Looking for a way to stimulate your mind in between barbecues and baseball games this Labor Day? We’ve asked staff and Fellows from across the Roosevelt Institute to provide their suggestions on books, films, poems, and other entertainment with a compelling and informative message about labor issues.
1) It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays by Wendell Berry. The title essay makes the economy, often vague or amorphous, very real: it is about land, people, and how we are connected. As with all of Wendell Berry’s writing, you will be struck by the clarity and the truth of each sentence.
2) The Unwinding by George Packer. A beautifully written, elegiac, and often heartbreaking look at four people who grew up, and made their way as adults, during the unwinding of the American middle class in the last part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st. Reads like a novel, an approach that some have criticized, but most have loved.
3) Breaking Away, a great film that is ostensibly about competitive bicycle racing, but is also about the death of the stonecutting industry in Bloomington, Indiana and the reaction of young people coming of age in town to those economic changes.
Annette Bernhardt, Fellow, Roosevelt Institute:
The Frontline documentary “Two American Families.” It follows two families in Milwaukee from 1992 to 2012 and in the process tells the story of how work and wages have changed in the U.S. We usually just document the impact of low-wage jobs on families at a given point in time, but when you follow people over many years, you see the deeper costs of the loss of good jobs and the constant economic crises — on people’s dreams, their physical and emotional strength, their hopes for their children, etc.
Tom Ferguson, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute:
1) Servaas Storm and C.W.M. Naastepad, Macroeconomics Beyond the NAIRU, which explains why labor’s share of income keeps dropping and the economy doesn’t get better.
2) Tim Shorrock, Spies For Hire: Inside the Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing. How runaway privatization turns into a worldwide super-problem.
The March on Washington by William Jones. I think it’s timely and puts the march in the context of the jobs and justice issues facing African Americans in the 1960s.
Ellen Chesler, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute:
Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. In a well-researched and gripping narrative, Grunwald, a Miami-based Time magazine reporter, uncovers the broad reach and ingenuity of the 2009 $800 million Obama stimulus package, which not only created jobs but also left a legacy of important technological innovation and infrastructure renewal. It’s the best argument I have seen for more federally funded public works.
Richard Kirsch, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute:
1) A very short animated video from Topos Partnership on how to talk about job standards, based on jobs boosting the economy.
2) A section from Richard Trumka’s speech at the Steelworkers Convention in 2011.
Alan Smith, National Policy Strategist, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network:
Hot Coffee, a documentary by Susan Saladoff. This study about tort reform is a very interesting look at the ways that business has, in an organized and diabolically systematic way, chipped away at the rights of the individual in relation to business. Labor is all a part of it!
Cathy Harding, Vice President of Operations and Communications, Roosevelt Institute:
“What Work Is,” a spare poem by the incomparable Philip Levine — blue collar laureate, working man, American.
Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. It is a classic example of how one person’s dedication to a cause and exhaustive research can be the catalyst for change. Called the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery,” I think it’s incredibly relevant to the current status quo in our economic system.
Tim Price, Communications Manager, Roosevelt Institute:
The second season of HBO’s The Wire broadens the series’ focus on Baltimore’s street-level drug trade to examine the city’s dying Stevedore Union and the lengths to which union leader Frank Sobotka will go to provide for his workers. No one comes out looking good, but the show’s writers save their condemnation for the economic and political forces that grind down poor and working class people of all races and ethnicities in the United States. Plus, every must-watch list is legally required to include The Wire.
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