Jingle Bells, Something Smells, Chemicals in the Air
Oh what fun, it is to work, with respirators you must wear…
It’s that time of year — the time to brave the crowds — of advertisements on your webpages — and get that holiday shopping done. And the helpful staff here at Confined Space world headquarters are at your service with suggestions for your reading pleasure. Most of these I’ve read and will provide a short review. I always intend to do longer reviews, but the pace of life never slows here at Confined Space.
And if you can’t find someone to buy these for, buy them for yourself, wrap them up, and stick them under the tree (or menorah) with a card from Santa (or Hanuclaus) or whatever. (It always worked for me.)
All of these holiday selections are available on line, and I’ve linked them all to Powell’s Books in beautiful downtown Portland, Oregon (which I visited in person last month.) Powell’s is one of the only bookstores in the country that is unionized (ILWU Local 5.) And if that doesn’t make it worthwhile to shop there, you may also be interested in the fact that I get a tiny rebate from everything anyone buys through the link on my blog. So click on the links provided, and if you want to shop for books not on my list, scroll down the right-hand column and click on the Powell’s link. (And anyway, Jeff Bezos has enough money.)
OK, let’s get started.
Living and Dying in the American Workplace
Some recent books that talk about the hazards that workers face — in the past and in the present.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
This is a tragic story of the young women in the 1920’s and 1930’s that used radium to paint the glowing numbers on watch faces and aircraft instruments. They painted the deadly using paint brushes that they sharpened in their mouths, because that’s what they were told to do. And they were told that the radium was not only not harmful, but actually good for them. They believed what they were told until their teeth started falling out, their jaws disintegrated and they died of horrible cancers. The tragic story still resonates today with employers and company-paid scientists testifying that there was no evidence that radium was harmful and attempting to cast doubt on the real science. Warning: Kate Moore isn’t the greatest write in the world, but the gripping and tragic story makes up for it. I wrote about the book here when it was first published.
Dying to Work: Death and Injury in the American Workplace
This book by Jonathan D. Karmel was just published and it’s so new that a) I haven’t finished reading it yet, and b) there’s no picture of Dying to Work: Death and Injury in the American Workplace Powell’s website. That being said, get this book and read it. Karmel tells the stories of workers in a variety of industries — from hotel housekeepers, to coal miners to warehouse workers — the conditions they work in, and how many of them have gotten hurt and died on the job. It’s a tragic story of the hazards of work in present-day America.
A Tale of Two Cities
Not health and safety books, but gripping stories of how to American cities are dealing with the modern economy: one where the city’s main employer shuts down, the other where engaged citizens fight back against the cities main employer that has dominated city politics for decades.
Janesville: An American Story
When the GM plant shut down in 2008, the working class people of Janesville, Wisconsin were faced with personal and civic disaster. This is a gripping story of how the citizens dealt with the problem, some successfully by finding new jobs, others became “GM Gypsies” working hours away from home at an Indiana GM plant during the week, and spending weekends with their families — until they retire. Others weren’t so lucky and have never recovered. Tragedies like Janesville’s have been happening across the “rust belt” for decades, but Amy Goldstein brings those struggles to life and makes you think more deeply about what’s happening in this country, as well as what happened to Wisconsin (Michigan and Pennsylvania) in the last election. Great writing, great story.
Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City
Richmond, California, known to us health and safety types as the city where a fire at a Chevron refinery in 2012 forced the evacuation of thousands of citizens, had been dominated by the giant oil company for decades. Veteran labor reporter and activist Steve Early tells the story of how a group of engaged citizens organized to take over the city government, overcome big money politics and install a government that worked for its citizens — raising the minimum wage, defeating a casino development project, challenging evictions and home foreclosures and gaining fair taxation of the corporate giant in its midst. As with most organizing stories, the process wasn’t easy, it wasn’t a straight line, and it never ends. But in these days where despair reigns every time you turn on the TV, Early’s story of how Richmond fought back makes inspiring reading. Oh, and there’s even a forward by Bernie Sanders.
Oldies but Goodies
Some of these may be older and harder to find, but they’re essential to understanding the history and current struggles for occupational safety and health in this country.
Doubt is Their Product
This modern day classic by former OSHA head Dr. David Michaels, describes the process and history of “mercenary science” in this country: science for sale to the highest bidder. We already saw this in the 1920’s and 1930’s with the Radium Girls above, but we’re continuing to see its effects as the Trump administration bases environmental policy on “experts” who have been selling science for decades, even attempting to install many of them in high-level government jobs at EPA and the Department of Agriculture. Although it was published ten years ago, it has never been more relevant than today. Full Disclosure: I was David’s deputy at OSHA for almost 8 years and before that I reviewed the book when it came out. You can read that review here.
The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi
This book by Les Leopold is a must read, not only to understand the growth of the workplace safety and health movement in this country, but to learn about what of 20th century’s America’s most dynamic labor, environmental and workplace safety leaders. Talk to any health and safety activist of my age or thereabouts, and you’ll hear stories about how their careers and lives were inspired and launched by listening to and working with Tony Mazzocchi. In fact, just holding it in my hands right now, I think I’ll read it again.
Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution
This is a book mostly about the history of lead poisoning and the hazards of vinyl chloride and other chemicals in this country, and how chemical manufacturers knew about the dangers of their product but covered up the truth for decades, sentencing countless numbers of children and workers to lifetimes of brain damage, disability and early death. Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner are historians and this fascinating book is meticulously documented with internal company correspondence, memos and minutes of meetings of both the lead and chemical industry trade associations — in fact so well documented that even after it was first published in 2002, the vinyl chloride industry spent years attacking and attempting to discredit their work. You can read more about that battle here and here.
What more can I say? This classic novel by Upton Sinclair, first published in 1906, must be read and re-read every few years. It’s a story of immigrant workers, laboring in Chicago’s slaughterhouses in the early 20th century. Sinclair wrote it as a story about workers and the working conditions they were forced to endure, but it later birthed the food safety movement in this country. As Sinclair later said, ‘I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” And in Donald Trump’s America, over one-hundred years later, Sinclair’s vivid descriptions of the working conditions, the plight of immigrant workers and the failure of the general public to understand ring all too familiar.
OK, that should about do it for now. I’m sure there are other books that belong on this list. If you can think of any, make use of the “comments” section down below. Now get out there, be REAL Americans, and buy, buy, buy! Make America Read Again!