed to look at the world through other people’s eyes. We are allowed to sit in our quiet comfort zones and dwell on our own lives. Therefore, when given a book where the characters’ lives are so dramatic and filled with emotion the only way to give justice to the work is to leave our comfort zones and become a part of the text ourselves.” Akin to Lewis Hine’s work with a camera, so too did Zandy’s classroom labor enable students to cultivate a new way of seeing, a class-consciousness, and a sense agency.

In 2020, as we create a world – a text – where empathy bends the moral arc toward justice, Zandy’s scholarship, historical reclamation, and pedagogical legacy are central to a field that demands answerability through dialogic approaches to texts, art, and political terrain, widely defined. Read one of her books, talk to her at one of our conferences, or join her in Rochester, New York, for Workers Memorial Day, an annual public gathering that commemorates the thousands of workers whose deaths, injuries, and occupational illnesses result from their jobs; in this heteroglossic space where workers names are read aloud, testimony unites the living and the dead where the past is remembered, current struggles are acknowledged, and worker safety is demanded.

In 1995, at the Working-Class Lives/Working-Class Studies Conference in Youngstown, Ohio, Zandy presented on “traveling working class.” She describes the conference as a “jubilant occasion” where she and others felt a “new trajectory” that “validated the importance of carrying the best of working-class values, ethos, and knowledge into the academy, and of using that rich, complex, even discordant heritage to expand what constitutes knowledge.” To her delight she realized that people no longer had to work in isolation, but instead had allies, “builders from inside and outside working-class lived experience” (What We Hold in Common ix). Since that touchstone 1995 conference, Zandy’s light continues to shine through generations of scholars she has mentored. In her oeuvre, Zandy illustrates that working-class voices are tools of resistance to class domination and cultural elision. Let’s cinch up our shoes and keep traveling working class as we honor Janet Zandy for her work in forging a multi-voiced, mellifluent, and discordant collective designed by, for, and in the interests of working-class people.

~Terry Easton

Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies Now Available for Pre-Order

The Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies is now available for pre-order from the publisher’s website here.

The book is edited by three former Working-Class Studies Association Presidents, Michele Fazio, Christie Launius, and Tim Strangleman. From the publisher’s website, the book:

is a timely volume that provides an overview of this interdisciplinary field that emerged in the 1990s in the context of deindustrialization, the rise of the service economy, and economic and cultural globalization. The Handbook brings together scholars, teachers, activists, and organizers from across three continents to focus on the study of working-class peoples, cultures, and politics in all their complexity and diversity. The Handbook maps the current state of the field and presents a visionary agenda for future research by mingling the voices and perspectives of founding and emerging scholars.

The Handbook features contributions from dozens of WCSA members! You can see the Table of Contents here.

Soliciting Nominations for the 2020-2021 WCSA Election of Officers and Committees

The WCSA Elections Committee is now accepting nominations for the following positions:

  • President – (three years; president-elect/president/past-president)

  • At-Large Steering Committee Members (two years; two vacancies)

  • Chair of the Elections Committee (three years; chair elect/chair/past chair)

  • Chair of the Working-Class Academics Section (three years; chair-elect/chair/past elect)

Nominations will remain open through July 23, 2020. Please submit your nominations, including self-nominations, as soon as possible. If you are nominating someone other than yourself, please make sure that the person nominated is willing to serve before submitting a nomination. When submitting a nomination please include the candidate’s name, the position for which they are being nominated, academic/professional status, contact email and a short biography.

Please email your nomination to the Chair of the WCSA Elections Committee Matti Ron at m.ron@uea.ac.uk

Please note that ballots will only be sent to current WCSA members. You can check your membership status and renew at this link.

Solidarity,

The WCSA Elections Committee

Black Lives Matter Solidarity Statement from the Working-Class Studies Association

The Working-Class Studies Association releases the following statement (also downloadable as a PDF here) in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and standing in solidarity with people around the world who are protesting against racist violence and fighting for racial justice:

Black Lives Matter

The Working-Class Studies Association supports the Black Lives Matter movement and stands in solidarity with people around the world who are protesting against racist violence and fighting for racial justice. Racism and racialized violence is, and has always been, interconnected with capitalist and colonial systems of oppression and exploitation.  In this regard, we stand strongly in support of the interconnected movements that are working to transform these violent and rapacious structures of racial capitalism which continue to perpetuate violence against racialized communities of color and formerly colonized peoples on every continent.  It is long past time to end that system, and bring a new world from the ashes of the old.

