Where’s WCSA?

In 2021-2022, WCSA did a survey with members to learn the cities and countries where we are currently living. This map reflects our locations. Click the view larger map icon in the upper right to access Google Earth. Come join us across the globe!

*Special thanks to members who completed the survey, and to the digital communication team for the idea, survey, social media messaging, and map-making.

Calls for Papers

Teaching about Socialism

See the call out for papers on “Teaching about Socialism” in Radical Teacher, an open-access (free to readers) academic Journal. Deadline: Dec. 12, 2022.

Popular Music & the Working-Class

And don’t forget the call out for papers on “Popular Music and the Working-Class!” For the next issue of our open-access Journal for Working-Class Studies. Deadline: Aug. 31, 2022.

Photo of musical instruments, Creative Commons, Chris Hawes. Photo of pencil, Lucas Santos, Unsplash.

Book Notes, Summer 2022

Check out new work by and of interest to members of the Working-Class Studies Association in this summer issue of Book Notes. Enjoy!

A People’s Guide to New York City (U. of California Press), Carolina Bank Munoz, Penny Lewis, Emily Tumpson

The latest in the University of California Press’ people’s guides, this new volume on New York City explores more than 150 sites, mostly in the outer boroughs, where immigrants, people of color, and working classes of all shades have made history and shaped landscapes, some of which are left today and others merely noted with plaques or simple monuments.  According to the publisher, “Delving into the histories of New York’s five boroughs, you will encounter enslaved Africans in revolt, women marching for equality, workers on strike, musicians and performers claiming streets for their art, and neighbors organizing against landfills and industrial toxins and in support of affordable housing and public schools. The streetscapes that emerge from these groups’ struggles bear the traces, and this book shows you where to look to find them.”  This volume, like others in the series, uses the tourist guidebook form to aid both tourists and locals to find significant parts of the people’s city.

A People’s Guide to Orange County (U. of California Press), Elaine Lewinnek, Gustavo Arellano, Thuy Vo Dang

Another new entry in the California Press’ series teases out the huge Orange County part of the Greater Los Angeles area.  The site of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the county attracts more than 40 million tourists a year and includes some of the richest oceanfront property on the planet.  But inland, Orange County is an agricultural and industrial landscape of current and historical significance, as are the neighborhoods peopled by workers in the tourist service economy, many of them immigrants.  The guidebook “documents sites of oppression, resistance, struggle, and transformation.”  Previous people’s guides California Press has produced are still available, exploring the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Boston, and Los Angeles.

Hard Rain: Bob Dylan, Oral Cultures, and the Meaning of History (Columbia U. Press), Alessandro Portelli

The doyen of oral history in Italy and the US, Allessandro Portelli uses this slim volume to reflect on his lifetime of work with oral history, originally inspired by the folk music revival in the 1950s when Portelli was in high school.  Tracing the roots of Bob Dylan’s classic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” back not only to the traditional English ballad “Lord Randall,” but to an Italian version that translates as “The poisoned man’s testament,” Portelli talks with others in the US, UK, India, and Italy who were influenced by the bracing lyrics and “awful voice” of Minnesota’s Robert Zimmerman.  Portelli presents the book as “a multidisciplinary investigation on history and memory through the prism of the primary orality of folklore, the secondary orality of mass media, and the conversation between them.”  A multinational tribute to Dylan, Hard Rain presents folk music and oral history “as ways in which the popular classes give voice to their relationship to and presence in history.”

The Lockdown Diaries of the Working Class by The Working Class Collective. (Available in Kindle Edition through Amazon.)

The first project of The Working Class Collective is made up of lockdown diaries submitted by working-class people across the UK, gathered by Lisa McKenzie. The entries are supplemented by the work of six style-diverse working-class illustrators. Graham Scrambler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University College London, writes: “What the Diaries did for me was transport me momentarily into the lives and circumstances of a variety of people who lacked the protection of so many, even all, of Bourdieu’s types of capital. In a way, the fact that the Diaries contained snippets of lives added force. Sometimes an intimate glimpse into a life, allowing the imagination a freer reign, carries more punch than the putative academic summary of a life course. Lisa McKenzie’s linking pieces are exquisitely judged.”

Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education (Pluto Press), Joe Berry and Helena Worthen

Most of this book is a detailed analysis of how contingent faculty in the California State University (CSU) system organized across the system and won what the authors think is the best contingent faculty union contract in the country.  In that process, Joe Berry and Helena Worthen manage to develop an historical analysis of higher education in the US and a vision for the future while at the same time systematically exploring the various options CSU faculty organizers faced at different junctures and how and why they chose the options they did.  The result is a guidebook for contingent faculty organizing embedded in a series of narratives with dramatic decision points.  Berry has been a faculty organizer for decades and a leader of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) since its founding.  Worthen is a novelist and long-time labor educator.

Our Veterans: Winners, Losers, Friends, and Enemies on the New Terrain of Veteran Affairs (Duke U. Press), Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, Jasper Craven

The American military, especially now as an all-volunteer force, is a working-class institution in the same way as any private firm or government agency.  Though even more hierarchical than other workplaces, its on-the-ground ethos is created by the workers who do the job of preparing for and fighting wars.  This new book by a trio of experienced scholars and journalists explores military workers both in service and, especially, after when they are entitled to a series of benefits as veterans.  The authors frame their comprehensive study within a long political tradition that uniformly praises and honors veterans, but then cheats on the benefits they have been promised.  Even “self-styled helpers of veterans have at times actually jeopardized their access to better healthcare, a decent education via the GI Bill, and later employment with good working conditions and opportunities for advancement.” They propose a new agenda for veterans that is more firmly anchored in broader social programs benefitting all Americans, while providing for veterans’ specific needs.

Young Mungo (Grove Press), Douglas Stuart

Stuart’s first novel won the Booker Prize. Young Mungo, his second, is based in Glasgow and tells the tale of James, a Protestant, and Mungo, a Catholic, as they grow up together and eventually fall in love in a world where potential brutality and violence loom large. Mungo’s older brother is the leader of a vicious local gang. The book explores themes of masculinity, queerness, and religion, and how all intersect with working-class life. Library Journal writes: “After the splendid Shuggie Bain, Stuart continues his examination of 1980s Glaswegian working-class life and a son’s attachment to an alcohol-ravaged mother, with results as good yet distinctly different . . . In language crisper and more direct than Shuggie Bain’s, Stuart heightens his exploration of the sibling bond and the inexplicable hatred between Glasgow’s Protestants and Catholics, while contrasting Mungo’s tenderly conveyed queer awakening with the awful counterpart of sexual violence.”

After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back (U. of California Press), Juliet Schor

This latest effort from sociological economist Juliet Schor first traces how the initial promise of the gig economy – flexibility, autonomy, and decent incomes for workers, for example – has degenerated into “exploited Uber drivers, neighborhoods ruined by Airbnb, racial discrimination, and rising carbon emissions.”  But then she attempts to show how the basic model of “a peer-to-peer structure augmented by digital tech” still has the potential to fulfill its early promise.  To that end she puts forward a series of regulatory reforms to foster cooperative platforms owned and controlled by users that would lead to “an equitable and truly shared economy.”  One reviewer explains: “Schor’s case studies skillfully represent the full spectrum of optimism and disenchantment—those previously bullish on being their own boss, who have since been dragged to despair . . . .  The takeaway from this book is that a complete reimagining of city governance is required if the sharing economy is ever going to work for the people.”

Class Struggle Unionism (Haymarket Books), Joe Burns

In this historically informed manual for labor organizing in the 21st century, Joe Burns advances a form of class struggle unionism that places rank-and-file workplace militancy and fights within the larger fight between workers and the owning class, the one dialectically building on the other.  In doing so, he addresses a key set of questions faced by those who want to renew a fighting labor movement: “How to relate to the union establishment which often does not want to fight? Whether to work in the rank and file of unions or staff jobs? How much to prioritize broader class demands versus shop floor struggle? How to relate to foundation-funded worker centers and alternative union efforts? And most critically, how can we revive militancy and union power in the face of corporate power and a legal system set up against us?”

The Future We Need: Organizing for a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Cornell ILR Press), Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta

Erica Smiley is the current and Sarita Gupta a former director of national Jobs with Justice, and they bring their broad and deep experience in a variety of labor and community struggles across the country to this effort to chart a future for democratic and progressive forces.  Over the past several decades, Jobs with Justice (JwJ) has demonstrated how involving the broader public in labor struggles and labor in community struggles expands the effectiveness of both. Likewise, JwJ has especially focused on those fights where labor, women’s, black, brown, and immigrant interests can intersect in powerful ways. The book charts a course along those lines, with chapters titled “Beyond Workers,” “Organizing All People,” and “Building Long-Term Labor-Community Power”.  Thomas Kochan calls it a “really thoughtful and creative mix of labor history, analysis of current policies and institutions, and wonderful personal stories―including their own. . . . [and] a powerful statement about what we need to do, and can do, to shape a better future for all.”

