Citizen Reader’s Menage Challenge for this month was to read and discuss two books about ‘labor in America’, I offer the following quick thoughts:
How To Tell When You’re Tired A Brief Examination of WORK by Reg Theriault [WWNorton & Co. 1995, 188 pages]
“This is an immensely readable book and full of anecdotes… offers an original, insider’s addition to the extensive literature on work.” -Jeremy Seabrook, The New Statesman
I did enjoy Mr. Theriault’s descriptions of being a longshoreman and his explanations of the work involved as well as the ‘improvements’ mandated by management in order to get more work done with fewer workers. He also talks about how he grew up in a family of migrating fruit pickers and how that job/industry has changed over the years.
However, he over simplifies and seems to state that management is just plain evil and that all ‘they’ want to do is squeeze the workers; that workers have been de-humanized and are just the lowest cog in the machine. I believe that horrible examples can always be found to support this claim but it’s too broad. Perhaps my own bias of my college education in industrial engineering cannot be overcome, nor can I argue the other side any more effectively. He only gives a few paragraphs to address how unions may not be great for workers, either.
Alas, no easy solutions are offered to address the complaint that the people who do the hard labor will always be exploited for and by the mighty dollar.
I gave this 2 stars for ‘Only OK’ but I admit: it was easy and quick to read, it lit my fires of opinion, and gave me MUCH to think about. The history of ‘work’ is interesting and Theriault is a good writer.
Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the Global Economy by John Bowe [Random House; 1 edition (September 18, 2007) 336 pages]
I gave this 4 stars based on the quality of the writing and my admiration for how the book was told. The author is as much of the book as the ideas discussed. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the people he interviewed and his thoughts on how he approached his research.
The book is in three parts:
The first explores the orange pickers in Florida and how a certain area is involved with slavery! I had no idea. But I can understand how hard it might be for the government to fight this situation.
The seond part is about a case in Tulsa where a company designed a training program for welders ‘imported’ from India and how they were essentially made to feel trapped at the plant! It was an excellent expose of how people can be immoral or is it amoral? and still be likable. Many shades of gray and he-said-she-said nuances to what really happened. The company definitely violated US Labor Laws.
The third part of the book is about the Northern Mariana Islands, a ‘territory’ of the US that imports workers, mostly from Asia, to work in the garment industry. Fascinating; all I can say.
I would recommend this book for Eva’s World Citizen Challenge, although I’m not sure about the idea to not read books that are from your own country. So, maybe I can recommend it for non-USers?
What about it? Do you think about or care about the people who touched those products that you like to buy so cheaply? Will it change your approach to defining yourself as a consumer?
I would like to answer that yes, I do care. But… Will it matter? Will I change what I buy? Can you ‘care’ about this topic without it changing every single purchasing decision? Is it possible? Or will I have to live off the grid, grow my own food, make my own clothes (learn to sew)… or I’ll be a hypocrite? Sigh, I have no idea…
These two books show me that it is extremely easy to bury my head in the sand…