Black Lives Matter.

The history of the United States is a violently racist one, beginning with white settler colonists committing genocide on and dispossessing Native people from their lands, and violently enslaving and exploiting the labor of Black people. American society is still fundamentally structured by the continuing oppression of Black and racially minoritized peoples, systemic institutional racism, and economic exploitation.   This historical and ongoing structural racism creates the violence seen in police forces across the country and is responsible for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other predominantly Black and Brown victims of police brutality. Such killings are a part of a long and ongoing history of lynching where violent racist white men – both police and civilian – murder Black people with impunity.

This kind of violent structural racism is not confined to the United States. In the UK, the police also disproportionality target Black and racialized ethnic minority people.  The police killing of Mark Duggan in 2011 sparked days of protest across the UK. In 2018 the British government unjustly deported members of the Windrush Generation – Black workers from the Caribbean who were invited to emigrate to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. Australia was also built through white settler colonial violence.  The state continues its long history of murdering and incarcerating Indigenous people.  Since 1991, 437 Indigenous people have died in police custody in Australia. For centuries, racial capitalism and white settler colonialism have engaged in the systematic looting of the resources of the majority of the world’s Black, Brown and working-class communities. It has created misery and despair for Black and Brown peoples around the globe.  This must end.

Black Lives Matter.

In addition to being a contemporary example of racist police violence, as a working-class Black man, George Floyd’s situation of being laid off and looking for work due to the Covid19 pandemic also exemplifies another dimension of racial inequality that has been experienced disproportionately by Black and racially minoritized working-class people. The current crisis has clearly shown that Black and racially minoritized  people are made particularly vulnerable to the virus and to the economic effects of the pandemic by ongoing structural racism across nearly every institution. It reveals the ways that insecure work, homelessness, food insecurity, lack of adequate medical care, and underfunded educational institutions, lead to the poverty and despair that is then left to be solved through police violence, especially in racially minoritized working-class communities.

While the privileged few of the white and wealthy have been able to shield themselves from the worst effects of the pandemic, Black, Brown and working-class people have lost their jobs or have been forced to risk their health and lives by continuing to work  in essential roles, often for low wages and in unsafe conditions. We are not in this together. Black and Brown working-class communities have been brutally exploited for their labor and have suffered and died in disproportionate numbers due to these ongoing and institutionalized systems of inequality.

Black Lives Matter.

The Working-Class Studies Association is an international organization which promotes the study of transnational, multiracial working-class people and their cultures. We are a group made up of academics, activists, teachers, writers, poets, journalists, practitioners, students, artists and a wide range of others interested in developing the field of working-class studies. The aim of the Association is to highlight the diverse lives and experiences of multi-racial and multi-ethnic working-class peoples around the world. It also seeks to reveal how class works by examining capitalist class-based systems of inequality in order to advocate for a more just world for multiracial working-class peoples. Members of the Working-Class Studies Association live and work in many different countries and contexts and work to fight race and class-based inequalities and discrimination in our respective communities.

The Working-Class Studies Association loudly and with one voice condemns all forms of racist oppression and calls for an end to racist police violence. We commit ourselves, as both individual members, and as an organization, to working in solidarity with Black, Brown and working-class communities to dismantle ongoing systems of racial capitalism.

Black Lives Matter.

Advocating for Protection for Students and Front Line Workers in the COVID-19 Economy

Working-Class Studies Association Secretary Colby King, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at USC-Upstate in Spartanburg, SC, published a an op-ed this past week in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal advocating for better protections for students and front line workers in the COVID-19 economy. Colleges and universities have taken on tremendous efforts to slow the spread of the virus by moving instruction online. To effectively slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, though, we all need our communities to join in the efforts as well, he argues.

The op-ed is published on the Herald-Journal’s website here. An unedited draft of the letter which includes several embedded links to useful resources is available here: Upstate Covid Op-ed 6.

Are you supporting students and workers in your community? Please share your stories with WCSA! Tweet at us @wcstudies or e-mail us at wcstudies@gmail.com And, feel free to adapt this letter for your own advocacy as appropriate!

WCSA Conference Postponed until 2021

WCSA members and friends,

All of us in WCSA hope that you are healthy, and doing as well as possible, given the state of our world.

We had hoped to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University by gathering together in that place, which has such significance for our organization, for our conference this year. However, we have decided to postpone until next year–we will not meet in person this year. Please look for further details, but we are planning now to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Center in Youngstown, likely during May 2021.