Pest (Keylight Books), Elizabeth Foscue

Pest’s protagonist Hallie Mayhew is a working-class high school senior in Santa Barbara, who is balancing multiple part-time jobs while navigating divorced parents, getting into and paying for college, and getting away from her hometown where she feels trapped. She finds herself struggling with a classic working-class student dilemma: how to make ends meet and keep up her grades, while also trying to weave in the extra-curriculars that colleges and scholarship committees expect. The Washington Post says the book is “Laugh-out-loud funny,” and that “Cheering for this scrappy underdog will appeal to younger and older adults alike.”

Urban Legends: The South Bronx in Representation and Ruin (Harvard U. Press), Peter L’Official

Long an iconic stereotype for urban decay as an “inner-city hell hole,” the Bronx has a mythic place in our national imagination, only partly relieved by its cultural creativity as the hometown of hip-hop and a premier site of artistic graffiti.  Bronx native Peter L’Official aims to bust those stereotypes by showing the real complexity of a borough of nearly 1.5 million people.  Drawing on literature and the visual arts, L’Official focuses on the history, people, and place beyond its myths and legends, revealing a social and culture vitality that is far from its image of “a decades-long funeral pyre.”  Luc Sante calls it the “great Bronx book we have needed for decades. L’Official cuts through the foliage of lazy journalism, unexamined assumptions, and political rhetoric and brings together the voices of writers, rappers, social scientists, and people on the street. The result is a nuanced picture of the South Bronx, which for almost a century has been mostly neglected, scorned, and viewed as expendable―perhaps one of New York City’s biggest crimes.”

Talking to the Girls: Intimate and Political Essays on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (NYU Press), Edvige Giunta and Mary Anne Trasciatti, editors.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911 killed 146 workers, most young immigrant women and girls, in 15 minutes.  But it was an event that has mobilized garment and other workers around the world for more than a century.  This collection of 19 essays reflects both on the tragedy itself and the impact it has had in the immediate aftermath of the fire and since.  The diverse voices of the essayists include writers, artists, and scholars from across the globe, as well as family members of Triangle workers.  The publisher promises “a story of contemporary global relevance [that] stands as an act of collective testimony: a written memorial to the Triangle victims.”

Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak (Zubaan Books), Madhumita Duhtta.

While doing doctoral work in Tamil Nadu in southern India, author Madhumita Dutta met several women working in a Nokia electronics factory—and over a course of regular meetings, a radio podcast was born. This book is taken from transcripts of the radio podcast, with the addition of illustrations by Madhushree Basu. It presents the women’s experiences of factory work, but also explores their larger lives and dreams. Writing in The Hindu, P.V. Srividya says, “It is striking how the secular migrant work space also makes [the women’s] camaraderie possible. The women show us how female bodies that work on the assembly line negotiate bodily pain, scheming ways of rest and forming quiet solidarities.”

Division Street (Dewi Lewis Publishing), Robert Gumpert

In 2016 San Francisco hosted the Super Bowl, and to clean up the city’s image, officials herded its homeless people and families into Division Street, where the extent of homelessness in the city would be out of sight and out of mind.  Photographer Robert Gumpert followed them to Division Street to document the ‘”division of communities, between the wealth of the few and the expendability of the many, in San Francisco, in the USA and across the World.”  This book is built around Gumpert’s photographs, but it adds first-person storytelling, messages left on the street, media headlines, and politician’s characterizations to make the book what the publisher calls “a collaboration between many communities.”

No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy: Memoirs of a Working-Class Reader (Canongate Books), Mark Hodkinson

Today Mark Hodkinson is an author, journalist, and publisher, but he grew up in a working-class household in Rochdale, UK (near Sheffield and Leeds) that had only one book.  He now lives in Rochdale again, surrounded by some 3,500 books.  This memoir is about his growing up working class and his life-long love of reading.  The publisher describes it thus: “It’s about schools (bad), music (good) and the people (some mad, a few sane), and pre-eminently and profoundly the books and authors (some bad, mostly good) that led the way, and shaped his life. It’s also about a family who just didn’t see the point of reading, and a troubled grandad who, in his own way, taught Mark the power of stories.”

