Sorry, with Hanukah upon us and Christmas two weeks away, I’m a bit late this year, but in case you’re looking for some last-minute gifts for that special labor activist in your life (or if anyone needs suggestions about what to get you), here are some ideas. I only have a few new ones this year but I’m also republishing lists from the last couple of years.

And if you can’t find someone to buy these for or someone to get them for you, here’s my secret: buy them for yourself, wrap them up, and stick them under the tree (or menorah) with a card from Santa (or Hanaklaus) 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. Powells and Washington DC’s own Politics and Prose are both unionized book stores. But I’m still defaulting to Powell’s because I get a tiny rebate from everything anyone buys through the link on my blog.

So click on the book covers below, or check out my more expanded list of books here, or and if you want to shop for books not on my lists, scroll down the right-hand column and click on the Powell’s link and buy whatever the hell you want.

Finally, there are more books here, and please feel free to use the comments below if you see any books I missed.

The Great Escape: A True Story of Forced Labor and Immigrant Dreams in America

In early 2007, Saket Soni, a 28-year-old, Indian-born community organizer received an anonymous phone call from an Indian migrant worker inside a Mississippi labor camp. He and 500 other men were living in squalor in Gulf Coast “man camps,” surrounded by barbed wire, watched by armed guards, crammed into cold trailers with putrid portable toilets, forced to eat moldy bread and frozen rice. Worse, lured by the promise of good work and green cards, the men had desperately scraped together up to $20,000 each to apply for this “opportunity” to rebuild oil rigs after Hurricane Katrina, putting their families into impossible debt. During a series of clandestine meetings, Soni and the workers devise a bold plan. American Promise Soni traces the workers’ extraordinary escape, their march on foot to Washington DC, and their 31-day hunger strike to bring attention to their cause. Along the way, ICE agents try to deport the men, company officials work to discredit them, and politicians avert their eyes. But none of this shakes the workers’ determination to win their dignity and keep their promises to their families.

Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor

In Fight Like Hell, Kim Kelly celebrates the untold stories and unsung heroes of the American labor movement, taking great care to center voices that have historically been sidelined or silenced in mainstream conversations around workers’ rights. The result is an inclusive, fascinating, and galvanizing retrospective that mines the depths of the history of the working class to extract precious insight and inspiration for its future.

Living & Dying on the Factory Floor From the Outside In & the Inside Out

David Ranney’s vivid memoir describes his work experiences between 1976 and 1982 in the factories of southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana. The author takes the reader on a walk through the heart of Chicago’s South Side, observing the noise, heavy traffic, the 24-hour restaurants and bars, the rich diversity of people on the streets at all hours of the day and night, and the smell of the highly polluted air. Factory life includes stints at a machine shop, a shortening factory, a railroad car factory, a structural steel shop, a box factory, a chemical plant, and a paper cup factory. Along the way there is a wildcat strike, an immigration raid, shop-floor actions protesting supervisor abuses, serious injuries, a failed effort to unionize, and a murder.

Scraping By: Wage Labor Slavery & Survival in Early Baltimore

Enslaved mariners, white seamstresses, Irish dockhands, free black domestic servants, and native-born street sweepers all navigated the low-end labor market in post-Revolutionary Baltimore. Seth Rockman considers this diverse workforce, exploring how race, sex, nativity, and legal status determined the economic opportunities and vulnerabilities of working families in the early republic. Rockman describes the material experiences of low-wage workers—how they found work, translated labor into food, fuel, and rent, and navigated underground economies and social welfare systems.  Rockman argues that the American working class emerged from the everyday struggles of these low-wage workers. Their labor was indispensable to the early republic’s market revolution, and it was central to the transformation of the United States into the wealthiest society in the Western world.

Leftovers from 2022 Holidays

Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy & the Fall of Boeing

A suspenseful behind-the-scenes look at the dysfunction that contributed to one of the worst tragedies in modern aviation: the 2018 and 2019 crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX. Boeing is a century-old titan of industry. It played a major role in the early days of commercial flight, World War II bombing missions, and moon landings. The planemaker remains a cornerstone of the U.S. economy, as well as a linchpin in the awesome routine of modern air travel. But in 2018 and 2019, two crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 killed 346 people. The crashes exposed a shocking pattern of malfeasance, leading to the biggest crisis in the company’s history—and one of the costliest corporate scandals ever.

The Desperate Hours: One Hospital’s Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic’s Front Lines

In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 arrived in New York City. Before long, America’s largest metropolis was at war against a virus that mercilessly swept through its five boroughs. It became apparent that if Covid wasn’t somehow halted, the death count in New York alone would be in the hundreds of thousands. And if New York’s hospitals failed, what chance did the rest of the country have? A remarkable depiction of a city in crisis – based on new, behind-the-scenes reporting – that captures the resilience, peril, and compassion of the early days of the Covid pandemic.