Our activism, research, teaching, and our acts of solidarity in the world are always important, yet they seem especially keen now. How we walk through global crises concerns us a great deal. As an organization, we will continue to be a space–both literal and virtual–for thinking together about what we are facing collectively. As an organization focused on working-class issues, in all their intersectional ways, let us remember, think about, talk about, and teach about the ways that this crisis is also about class inequality. As scholars, and for our students and community allies, we face an unprecedented disruption of our lives. What would it mean to center working-class solidarity as we dedicate ourselves to a deeper mission for our work? What kinds of mutual aid are best suited to help us through a pandemic? How can we build institutions and systems that value solidarity and health over profit? How can we build a better world in the wake of this pandemic?

As we walk this path, we hope to glimpse in our activism, research, and teaching what a better world may be. Please visit us here on the WCSA website to see updates about what our members are doing, and to join or renew your membership. Please also check out the Journal of Working-Class Studies, and look for our next issue this June.

We hope you are safe and healthy. We will also look forward to seeing you in Youngstown in 2021.

Solidarity,

Scott Henkel, President
Cherie Rankin, Past President
Allison Hurst, President-Elect
Working-Class Studies Association

Apply now for WCSA’s 2020 Young Scholars and Activists Fellowship Program

WCSA provides travel funding support for to encourage scholars, activists, and organizers early in their careers whose work has the potential for advancing Working-Class Studies as a field and to help defray some costs in attending the WCSA Conference through the Young Scholars and Activists Fellowship Program (YSAF) grant.

If you are interested in applying for this grant for the upcoming WCSA conference at Youngstown State University in May, 2020, please see application instructions below and send your completed application to wibblet68@gmail.com.

The application form is available here 2020 Travel Grant Application.

  • Early career status is defined as being a graduate student, in the first year or two of a post-graduation academic job, or in the first year or two of a job as an activist or organizer.
  • Awardees will be chosen each year from among those whose conference proposals are accepted for presentation at the Working-Class Studies Association conference.
  • Conference attendance is required to receive the fellowship. Recipients will be reimbursed via Pay Pal or an American bank check.

To apply, please identify your career status and write a brief narrative (500 words) describing how your work contributes to the field.  Please send your application, including contact information, as a pdf to wibblet68@gmail.com by February 20, 2020. Award notifications will be sent by April 15, 2020.

Those who would like to support this program may consider making a designated donation to our travel and/or YSAF funds. You may do so through Paypal.

WCSA Book Notes for December 2019

Please take a look at the following WCSA Book Notes for December 2019. You may also download a document with these book notes BkNtsDec2019.FINAL.

Amplified Advantage: Going to a “Good” College in an Era of Inequality (Lexington Books), Allison Hurst

By focusing on small liberal arts colleges – who goes there and what happens to them – Allison Hurst’s Amplified Advantages sheds light on how class works throughout higher education and in American society more generally.  Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class, Hurst demonstrates “how inequalities are met, resisted, and ultimately reproduced across generations.”  According to the publisher, “the book lays out the many ways that class continues to play a role in the college experience, from choosing a major, to frequency of faculty interaction, to participation in the extra-curriculum. The last chapters demonstrate the differential burden of debt on graduates and the impact of varied parental support after graduation. Amplified Advantages adds to our understanding of how class works, the impact of parents and families on social reproduction, and the ways that colleges and universities can contribute to or reduce inequalities.”  Diane Reay recommends it: “Richly theorised, evocatively reflexive, and beautifully written, the book captures and sustains the reader’s interest through a rich synergy of qualitative and quantitative research that weaves together the lived experiences of young people in higher education.”

 

The Pears: Poems – Harmony Poetry Series (Bottom Dog Press), Larry Smith

“I’ve been reading Larry Smith’s work for over 20 years. That’s long enough to make his work seem like it’s always been there, and maybe that’s because the people Larry writes about are ones I recognize: mill workers and farmers, waitresses and librarians. He writes about family and everyday concerns. Sometimes those are scrambled eggs. Sometimes they are snow birds. He is a very tactile poet…These poems exist right outside of town in a peddler’s encampment where fairy tales and bad luck mingle with white bread and pennies. These are magical riddles made up of the real and the nearly so. Feast on them and dance.” ~ Mike James

 

We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America (Oxford U. Press), Jennifer Silva

Jennifer Silva’s new book is based on more than 100 interviews with black, white, and Latinx working-class residents of a declining coal town in eastern Pennsylvania, some of them recent immigrants from Philadelphia and New York City.  According to the publisher, Silva finds: “The routines and rhythms of traditional working-class life such as manual labor, unions, marriage, church, and social clubs have diminished. In their place, she argues, individualized strategies for coping with pain, and finding personal redemption, have themselves become sources of political stimulus and reaction among the working class.”  Historian Jefferson Cowie calls the book “a punch-in-the-gut examination of blue-collar America trying to navigate the unraveling of a secure economy and moral universe” and “an urgent, must-read book for understanding the landscape of American politics.”

