8 Books to Read for International Workers' Day

Monday, May 1, 2023

May 1 is International Workers' Day (also known as May Day), a day to honor laborers, labor movements, and the fight for workers’ rights. Today, we're seeing historic strikes and organizing efforts from Amazon workers, Starbucks workers, graduate students, and workers across all industries. We’re celebrating by sharing a selection of books that present portraits of the American worker at different points in time, that tell the history of the labor movement in the US, and catch us up on contemporary fights to champion the rights of workers.


A History of America in Ten Strikes
By Erik Loomis

In crystalline narratives, labor historian Erik Loomis recounts ten critical strikes that pull the curtain back on labor’s struggles, giving us a fresh perspective on American history from the boots up. From the Lowell Mill Girls strike in the 1830s to Justice for Janitors in 1990, these labor uprisings do not just reflect the times in which they occurred, but speak directly to the present moment.

Loomis is also the author of Out of Sight, which follows the thread of labor and environmental harm  from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013.


Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion's Sins
By Alyssa Hardy

Worn Out examines the underside of our historic clothing binge and the fashion industry’s fall from grace. Former InStyle senior news editor and seasoned journalist Alyssa Hardy’s riveting work explores the lives of the millions of garment workers—mostly women of color—who toil in the fashion industry around the world—from LA-based sweatshop employees who experience sexual abuse while stitching clothes for H&M, Fashion Nova, and Levi’s to “homeworkers” in Indonesia who are unknowingly given carcinogenic materials to work with. The perfect book for people who are passionate about clothing and style, Worn Out seeks to engage in a real conversation about who gets harmed by fast fashion—and offers meaningful solutions for change.



By Lisa Dodson and Amanda Freeman
Sociologists Lisa Dodson and Amanda Freeman follow women in the food, health care, home care, and other low-wage industries as they struggle to balance mothering with bad jobs and without public aid. While these women tend to the needs of well-off families, their own children frequently step into premature adult roles, providing care for siblings and aging family members. Based on years of in-depth field work and hundreds of eye-opening interviews, Getting Me Cheap explores how America traps millions of women and their children into lives of stunted opportunity and poverty in service of giving others of us the lives we seek.



Murder in the Garment District: The Grip of Organized Crime and the Decline of Labor in the United States
By David Witwer and Catherine Rios

The thrilling and true account of racketeering and union corruption in mid-century New York, when unions and the mob were locked in a power struggle. Deeply researched and grounded in the street-level events that put people’s lives and livelihoods at stake, Murder in the Garment District explains the current troubled state of unions in America.


From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: An Illustrated History of Labor in the United States
By Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty, illustrations by Joe Sacco

From indentured servants and slaves in seventeenth-century Chesapeake to high-tech workers in contemporary Silicon Valley, this comprehensive history of labor in the United States explores the efforts of working people to win the rights we take for granted—basic health and safety standards, fair on-the-job treatment, minimum wage, and weekend leisure.


Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do
by Studs Terkel

Studs Turkel chronicled most of the twentieth century and is best remembered for his oral histories and his skill as an interviewer. Working, which consists of over one hundred interviews, is one of his classic booksWorking provides a fascinating look at jobs and the people who do them, from gravediggers to studio heads, providing a timeless snapshot of people’s feelings about their working lives, as well as a lasting look at how work fits into American life.


In A Day's Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers
By Bernice Yeung

Winner of the 2018 Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice and a finalist in nonfiction for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, In a Day’s Work takes readers on a journey across the country, introducing us to women who came to America to escape grinding poverty only to encounter sexual violence in the United States. Yeung exposes the underbelly of economies filled with employers who take advantage of immigrant women’s need to earn a basic living. When these women find the courage to speak up, Yeung reveals, they are too often met by apathetic bosses and under resourced government agencies. But In a Day’s Work also tells a story of resistance, introducing a group of courageous allies who challenge dangerous and discriminatory workplace conditions alongside aggrieved workers—and win. Moving and inspiring, this book will change our understanding of the lives of immigrant women.


One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America
By Saru Jayaraman

 Saru Jayaraman is a nationally acclaimed restaurant activist and the author of the bestselling Behind the Kitchen Door. In her new book, One Fair Wage, Jayaraman shines a light on the precarity of restaurant workers, illustrating how the people left out of the fight for a fair minimum wage are society’s most marginalized: people of color, many of them immigrants; women, who form the majority of tipped workers; disabled workers; incarcerated workers; and youth workers. They epitomize the direction of our whole economy, reflecting the precariousness and instability that is increasingly the lot of American labor.

Article related book(s): 
Worn Out
One Fair Wage
Getting Me Cheap
A History of America in Ten Strikes
From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend
Studs Terkel’s Working
In a Day’s Work
Murder in the Garment District