Proper Etiquette in the Slaughterhouse Line (Gutter Snob Books), James Duncan

Duncan’s newest collection of poems focuses on office work and the grind of mundane cubicle culture in the beginning, but then spirals into an apocalyptic tale. Writer Frank Reardon: “These are poems in the vein of Carver, Bukowski, and James Wright. Workers, fighters, and people with little hope, trapped in a system they cannot beat, but sometimes can beat late at night during the exhausted hours. These poems take the everyday mundane existence we are force fed eight hours a day and show us there is hope, but only if we are willing to open the doors of the slaughterhouse.” Author John Crochalski says “Duncan does a superb job of showing us our humanity exactly as we are living it, the pain, the struggle, the sickness and all the manifestations of any joys we can find to keep ourselves grounded.”

Romantic Environmental Sensibility: Nature, Class and Empire (Edinburgh U. Press), Ve-Yin Tee, ed.

This collection of essays seeks to reveal how representations of the land and the plants, animals, and people who live on the land are shaped by “habits of thought that are profoundly class-based.”  With a focus on Romantic ideas of nature, one set of essays focus on how “Green Imperialism” shaped British perception and policy in India and elsewhere in Asia.  Other essays show how “current approaches to conservation and animal rights continue to be influenced by a class-bound Romantic environmental sensibility.”

The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past (Harvard U. Press), Mike Savage

The facts of growing income and wealth inequality are clear, everywhere but especially in English-speaking countries like the US and UK.  Sociologist Mike Savage argues here that our increasing levels of inequality threaten much more than statistical gaps in wage and wealth levels.  “By fracturing social bonds and harnessing the democratic process to the strategies of a resurgent aristocracy of the wealthy, inequality revives political conditions we thought we had moved beyond: empires and dynastic elites, explosive ethnic division, and metropolitan dominance that consigns all but a few cities to irrelevance. . . . Westerners have been slow to appreciate that inequality undermines the very foundations of liberal democracy: faith in progress and trust in the political community’s concern for all its members.”

Police, Provocation, Politics: Counterinsurgency in Istanbul (Cornell U. Press)), Deniz Yonucu

In this book Deniz Yonucu shows how counterinsurgency strategies from the Cold War and the decolonization process continue to inform policing in Istanbul.  According to the publisher: “Situating Turkish policing within a global context and combining archival work and oral history narratives with ethnographic research . . . Yonucu presents a counterintuitive analysis of contemporary policing practices, focusing particular attention on the incitement of counterviolence, perpetual conflict, and ethnosectarian discord by the state security apparatus.”

Monetary Authorities: Capitalism and Decolonization in the American Colonial Philippines (Duke U. Press), Allan Lumba

By focusing on American colonization in the Philippines, Allan Lumba shows how “the United States used monetary policy and banking systems to justify racial and class hierarchies, enforce capitalist exploitation, and counter movements for decolonization” in other US imperial adventures.  According to the publisher: “By showing how imperial governance was entwined with the racialization and regulation of monetary systems . . .  Lumba illuminates a key mechanism through which the United States securitized the imperial world order.”

FAQs for Conference Goers

Are you getting ready to arrive in Corvallis?

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) with answers from the Conference Organizers!

Where do I sign inWe will have a registration table set up at 3pm Monday in the International Living and Learning Building, conference dormitory space.  If you are staying in the dorms, just walk downstairs and find the table!  If you are coming from the Hilton Garden Inn, it’s a short walk.  Registration will end at 5pm.  Registration will resume the following morning in the Memorial Union, the main conference site.

How can I park on campus?  Hopefully, you will not need to! If you are staying in the dorms or the conference hotel, the campus is right there and the conference site a short walk.  If you are coming from elsewhere in or out of town, you will need to arrange to purchase a parking pass for the day(s).  They are about $10 per day and you can find information here

How do I get to the downtown opening reception? Our opening reception is a pretty casual get together at a food truck court called Common Fields.  It is easily walkable from campus (0.7 miles from the dorms. 1 mile from the MU conference site).  Corvallis is flat and the weather is expected to be perfectly lovely (low 70s).  The nicest walking path is down Campus Way, which then becomes Madison Avenue.  There is parking downtown if you are driving.  And we also have free city buses, although they only run until 6pm.  You can find information on the bus routes here.