 

Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility (Princeton U. Press), Jennifer Morton

For working-class, low-income, and immigrant college students, going to college is both an exciting and treacherous pathway to upward mobility.  Recently colleges and universities have recognized the difficulties these first-generation students face in succeeding.  Now Jennifer Morton’s new book explores “the ethical dilemmas of upward mobility—the broken ties with family and friends, the severed connections with former communities, and the loss of identity” as well as “the deep personal compromises such students have to make as they enter worlds vastly different from their own.”  A philosophy professor at City College of New York, Morton draws on personal stories, social science, and interviews to show how “student strivers” tend to give up essential relationships with family, friends, and community, and she argues that educators need to “empower students with a new narrative of upward mobility” that recognizes the ethical and personal costs common in education-based upward mobility.

 

Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers (Unbound), Edited by Kit de Waal

Working-class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged and dispossessed. Common People is a collection of essays, poems and memoir written in celebration, not apology: these are narratives rich in barbed humour, reflecting the depth and texture of working-class life, the joy and sorrow, the solidarity and the differences, the everyday wisdom and poetry of the woman at the bus stop, the waiter, the hairdresser. Here, Kit de Waal brings together thirty-three established and emerging writers who invite you to experience the world through their eyes, their voices loud and clear as they reclaim and redefine what it means to be working class. Original pieces include those by Damian Barr, Malorie Blackman, Lisa Blower, Jill Dawson, Louise Doughty, Stuart Maconie, Chris McCrudden, Lisa McInerney, Paul McVeigh, Daljit Nagra, Dave O’Brien, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Anita Sethi, Tony Walsh, Alex Wheatle.

 

Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy (U. of California Press), Alexandrea Ravenelle

Alexandrea Ravenelle won the Working-Class Studies Association’s Constance Coiner Dissertation Award, and Hustle and Gig is the book version of that dissertation.  Based on the personal stories of more than 70 predominately millennial workers at Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit, and Kitchensurfing, the book shows how “the autonomy these young workers expected has been usurped by the need to maintain algorithm-approved acceptance and response rates.”  Ravenelle also documents how the so-called “sharing economy” evades generations of workplace protections such as the right to unionize, workplace health and safety, and protections against discrimination and sexual harassment. Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse says: “Hustle and Gig takes a smart, penetrating look at what’s happening in the platform economy—how it resembles an earlier industrial age when workers toiled long hours doing piecework for meager pay while lacking many basic protections.”

 

Meander Belt: Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working-Class South (U. of Nebraska Press), M. Randal O’Wain

This memoir of growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, where the meandering of the Mississippi River defines neighborhoods and lives, is a reflection on how a working-class boy “came to fall in love with language, reading, writing, and the larger world outside the American South.”  The son of a carpenter described as “hardworking but wounded,” Randal O’Wain “examines what it means to value mental rather than physical labor and what this does to his relationship with his family, whose livelihood and sensibility are decidedly blue collar.”  O’Wain did some meandering himself, roaming from place to place, doing odd jobs, and touring with his band, but “ultimately discovers that his working-class upbringing is not so antithetical to the man he has become.”

 

Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor (Knopf), Steven Greenhouse

Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in this book does a number of different things.  He updates the situation of American workers today who face what his 2008 book called The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker.  He presents a highly selective but dramatic historical sketch of what unions achieved in the first two-thirds of the 20th century and a thoughtful summary of how and why unions have declined to their current state.  But he finishes with a hopeful round-up of recent and current worker struggles, including the Fight for $15 and teachers’ strikes, farmworkers and the Las Vegas’ culinary union, gig workers organizing and the renewal of the Los Angeles labor movement.  In doing so, Greenhouse argues that the current weakness of unions is “reflected in some of the most pressing problems facing our nation today, including income inequality, declining social mobility, the gender pay gap, and the concentration of political power in the hands of the wealthy,” and he rebuts the oft-stated mainstream view that labor unions are outmoded and no longer relevant.

