In The Jungle, journalist Upton Sinclair exposes the harsh working conditions for immigrants in Chicago. It’s a grim read, but it was so powerful that it actually brought about reforms in the meat packing industry. Jack London even called it “The Uncle Tom’s Cabin of wage slavery.”
If your copy of The Grapes of Wrath is looking a little dog-eared, try Cannery Row instead. Set during the Great Depression, it is made up of a series of vignettes of life in the cannery district. The avenue in Monterey, California that inspired Steinbeck has since been renamed Cannery Row in tribute.
Bread and Roses
Milton Meltzer’s non-fiction, with its title taken from one of the union songs, is a great introduction to the history of the Labor Union. The book documents workers’ struggle in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, as they were forced unhappily from their specialties into mindless assembly lines.
We all know you mustn’t be caught dead with a white outfit after Labor Day, but there’s one thing you can and should be seen with: a book about the American labor movement. In case you forgot that Labor Day is about more than just fashion and taking the day off—it’s actually a commemoration of the contributions American workers have made to this country. So as soon as you’ve finished switching your wardrobe from summer to fall, settle down with one of these reads to see how labor has been defined throughout history, and what it’s meant to any of these great authors.
Bookshelf curated by Emma Oulton.
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