Are there any special tricks to getting around Corvallis in general?  YES!  Avenues are named after US Presidents in sequential order running West-East, with Washington the furthest South.  The main avenue north of campus is Monroe (President #5).  Cross-streets are numbers, with 1st running North-South against the Willamette River. Downtown is essentially 1st to 5th, Jefferson to Jackson.  OSU sits mostly between 15th to the East and 26th to the West, and then Monroe to the North and Washington to the South.  If you take 9th street North past the first 15 presidents, you get to the area of town that has big box stores and franchise restaurants. 

Where can I eat?  We will provide a list of breakfast and lunch restaurant options for you when you register. We hope you will join us for the Banquet Wednesday night.  For other dinners, we recommend going downtown and seeing what strikes your fancy.  Corvallis has a lot to offer!

And for those of you getting ready to attend the parallel ZOOM ONLY Conference:

When do I get the zoom links for the panels?  We will be sending those out to all zoom registrants shortly before the start of the conference.  We will be sending those to you using the email you registered with.  If you do not receive those zoom links before Monday afternoon, please contact us at wcsa2022conference@gmail.com

Talk with Dr. Louise Powell and Working-Class Creatives

Please join us for a free 1-hour Zoom talk with Dr. Louise Powell, director of Counter-Culture, and other working-class creatives on Monday morning, 10-11, Pacific time, 6/20.

Working-class film-maker and interdisciplinary arts professor, Minda Martin, University of Washington, Bothell will also join in as a friendly respondent. Read more about this happening on the EventBrite and register to participate.

Get inspired by the artistry of Counter-Culture to create, collaborate, and congregate! Then sashay into the WCSA Conference beginning later in the day.

Hope to see you!

*Featured photo, Martin de Arriba, Unsplash.

Conference Updates

Hello WCSA Members!

Be sure to check out the information about travel to the Conference and housing options on our website here: Updates from the Planners and Travel & Housing. June 20th-23rd, 2022 is fast approaching!

Email any questions to the Conference Planners at wcsa2022conference@gmail.com

Bringing Working-Class Writing to Light

Emma Penney, Jessica Pauszek, and Mark Nowak share out living projects with moderation by Sherry Lee Linkon… don’t miss it! Register for this Zoom event below

The Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice invite you to a virtual event

Register Here

Book Notes, January 2022

Check out these new books and read about them below! By and of interest to members of the WCSA

Bridging the Divide: Working-Class Culture in a Middle-Class Society (Cornell U. Press), Jack Metzgar

Jack Metzgar, like many of us, grew up working class and became a middle-class professional – in his case, a teacher of working adults and in labor education.  In this book, he uses that experience, as well as sources from a wide range of disciplines, to interpret the differences between working-class and professional-middle-class cultures during the last eight decades in the US.  The publisher promises: “Bridging the Divide mixes personal stories and theoretical concepts to give us a compelling look inside the current complex position of the working-class in American culture and a view of what it could be in the future.”  Sherry Linkon praises the book for identifying “aspects of working-class culture that have either confused or have been entirely ignored, challenging the assumption that there is only one valid culture.”

Toward Camden (Duke U. Press), Mercy Romero

Part of a series titled “Black Outdoors: Innovations in the Poetics of Study,” Mercy Romero returns to the African American and Puerto Rican Cramer Hill neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey, where she grew up.  As she explores what has been lost, informed by her childhood memories, she meditates, reflects on, riffs, and informs in a style that moves easily between the prosaic and poetic.  One reviewer calls it “a profoundly moving and necessary meditation on . . . a city marked by abandonment, dispossession, and resistance.”   Another praises the book for how it “combines incisive political commentary, cultural criticism, and memoir” in a way that is “elegiac, yet hopeful.”

Hyena! Jackal! Dog! (Pamenar Press), Fran Lock

In an interview about her work, Fran Lock says: “I think it’s still true today that the white middle class patriarchy has been so effectively naturalised as the absolute model for all human experience that it cannot recognise or permit any other forms of meaning-making, or can only understand them as pathological, backward or otherwise aberrant . . . . . Magic is like rage; it is a fly in the ointment. Many kinds of folklore, magical thinking or witch belief crop up throughout the collection. I owe this to my radical feminist foremothers, but also to a rich familial and ancestral culture. Making space for these beliefs, these modes of thought, is a form of creative protest.”  In Hyena! Jackal! Dog! Lock pushes back against the forces of white middle class patriarchy with her poetry, itself often magical rage. Margaryta Golovchenko writes that “the hyena [of the title] is at once a symbol, a retainer of multifaceted meaning that ‘shifts between categories of species and of sex,’ as well as the character Hyena!, who is a similarly disruptive force working against the established hierarchies within society and even literature.”