 

The Yellow House (Grove), Sarah M. Broom

Broom’s stirring memoir, the winner of the 2019 National Book Award for nonfiction, is set in New Orleans East, a part of the city that tourists don’t visit. The yellow house of the title, Broom’s family home, is the pride, hope and prison of a black, working-class family. After it is destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, it also becomes a symbol of the issues confronting us today: pernicious racism, corporate greed, displacement and the improbable arithmetic of survival as a member of the working poor.

 

Labor in the Time of Trump (ILR Press), Jasmine Kerrissey, Eve Weinbaum, Clare Hammonds, Tom Juravich, and Dan Clawson, editors.

According to the publisher, “While President Trump’s election in 2016 may have been a wakeup call for labor and the Left, the underlying processes behind this shift to the right have been building for at least forty years.  The contributors [to this volume] show that only by analyzing the vulnerabilities in the right-wing strategy can the labor movement develop an effective response.”  The contributors include a wide range of academics from various disciplines and parts of the country and a few labor leaders as well.  The essays examine the conservative upsurge, explore key challenges the labor movement faces today, and draw lessons from recent activist successes.

 

Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso), Eric Blanc

The wave of successful teachers’ strikes that started in West Virginia, spread to Oklahoma and Arizona and now to similar actions gaining steam in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver, Virginia, and elsewhere are, Eric Blanc argues, “winning the fight for the soul of public education.”  Blanc is a former high school teacher and longtime activist who was able to embed himself with the rank-and-file leaderships of the red-state walkouts.  He had access to internal organizing meetings and secret Facebook groups inaccessible to most reporters.  The publisher calls the result “one of the richest portraits of the labor movement to date, a story populated with the voices of school workers who are . . . redrawing the political map of the country at large” as they demand better pay for educators, more funding for students, and an end to years of austerity.

 

Only as the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems (W.W. Norton), Dorianne Laux

The publisher promises: “The wealth of her life experience finds expression in Laux’s earthy and lyrical depictions of working-class America, full of the dirt and mess of real life. From the opening poem, ‘Two Pictures of My Sister,’ to the last, ‘Letter to My Dead Mother,’ she writes, in her words, of ‘living gristle’ with a perceptive frankness that is luminous in its specificity and universal in its appeal. Exploring experiences of survival and healing, of sexual love and celebration, Only as the Day Is Long shows Laux at the height of her powers.”

 

Dust and Dignity: Domestic Employment in Contemporary Ecuador (ILR Press), Erynn Masi de Casanova

The publisher promises that Dust and Dignity “offers a new take on an old occupation,” one that “identifies patterns in domestic workers’ experience that will be helpful in understanding the situation of workers elsewhere . . . far beyond Ecuador.”  Erynn Masi de Casanova conducted her research by collaborating with Ecuador’s pioneer domestic workers organization, and she finds three reasons for persistent exploitation based on gender and class dynamics: “First, the tasks of social reproduction are devalued. Second, informal work arrangements escape regulation. And third, unequal class relations are built into this type of employment.” Casanova also offers possible solutions for promoting and ensuring domestic workers’ rights that may be relevant everywhere.

 

City of Workers, City of Struggle: How Labor Movements Changed New York (Columbia U. Press), Joshua Freeman, editor

Working-Class New York author Joshua Freeman edited this volume of essays that promises to be “the definitive account of the four-hundred-year history of efforts by New York workers to improve their lives and their communities.”  The book recounts how in many different circumstances, workers developed formal and informal organizations that not only advanced their own immediate interests, but also pursued “a vision of what the city should be like and whom it should be for.”  According to the publisher, “The book goes beyond the largely white, male wage workers in mainstream labor organizations who have dominated the history of labor movements to look at enslaved people, indentured servants, domestic workers, sex workers, day laborers, and others who have had to fight not only their masters and employers but also labor groups that often excluded them.”

 

Variations of Labor (Chin Music Press), Alex Gallo-Brown

Alex Gallo-Brown explores through poetry, essays, and fiction what it means to labor in modern-day America. Stories about semiprofessional poker players, line cooks in high-tech company cafeterias, and an activist trying to drum up support for a union paint a bleak picture of dead-end jobs and truncated hopes, but also depict the roiling just underneath the surface of all those who have been disrespected and written off.

Monument: Poems New and Selected (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Natasha Trethewey

The publisher writes: “Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina. Through the collection, inlaid and inextricable, winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love.”

