Daily Archives: August 29, 2008

Labor Day reading, watching, and listening

Labor Day is coming up on Monday, and it’s hard to not love a holiday that’s devoted to the appreciation of workers (that’s us!).  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s page on the history of Labor Day, we’ve been celebrating workers on the first Monday of September since 1882, and the day has been recognized by Congress as a federal holiday since 1894.  That’s over a hundred years of celebrations for us working stiffs!  You might already be familiar with the books Working and Nickel and Dimed (both excellent books), but there are also lots of other books, DVDs, and CDs in the library’s collection that capture the spirit of the holiday.  Below are a few of my picks.

  • Harlan County U.S.A.: This documentary about a Kentucky coal miners’ strike in the 1970’s is tremendously moving, and after seeing it for the first time it quickly became one of my favorite films.  The film shows the hostile conditions that the workers are dealing with, and the strikers and their families face threats, bullying, and even murder, often while simultaneously battling poverty and black lung.  As if the story itself weren’t gripping enough, the soundtrack features lots of classic bluegrass and labor songs. 
  • Without a Net: the Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, edited by Michelle Tea: This collection of essays is about the working poor, from the point of view of women with a working class background, rather than journalists writing about a phenomenon. The essays cover a range of topics, from making ends meet to the affect poverty has on women and girls.  Tea has also written about her own experiences on the subject in her memoirs Chelsea Whistle and the graphic novel Rent Girl
  • Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip– Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica): Written by the author of the blog Waiter Rant, this book will strike a chord with anyone who has ever waited tables and will prove enlightening to those who haven’t.  Some of the strangest experiences of my life took place during my own stint in the restaurant industry (some too outlandish to recount here!), and this book certainly relates some similar stories.  You’ll enjoy this book whether you’ve worked in restaurants or just eaten in them. 
  • Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, by Ben Hamper: The author worked as a riveter for General Motors in Flint, Michigan, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and here relates his experiences on the job. He doesn’t pull any punches in his descriptions of blue collar life on the assembly line, and if you’re a fan of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, you’ll also find this to be an interesting read.   
  • Classic Labor Songs from Smithsonian Folkways: Music has been used to inspire workers, praise unions, and protest poor conditions throughout the history.  In this collection you’ll hear many well-known labor songs from greats like Pete Seeger, Hazel Dickens, and Woody Guthrie, as well as several lesser-known songs. 

I could keep going, but the list above should keep you busy over the long weekend.  If you’re interested in more books, films, or music on the subject, try looking up the terms “labor unions” or “working class– United States” in our online catalog.  Or check out the American Folklife Center’s web site to find even more books and music.


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