Living on the Edge: When Hard Times Become a Way of Life (Polity), Celine-Marie Pascale

What Celine-Marie Pascale calls “the struggling class” includes the majority of Americans for whom “hard times have long been a way of life.” Set against the background of a larger social-economic and political analysis, Pascale details hard-living American lives in Oakland, California, and Appalachia as well as the Native American nations of Wind River in Wyoming and Standing Rock in the Dakotas.  Chase Iron Eyes of Lakota People’s Law Project praises the book as “both supremely accessible and thoroughly researched [in showing] how economic, racial, class, caste, geographical, environmental, and other factors converge to create systemic inequalities designed to hold down a diverse stratum of people , , , all while skillfully illustrat[ing] key connective tissues that demonstrate how, despite outward differences, we share in the same struggle.”

The Activist Spirit: Toward a Radical Solidarity (Hard Ball Press), Victor Narro

Victor Narro, a labor and immigrant rights activist, argues that there is a spiritual core within social justice activism, and he believes that making us more conscious of that spirit can strengthen it in our daily practice.  According to the publisher, the book “calls us to integrate that inner spiritual core into our work to make the struggle for justice more compassionate, caring, and sustainable.  To be an activist for justice is to love humanity and all of creation.”

Where Are the Workers? Labor’s Stories at Museums and Historic Sites (U. of Illinois Press), Robert Forrant and Mary Anne Trasciatti, eds.

This collection of essays explores efforts throughout the US to place the history of labor and working people into mainstream narratives of US history.  The first part focuses on “ways to collect and interpret worker-oriented history for public consumption,” while the second part ranges from historic sites and murals to written and visual representations of labor history.  According to the publisher: “Together, the essayists explore how place-based labor history initiatives promote understanding of past struggles, create awareness of present challenges, and support efforts to build power, expand democracy, and achieve justice for working people.”

Standing Up: Tales of Struggle (Hard Ball Press), Ellen Bravo and Larry Miller

The authors, who share 50 years of labor and social justice activism, present a novel about unseen and unsung working people who labor to hold their lives and families together as they also advocate for needed changes both large and small.  Gloria Steinem writes of the novel that “So much fiction is about escape and fantasy, but these powerful Tales of Struggle will enrich our real and daily lives.”

Class Interruptions: Inequality and Division in African Diasporic Women’s Fiction (U. of North Carolina Press), Robin Brooks

Though this book focuses on the literary productions of Black women writers from the US and the Caribbean, it is informed by a larger political economic analysis of how neoliberalism and racial capitalism “reframes structural inequalities as personal failures, thus obscuring how to improve unjust conditions.”  The writers are Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Dawn Turner, Olive Senior, Oonya Kempadoo, Merle Hodge, and Diana McCauley.  Through textual analysis and interviews with authors, Robin Brooks shows how the Black women’s literary tradition since the 1970s has repositioned the importance of class in understanding the African Diaspora. Carole Boyce Davies praises the book: “Robin Brooks confidently contributes . . . to advanc[ing] a new generation of literary scholarship in which class has as much analytical presence as does race or gender.”

African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry (West Virginia U. Press), Joe William Trotter Jr.

This slender volume of four essays is meant to update both the realities and the scholarship around Black Appalachian miners since distinguished labor historian Joe Trotter published Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32 three decades ago.  Trotter again focuses on the haunting paradox that despite the miserable conditions of industrial workers, including miners, the worst of which black workers endured, the proletarianization of blacks was a form of upward mobility from former slaves, sharecroppers, and service workers.  Blending comprehensive accounts of historiography and narratives of black industrial workers’ historical experience, these essays explore “the formation and growth of Black working-class communities, institutions, social and cultural networks, and political movements for reform and liberatory change over time,” according to Clarence Lang.

The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns (West Virginia U. Press), William Turner

William Turner grew up in a coal-mining family in Harlan County, Kentucky, in the post-World War II boom years when mining jobs were already beginning to disappear even as production increased.  As opportunities diminished in Harlan, Turner left home and eventually became a preeminent historian of Appalachia.  This book combines memoir with history to recount and evoke “large and vibrant Black communities, where families took the pulse of the nation through magazines like Jet and Ebony and through the news that traveled within Black churches, schools, and restaurants. Difficult choices for the future were made as parents considered the unpredictable nature of Appalachia’s economic realities alongside the unpredictable nature of a national movement toward civil rights.”