 

Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area (U. of Illinois Press), Peter Cole

Dockworkers have an unusual power to bring economies to a halt by withdrawing their labor.  Because they are at a strategic choke point in the supply chain on which we all depend, dockworkers can strike both to improve their own conditions and to gain attention for larger issues of social and economic justice.  Dockworker Power explores how that power has been used in Durban, South Africa, and the San Francisco Bay Area.  According to the publisher: “First, dockworkers in each city drew on longstanding radical traditions to promote racial equality. Second, they persevered when a new technology–container ships–sent a shockwave of layoffs through the industry. Finally, their commitment to black internationalism and leftist politics sparked transnational work stoppages to protest apartheid and authoritarianism.”  One reviewer calls it “a sweeping, panoramic narrative” that shows how “workers maintain power, even in our increasingly connected globalized world.”

 

 

The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland (Haymarket Books), Toni Gilpin

This book is about the class war between International Harvester and its workers, which stretched from the late 19th to the late 20th century.  The heart of the story is about how the McCormick family in Chicago, who long owned Harvester and ran it in an especially autocratic way, was eventually tamed in the 1930s when the workers organized the Farm Equipment Workers Union (“the FE”).  Both Harvester (now Navistar) and the FE (now part of the United Auto Workers union) are gone now, but in their time their battles affected many others.  The publisher promises: “This evocative account . . . reads like a novel. Biographical sketches of McCormick family members, union officials and rank-and-file workers are woven into the narrative, along with anarchists, jazz musicians, Wall Street financiers, civil rights crusaders, and mob lawyers. [It] provides alternative models from the past that can instruct and inspire those engaged in radical, working class struggles today.”

 

Where the Crawdads Sing (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens. Through Kya’s story, Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

 

Remembering Lattimer: Labor, Migration, and Race in Pennsylvania Anthracite Country (U. of Illinois Press), Paul Shackel 

In 1897 in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, police shot into a crowd of 400 striking coal miners, killing 19 and wounding another 38.  This book gives a fresh retelling of that event and how it spurred membership in the United Mine Workers.  But it is primarily interested in how the Lattimer massacre has been remembered – and forgotten – up until today.  The publisher explains: “Now in positions of power, the descendants of the slain miners have themselves become rabidly anti-labor and anti-immigrant as Dominicans and other Latinos change the community. Shackel shows how the social, economic, and political circumstances surrounding historic Lattimer connect in profound ways to the riven communities of today.”

 

The New Politics of Transnational Labor: Why Some Alliances Succeed (ILR Press), Marissa Brookes

Based on six comparative case studies spanning four industries, five countries, and fifteen years, this book tries to determine why some transnational labor alliances succeed while others don’t.  In doing so Marissa Brookes finds that successful alliances depend “not only on effective coordination across borders and within workers’ local organizations,” which are necessary but not sufficient conditions for success.  Rather, she shows how success is determined by workers’ “ability to exploit vulnerabilities in global value chains, invoke national and international institutions, and mobilize networks of stakeholders in ways that threaten employers’ core, material interests.”

 

Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns (Chatto & Windus), Kerry Hudson

The publisher writes: “’When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’ Kerry Hudson is proudly working class but she was never proudly poor. The poverty she grew up in was all-encompassing, grinding and often dehumanizing. Always on the move with her single mother, Kerry attended nine primary schools and five secondaries, living in B&Bs and council flats. She scores eight out of ten on the Adverse Childhood Experiences measure of childhood trauma. Twenty years later, Kerry’s life is unrecognizable. She’s a prizewinning novelist who has travelled the world. She has a secure home, a loving partner and access to art, music, film and books. But she often finds herself looking over her shoulder, caught somehow between two worlds. Lowborn is Kerry’s exploration of where she came from, revisiting the towns she grew up in to try to discover what being poor really means in Britain today and whether anything has changed. She also journeys into the hardest regions of her own childhood, because sometimes in order to move forwards we first have to look back.”

 

When Workers Shot Back: Class Conflict from 1877 to 1921 (Haymarket Books), Robert Ovetz

This book covers a period of extraordinary class conflict and violence from the rolling national railroad strike of 1877 through the series of massive strikes at the end of World War I.  Robert Ovetz uses his narrative to argue that “the escalation of working-class conflict drives rather than reacts to capital’s consolidation and reorganization.”  Immanuel Ness calls the book “a revelatory and illuminating account of the uses of political violence by workers in American history.”