World Wide Work 2015

This edition of the free bulletin, World Wide Work, is published by and the American Labor Education Center, an independent nonprofit founded in 1979.

New and worth noting:

The Hand That Feeds. What might a new labor movement in America look like? This valuable 90-minute documentary takes us inside a lengthy direct-action struggle by two dozen immigrant workers at a restaurant in New York City who are fed up with low pay, poor working conditions, and a lack of sick leave or paid vacations. Showing difficult moments and strategic dilemmas as well as fierce determination and hard-earned victories, the film is as lively and inspiring as the workers themselves.
The Last Season. Each year, harvesters tromp through Oregon’s national forests, looking for matsutake mushrooms that will eventually be sold to consumers in Japan. Some are local residents who fought in the Vietnam War. Many are immigrants from Southeast Asia who experienced war from a different perspective. This documentary focuses in particular on a Cambodian and a Vietnam vet who met through the harvesting work and have become like family to each other.
Pride. This feel-good feature film unapologetically sets out to inspire a new generation with the possibilities for united action across narrowly defined movement lines. It tells the story of British gay and lesbian activists who decided to raise money for coal miners engaged in a difficult national strike. When the national union held them at arm’s length, they gradually overcame prejudice to build a human connection with mining families in a remote village in Wales.
Frontera. A Mexican man who crosses the Arizona border to find work to support his family is arrested on charges of murdering a former sheriff’s wife. The immigrant’s pregnant wife hears the news and tries to cross as well, only to be taken hostage by the coyote she hires. The grief-stricken former sheriff begins to investigate and uncovers corruption on both sides of the border. This is a feature film made to entertain, with stars Eva Longoria, Michael Peña, and Ed Harris, but in creating high drama it also reveals some truths about the outrageous conditions U.S. immigration policy creates.
Groundswell Rising. Rural people from across the political spectrum in different states are organizing to ban fracking because of its impact on community and worker health, drinking water, climate change, property values, and quality of life. Generating even more carbon emissions than coal, fracked natural gas is not the clean “bridge fuel” that industry claims, according to this 52-minute documentary.
Lost in the Fine Print. A powerful 20-minute documentary (free online) narrated by Robert Reich takes on a hidden but highly significant example of corporate overreach in America today – the use of forced arbitration clauses in contracts for employees, students, phone users, nursing home residents, and many other Americans. Increasingly, major corporations require everyone they deal with to sign agreements that specify in the fine print that any dispute will be resolved by an arbitrator chosen by the company, rather than in the courts. This means that violations of laws involving discrimination, fraud, overcharges, and much more are channeled into a corporate-controlled process with no hearings, no jury, no right to discovery, and no appeal. The film follows three highly compelling cases – a TV anchor fired because she needed time off for National Guard duties, a woman cheated by a for-profit school, and a small business being fleeced by a credit card company. The Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with big corporations on this issue. A campaign to regain our legal rights and target particular corporate offenders is being coordinated by the film’s producer, the Alliance for Justice.
Trust. Immigrant teenagers in Chicago find hope and community when they get connected with a youth theater group that produces plays based on local people’s stories.
Rebels With a Cause. Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area would not have been designated as protected public lands if it weren’t for local activists who overcame opposition from developers, oil companies, and others. Frances McDormand narrates this 73-minute documentary that includes interviews with local residents who were involved on all sides of the issue.
Prison Terminal. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. inmates are elderly, and more than 100,000 will die alone in their cells. This 40-minute documentary focuses on a state penitentiary in Iowa where prisoners are trained as hospice volunteers to work with terminally ill inmates.
A People Uncounted. A somber documentary uses interviews with Holocaust survivors and others to educate viewers about persecution faced by Roma people (often called gypsies) throughout history and continuing to the present day.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (
Simon & Schuster). Six creative short stories take place in a variety of contexts around the world, but share a common theme exploring the part that memory plays in our lives. “Every hour, all over the globe,” says one of the characters, “an infinite number of memories disappear, whole glowing atlases dragged into graves. But during that same hour children are moving about, surveying territory that seems to them entirely new. They push back the darkness; they scatter memories behind them like bread crumbs. The world is remade.”
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (
Bloomsbury). The author of the gripping novel, Salvage The Bones, about poor black children along the Gulf Coast has now written a non-fiction account centered on the death of five young men in her community over a period of four years.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (
Morrow). Between 1854 and 1929, thousands of orphans were relocated from the East Coast to mostly rural communities in the Midwest. Often, they were taken in to provide extra farm labor. This novel focuses on one of them who landed in Minnesota and combines it with a parallel modern-day story of a teenager who is bouncing among foster homes in Maine.
No Future for You edited by John Summers, Chris Lehmann, and Thomas Frank (
MIT). No favorite of the cultural and media “mainstream” is left unskewered in this collection of essays from The Baffler. Thomas Frank, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, and many others take on popular books such as Lean In and Fifty Shades of Grey, uses and abuses of modern technology, liberal icons such as Barack Obama, mail-order conservatism, and much more.
Low-Wage Work in the Wealthy World edited by Jerome Gautie and John Schmitt (
Russell Sage). Researchers compare the situation of low-wage workers in the U.S. with their counterparts in five European countries, where conditions generally are better. Case studies focus on retail sales, hospitals, food processing, hotels, and call centers.
The Devil Is Here in These Hills by James Green (
Atlantic Monthly Press). Coal miners’ battle for better treatment in the period 1890 to 1933 set an example for other industrial workers that culminated in the mass unionization that took place in America in the 1930s.
The Seeker by R.B. Chesterton (
Pegasus). A graduate student who is writing her thesis about Thoreau can’t escape a longstanding curse on her family in this mystery that features ghosts and spells.
The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein (
Doubleday). Tracing the history of debates over public education in America, a journalist ends by questioning whether “reform” imposed by billionaires and hedge fund managers is producing results. Real reform, she says, would require providing the mentoring, class sizes, planning time, facilities, and training needed to spread the best practices some teachers already use.
Topless Cellist by Joan Rothfuss (
MIT). Julliard-trained cellist Charlotte Moorman broke boundaries with her performance art, whether playing without clothes, suspended in the air, or using everyday objects as instruments. This biography spans her life, from winning Little Rock’s beauty contest in 1952 to her fatal bout with breast cancer, which she turned into series of performances.

Remedy by Old Crow Medicine. Outstanding music and songwriting, featuring It’s An Already Mean Enough World (without you), The Warden (how does he sleep at night?), and Dearly Departed Friend (about a young man attending the funeral of a 21-year-old fellow war vet).
Looking Into You. A tribute album of Jackson Browne songs performed by others, including the Indigo Girls, Jimmy LaFave, Paul Thorn, and more.
A Permeable Life by Carrie Newcomer. Songs that combine the feel of poetry, prayer, and music in clear-voiced meditations on work with our hands, memory, lifelong love, making “room at the table” for all, and more. The songwriter also has published a book of contemplative poems and essays by the same name.
The Ghost of Woody Guthrie by Bucky Halker and Andy Dee. A revival of nearly two dozen Guthrie songs, most of them not well known, including the priceless “Everybody’s Got a Monkey (On Their Back).” Halker, a Midwestern folk rocker and labor historian, has produced many other albums.

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