Aye ok (Speculative Books), Charles Lang

Sphinx: Poetry Pamphlet Reviews describes Lang’s poetry collection as “Sharp cameos of working-class life, snapshots on the streets,” written in “the cadences of lowland Scots.”   Genevieve Stevens, in Sabotage Reviews writes that “Lang’s poetics expose these tensions [between standard English and Lang’s Glaswegian dialect] by making frequent tears in the surface of the poem so that both languages (the spoken Glaswegian and English taught at schools) jar side by side, charging the poetry with political heat.”

On Dark and Bloody Ground: An Oral History of the West Virginia Mine Wars (West Virginia U. Press), Anne T. Lawrence

The Battle of Blair Mountain – when coal miners with rifles fought pitched battles in 1921 against a legion of sheriffs and deputies, state police, makeshift militias, and eventually a federal expeditionary force, including bomber squadrons – is but the most famous of Appalachian mine wars of the 1920s and ‘30s.  We might not know much about these tumultuous times, however, if the Miners for Democracy in 1972, in other tumultuous times, had not asked Anne Lawrence to come to West Virginia to collect oral histories from the survivors of those wars.  This volume presents key selections from those oral histories for a general audience, along with introductory material, maps, and photographs.  Lou Martin says the book is “long overdue,” “a pleasure to read,” and “it captures the voices of the coalfields in a way that is unlike any of the other accounts.”

A Union for Appalachian Healthcare Workers: The Radical Roots and Hard Fights of Local 1199 (West Virginia U. Press), John Hennen

The union of health care workers most recognized by its number – 1199 – was organized in New York City by a multiracial group of workers and organizers.  John Hennen’s book shows how that famous New York union organized unions in hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare centers in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and Appalachian Ohio.  The publisher promises: “Both a sophisticated account of an overlooked aspect of Appalachia’s labor history and a key piece of context for Americans’ current concern with the status of ‘essential workers,’ Hennen’s book is a timely contribution to the fields of history and Appalachian studies and to the study of social movements.”

Brown Girls (Penguin Random House), Daphne Palasi Andreades

Andreades’ debut novel focuses on a diverse circle of friends, young women of color, growing up in Queens, New York. The author writes: “If you really want to know, we are the color of 7-Eleven root beer. The color of sand at Rockaway Beach when it blisters the bottoms of our feet. Color of soil …” According to the publisher, it is the “story of immigrant mothers, American daughters, childhood, adulthood, and the people and places that make us who we are today.” Emma Straub, author of All Adults Here, writes that Andreades’ book is “An irresistible chorus of remembrances, a lyrical ode to brown girlhood. It is also an ode to Queens, and the multiethnic first-person plural sounds like the borough itself, rich and varied and glorious.”

Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Eyal Press

This new book by Eyal Press is not about coal miners or deep sewer cleaners – that kind of dirty work.  Rather it focuses on drone pilots who carry out targeted bombings, guards who patrol violent and abusive prisons, and undocumented immigrants on the kill floors of slaughterhouses – “stories of people who perform society’s most ethically troubling jobs” from which most of us are shielded because less privileged people perform those jobs in our name.  Press explores a different sort of occupational hazard as well: “psychological and emotional hardships such as stigma, shame, PTSD, and moral injury.”  Besides harrowing stories of people doing this work, Press examines the structures of power and complicity that shape their lives, as “these burdens fall disproportionately on low-income workers, undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color.”

Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone (Bold Type Books), Sarah Jaffe

Labor journalist Sarah Jaffe focuses here on the unpaid intern, the overworked teacher, the nonprofit worker, the freelance writer or researcher, and even the professional athlete – that group of workers who are expected to endure low wages, long hours, and/or precarity because they love the work they do.  Undermining the “love of labor” myth by telling the stories of a wide variety of workers, Jaffe argues that “all of us have been tricked into buying into a new tyranny of work,” but that “understanding the trap . . .  will empower us to work less and demand what our work is worth.”

Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream (Basic Books), Jamie McCallum

Sociologist Jamie McCallum systematically shows how “most Americans work too long and too hard, while others lack consistency in their hours and schedules,” and he explains how a century-long decline in work hours based on labor union struggles was reversed beginning in the 1970s.  While acknowledging overworked professionals, McCallum focuses on Amazon warehouses, California’s gig economy, and what is left of Rust Belt factories to demonstrate that “it’s the hours of low-wage workers that are the most volatile and precarious – and the most subject to crises.”  Eschewing individual solutions, McCallum “recounts the inspiring stories of those battling today’s capitalism to win back control of their time.” Jane McAlevey says “McCallum’s sharp and clarifying analysis links workers’ freedom to control work time — and thus their lives — to our ability to have a functioning, genuine democracy.”

Beautiful World, Where Are You (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), Sally Rooney

Rooney’s latest novel is at first glance the tale of two Irish women, Alice and Eileen, and follows their friendship from childhood through college (at elite universities) and early career. On the surface the book centers on their relationship as friends and their romantic lives as they navigate a series of relationships. Beneath the surface, however, as their paths diverge professionally and economically, complicated notions of social class become a powerful current in the narrative. Writing for In These Times, Sohale Andrus Mortazavi says that “Both women find their education insufficient for understanding and navigating class tension in their own lives. Those lives often say more about class as it is actually experienced by normal people than the critical theory they learned at university. They haven’t ever gone out on a picket line. Alice doesn’t even have a boss. Eileen isn’t about to unionize the little literary magazine offering her a respectable job, however little it pays. Their lived experience with class has less to do with struggling against an employer than with each other for employment and other opportunities.”

Intersectional Class Struggle: Theory and Practice (AK Press), Michael Beyea Reagan

Michael Reagan argues that “leading traditions of class analysis have missed major elements of what class is and how it operates.”  He explores a variety of working-class experiences, combining intersectional theory with materialism, to show how “culture, economics, ideology, and consciousness are all factors that go into making ‘class’.”  Reagan urges us to “recognize that our movements can be diverse and particularistic as well as have elements of the universal experience shared by all workers.”  Noam Chomsky calls it a “rich and vivid exploration of many forms of popular struggle” that reminds us that “liberation is infectious.”

Home Care Fault Lines: Understanding Tensions and Creating Alliances (Cornell U. Press), Cynthia Cranford

Home care workers are one of the fastest growing and lowest paid jobs in the US workforce.  Cynthia Cranford takes an intimate look at “how elderly and disabled people and the immigrant women workers who assist them in daily activities develop meaningful relationships even when their different ages, abilities, races, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds generate tension.” Arguing for “deeply democratic alliances across multiple axes of inequality,” Cranford advocates for culturally sensitive labor market intermediaries run by workers and recipients that would help recipients find workers and workers find jobs.  She also argues for universal government funding and suggests ways to address everyday tensions in home workplaces.

The Routledge Companion to Literature and Class (Routledge), Gloria McMillan, ed.

This collection of essays about literature in many different countries around the world brings new methods to provide a fresh assessment of the impact of class in literature.  These new methods include interdisciplinary approaches and recent developments in both intersectional theory and class analysis.  The publisher promises: “This volume will provide students with an insight into the history of the intersections of class, theory of class and invisibility in literature, and new trends in exploring class in literature. These multidimensional approaches to literature will be a crucial resource for undergraduate and graduate students becoming familiar with class analysis, and will offer seasoned scholars the most significant critical approaches in class studies.”

Announcement: Ireland’s “Working-Class Studies: An Interdisciplinary Conference,” Nov. 8 to Nov. 12

Dear WCSA Members and Fellow Travelers,

We’re happy to announce Ireland’s first academic conference dedicated to working-class studies to be held November 8-12, 2021. The Irish Working-Class Studies Conference will take place online and in Dublin at Liberty Hall, headquarters of Ireland’s largest union, SIPTU

The Irish Working-Class Studies Conference is being organized by a committee that includes two Irish working-class scholars who also sit on the Steering Committee of the Working-Class Studies Association, Emma Penney and Rosie O‘Halloran. Penney was elected in this capacity in 2020 and O’Halloran in 2021.

Recently, Penney was also a co-organizer for the WCSA’s first fully-online conference: WCSA 2021. Online conferences can be a challenge but if done well, they allow for participation across geographically distant members. We value and respect the work of Dublin-based artist and graphic designer, Aine O‘Hara, and the website they created that made the transnational conference an ephemeral home. 

At the upcoming Irish Working-Class Studies Conference, you may see some familiar faces! Some panels will include members of the Working-Class Studies Association. The Conference is free and we encourage you to register and participate in this important event.

See the Irish Working-Class Studies Conference “Schedule” and information on how to “Register.” 

Registrants will receive a Zoom-enabled program in their email shortly before the Conference begins. They will be able to “click in” to the Conference events that take place via Zoom.

In our tradition of solidarity, please come and share widely!