Out of the Mainstream: Books and Films You May Have Missed

BOOKS

Can They Do That?
By Lewis Maltby
Portfolio, 2009

Unless workers have a union, constitutional rights generally stop at the workplace door. In most cases, it is legal for companies to fire or discipline workers for their political views or their private lifestyle. Increasingly, corporations test applicants for genetic diseases or seek personal psychological profiles before making hiring decisions. Some employers use the Global Positioning System capacity of company-issued cell phones to track workers’ activities during off hours. The U.S. frequently criticizes human rights violations in other countries, but maintains a system of employment law that allows corporations to trample on workers’ fundamental rights every day.

 

Cesar Chavez: A Photographic Essay
By Ilan Stavans
Cinco Puntos, 2010

Chavez’s role in United Farm Workers organizing is recounted using photos and a small amount of text aimed mainly at young people.

 

Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan
By David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis
Olive Branch, 2010

In question-and-answer format, analysts from the United Methodist Church and the Institute of Policy Studies provide essential background on the real reasons for the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan and the continuation of the war by President Obama. They also address the question of how the U.S. can bring its involvement to an end.

 

Everything but the Coffee
By Bryant Simon
University of California Press, 2009

This thoughtful, in-depth study of Starbucks and its customers concludes that Americans want what the company claims it offers—community, fair treatment of workers and food producers, and protection of the environment—but the author questions whether consuming the products of big corporations like Starbucks actually yields those outcomes.

 

Hazard
By Gardiner Harris
Minotaur, 2010

A mystery novel by the public health reporter for the New York Times shines a light on corporate and governmental abuses in the coal industry.

 

If the Church Were Christian
By Philip Gulley
HarperOne, 2010

A Quaker minister suggests that if churches more closely followed Jesus’s values and teachings, they would focus more on inclusion rather than exclusion, reconciliation rather than judgment, meeting needs rather than maintaining institutions, and inviting questions rather than insisting on rigid answers.

 

If We Can Change the White House, We Can Change the Hog House
By Gene Bruskin
genebruskin@gmail.com, 2010

In a twenty-page, pocket-size booklet, the former director of the successful campaign to win a union contract for mostly Latino and African-American workers at the Smithfield meatpacking plant in North Carolina tells the story in the form of a rap-style poem.

 

Mothers’ Work and Children’s Lives
By Rucker C. Johnson, Ariel Kalil, and Rachel E. Dunifon
Upjohn Institute, 2009

Welfare reform under President Clinton was supposed to help children by pushing their mothers into the workforce. More than a decade later, studies show that children generally do benefit when their mothers are provided work with good wages and consistent hours, but suffer increased behavioral problems and poor performance in school if their mothers are pressured to work irregular hours in unstable, low-wage jobs.

 

Moving Millions
By Jeffrey Kaye
Wiley, 2010

A former reporter for PBS NewsHour shows that the changes in immigration policy that are being discussed by national leaders do not address the underlying reasons that cause people to emigrate in the first place, including poverty and powerlessness and the hunger of multinational corporations for cheap and exploitable labor.

 

NAFTA and Labor in North America
By Norman Caulfield
University of Illinois Press, 2009

Twenty years after the beginning of the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, workers in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada all are worse off. Traditional union strategies based primarily on affecting national trade policies have proven to be inadequate in a global economy in which capital knows no boundaries.

 

On a Dollar a Day
By Christopher Greenslate and Kerri Leonard
Hyperion, 2009

Two California high school teachers decide to limit their food budget to the dollar a day on which many of the world’s people exist. Then, they try the federal government’s official Thrifty Food Plan for people on food stamps. In the process, they explore a range of fundamental issues about food and justice.

 

Revolt on Goose Island
By Kari Lydersen
Melville House, 2009

A sit-down strike by workers at Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago, in December 2008, became a symbol of working people’s frustration with the increasing gap in wealth and power in America. A Washington Post reporter was on the scene and makes the story come alive.

 

Teaching What Really Happened
By James W. Loewen
Teachers College Press, 2010

The author of Lies My Teacher Told Me provides a guide for students, parents, and teachers who want to analyze class and racial bias in how history is taught in most American schools. The book applies that perspective to such topics as the “conquest” of North America, slavery, the Civil War, and race relations today

 

The Sound of Water
By Sanjay Bahadur
Atria International, 2009

This short novel about coal miners in India tells a very human story while conveying the author’s cynical view of that country’s hierarchical and bureaucratic culture.

 

Timber Beasts
By S.L. Stoner
Yamhill Press, 2009

This entertaining mystery novel is set against the background of the struggles between timber workers and big logging interests in the early 1900s.

 

FILMS

Garbage Dreams
www.garbagedreams.com, 2009

In Cairo, sixty thousand people made their living collecting the city’s garbage and recycling 80 percent of it. Now, foreign firms have been brought in by the government to do the work instead. They use modern equipment but recycle only about 20 percent of the waste.

 

No Impact Man
www.noimpactdoc.com, 2009

An unusually honest, fun, and thought-provoking ninety-minute documentary follows a New York couple that conducts a year-long demonstration project in sustainable living. They do without petroleum-powered transportation, disposable packaging, food that is not produced locally, electronic conveniences, and more. In the process, they discover that living without a focus on television and consumer culture opens the door to more quality family time and community relationships.

 

Objectified
www.objectifiedfilm.com, 2009

In this wide-ranging seventy-six-minute documentary, cutting-edge designers of consumer goods from around the world show how they do their work. They also talk about being caught between corporations’ short-term profit motive and their own desire to design sustainable products that serve the needs of the great majority of humanity that is not wealthy.

 

On the Road to Tel-Aviv
www.roadtotelaviv.com, 2008

A brilliant fifteen-minute short shows Israeli Jews getting on a bus not long after another bus was blown up by suicide bombers. An Arab woman carrying a large bag gets on the bus, and the passengers panic. The story provides a good starting point for discussion about profiling and about actions individuals will take when in a group seized by fear.

 

Outrage
www.outragethemovie.com, 2009

This hard-hitting eighty-nine-minute film focuses on closeted gay politicians who cynically take strong stands against gay and lesbian rights. One who is featured is Florida Governor Charlie Crist. The film discusses Crist’s history of having gay relationships, carrying out anti-gay policies, and suddenly acquiring a female partner during election campaigns, only to “break up” once the votes are counted.

 

The Coca-Cola Case
www.killercoke.org, 2009

This eighty-five-minute documentary follows a campaign, supported by U.S. unions, to hold Coca-Cola legally accountable for the murder of union leaders and activists in Colombia,

 

The Solitary Life of Cranes
www.cityofcranes.com, 2008

This twenty-seven-minute documentary provides unusual footage showing what crane operators see from high above London, although it lacks a focus on the work they actually do.

*This column is adapted from World Wide Work, written by Matt Witt, and published eight times a year by the American Labor Education Center, an independent nonprofit that operates www.TheWorkSite.org, a free website that provides downloadable tools and tips for educators and activists.

New Labor Forum 19(3): 49-50, Fall 2010
Copyright © Joseph S. Murphy Institute, CUNY
ISSN: 1095-7960/10 print, DOI: 10.4179/NLF.193.0000008

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