Dirty Work Essential Jobs & the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America

A groundbreaking, urgent report from the front lines of dirty work–the work that society considers essential but morally compromised. Drone pilots who carry out targeted assassinations. Undocumented immigrants who man the “kill floors” of industrial slaughterhouses. Guards who patrol the wards of the United States’ most violent and abusive prisons. In Dirty Work, Eyal Press offers a paradigm-shifting view of the moral landscape of contemporary America through the stories of people who perform society’s most ethically troubling jobs. As Press shows, we are increasingly shielded and distanced from an array of morally questionable activities that other, less privileged people perform in our name.

Finally, lighten up and read a novel.

Gilded Mountain: A Novel

Set in early 1900s Colorado, the unforgettable tale of a young woman who bravely faces the consequences of speaking out against injustice. In a voice spiked with sly humor, Sylvie Pelletier recounts leaving her family’s snowbound mountain cabin to work in a manor house for the Padgetts, owners of the marble-mining company that employs her father and dominates the town. Sharp-eyed Sylvie is awed by the luxury around her; fascinated by her employer, the charming “Countess” Inge, and confused by the erratic affections of Jasper, the bookish heir to the family fortune. Her fairy-tale ideas of romance take a dark turn when she realizes the Padgetts’ lofty philosophical talk is at odds with the unfair labor practices that have enriched them. Their servants, the Gradys, formerly enslaved people, have long known this to be true and are making plans to form a utopian community on the Colorado prairie.


Leftovers from 2021 Holidays

Jingle Bells, Something Smells, COVID in the Air

Oh what fun, it is to work, with respirators you must wear…

It’s that time of year — the time to NOT brave the contaminated crowds 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.

So click on the links provided, or check out my more expanded list of books here, or and if you want to shop for books not on my lists, scroll down the right-hand column and click on the Powell’s link and buy whatever the hell you want.

Finally, please feel free to use the comments below if you see any books I missed

OK, let’s get started.

Soul Full of Coal Dust: The True Story of an Epic Battle for Justice

A gripping story by award-winning investigative journalist Chris Hamby about how the coal industry, backed by their stable of the best attorneys and “expert” doctors money can buy, cheated thousands of suffering miners out of their Black Lung compensation benefits. You don’t know whether to cry at the tragedy or feel gratified by the dedication of those who spent their careers fighting for the miners.  “Hamby uncovers the terrifying resurgence of black lung disease in Appalachia, its Big Coal cover-up, and the resilient mining communities who refuse to back down”

The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception

Dr. David Michaels. In this easily readable follow-up to his first excellent book, Doubt is Their Product, Michaels describes campaigns by chemical companies and the Republican party corrupt science to sow doubt in the science behind regulations that protect workers, citizens and communities from health and safety hazards. “The Triumph of Doubt traces the ascendance of science-for-hire in American life and government, from its origins in the tobacco industry in the 1950s to its current manifestations across government, public policy, and even professional sports. ”

Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor

Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse describes the rise and fall of American labor and how the labor movement made America a fairer, more democratic country.  Explores how workers are trying to take that power back. “A valuable resource both for those looking to learn about American labor history and for those looking to learn from it. Through case studies of pivotal workers’ rights campaigns and intimate portraits of the people who waged them, Greenhouse shows the trajectory of the labor movement from its heyday to the present day and gleans much-needed inspiration for its future. An engaging, informative, and ultimately hopeful read.”

Code White: Sounding the Alarm on Violence Against Health Care.

Code White: Sounding the Alarm on Violence against Health Care Workers, This short account by Canadian health and safety experts and advocates Margaret M. Keith and James T. Brophy describes the root causes and possible solutions to violent assaults against health care workers in Canada. Even though most of the troubling stories in this book take place in Canada, the problems and tragedies are just as relevant for American advocates.

On the Job The Untold Story of Americas Work Centers & the New Fight for Wages Dignity & Health

Health and Safety experts and activists Celeste Monforton and Jane M. Von Bergen tell the inspiring story of worker centers that are cropping up across the country and transforming the labor movement. “The real story is that while traditional labor unions have declined in membership, labor organizing is alive. It’s inspiring and succeeding. Workers in low-wage and other precarious work arrangements are building and growing worker support organizations in their communities.”

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.

The Jungle

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.  If you don’t like these, there are additional books on the Resource and Books list. And I’m sure there are other books that belong on this list that I’ve overlooked. If you can think of any, make use of the “comments” section down below.

Buy these books and read them now. Pretty soon we’ll be into the mid-terms and NO READING TIME FOR YOU!!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Confined Space

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading