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Books that Shaped Work in America

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Book Recommendation

Richard L. Trumka

Richard L. Trumka
President of AFL-CIO

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology (1915) is about a magical town where the workers and the inhabitants talk about work from the grave. It is essentially a philosophy about life and work. There are several passages in the book that affected how I think about work. One particular passage is about a man named John Church, an attorney for the Q Coal Company. John received many accolades for taking away the just due of widows and orphans and such. The last lines of John Church’s sonnet are “A rat devoured my heart, and a snake made a nest in my skull.” This shows how you can use the law the wrong way as opposed to the right way.

Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor’s Untold Story (1955) is about the struggles, both physical and violent, that workers endured on the job, picket line or on strike. The book covers the time in our history when the government teamed up with employers to suppress workers’ rights. It is a story I first read in high school, then again in law school, and again when I was a staffer with the United Mine Workers of America. It accurately portrays the struggles workers have gone through in order to win victories and outlines how solidarity is the only way workers will ever win.

Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (1971) describes a way to do organizing, both labor and community organizing. I read the rules when I was in law school. The book really highlights the importance of bringing community in with the fight for workers. If an organizer hasn’t read this book, it would be tough to call him or her an organizer.

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007) combines economic analysis of the Milton Friedman model from the Chicago School of Business and neoliberalism with a description of how they changed the economy. It is a must read if you’re interested in knowing the perils of austerity, politics and neoliberalism. It is essential for anybody who wants to understand how the economy has been rigged against workers and the middle class.

David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005) tells you everything you need to know about neoliberalism -- from its beginnings to its failures and the fact that people continue to espouse neoliberalism even though it has failed time and time again. Neoliberalism has been the United States’ biggest export. If you want to understand the economy and you want to understand a better path to shared prosperity, this book is a must read.

Richard L Trumka is president of the AFL-CIO.

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