I’ve recently returned to something I’ve always enjoyed but haven’t done for awhile: reviewing books. In February I reviewed Detroit City is the Place to Be, by Mark Binelli, for the Brooklyn Rail. You can read the quite positive review here: http://brooklynrail.org/2013/02/express/inside-the-motor-city
In February I also reviewed The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis, this time for Truthdig. It’s another book with a Detroit connection, as Parks left Montgomery for Detroit soon after the end of the boycott. The opening paragraph of my veiw, along with a link to the entire piece, is below:
ROSA PARKS: A LIFE (Truthdig, February 27, 2013)
In 1960, Jet magazine sent a correspondent to interview Rosa Parks. Five short years had passed since Parks had famously refused to move to the back of the bus, with her arrest triggering a series of events—the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the elevation of Martin Luther King Jr. to the national stage—that would radically reshape the 20th century. But when the Jet reporter caught up with Parks she was living in Detroit, described as a “tattered rag of her former self—penniless, debt-ridden, ailing with stomach ulcers and a throat tumor, compressed into two rooms with her husband and mother.”
I wrote this piece for Mother Jones, looking at the nearly 1.4 million people in America living in extreme poverty. Support for the piece came from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Mother Jones, December 13, 2012
Two years ago, Harvard professor Kathryn Edin was in Baltimore interviewing public housing residents about how they got by. As a sociologist who had spent a quarter century studying poverty, she was no stranger to the trappings of life on the edge: families doubling or tripling up in apartments, relying on handouts from friends and relatives, selling blood plasma for cash. But as her fieldwork progressed, Edin began to notice a disturbing pattern. “Nobody was working and nobody was getting welfare,” she says. Her research subjects were always pretty strapped, but “this was different. These people had nothing coming in.”
Over the last two years a very exciting campaign has unfolded in Silicon Valley, led by students at San Jose State University pushing to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. They encountered stiff resistance from the usual suspects–Chamber of Commerce and the like–but on election day voters overwhelmingly approved the increase.
I wrote about the campaign for The Nation, below:
The Nation, December 17, 2012 issue
In the spring of 2011, students in a sociology class at San Jose State University got together to brainstorm ways to make the world a better place. The course they were taking, Social Action, focused on theory and history while also encouraging students to “apply social change to the local community.” For Marisela Castro, a junior, the promise of action was precisely what she was looking for, and she already knew the issue she’d champion. She was on a mission to raise the minimum wage.
I am belatedly posting this piece, written for Alternet, about a union victory at a large poultry plant in Russellville, Alabama. It’s the same plant I worked at for my book Working in the Shadows, and there had been several previous organizing attempts, which all ended in pretty resounding defeats. So this was a great news story, and proof that even in a tough climate, organizing progress is possible.
Forced to Work on a Broken Ankle? Workers Defy Abusive Supervisors for Big Union Win
Alternet, July 31, 2012
In December of 2004, while working at a massive poultry plant in Alabama, Delores Smith slipped on the greasy floor and collapsed into a heap. In considerable pain, she limped over to the nurse’s office. The company nurse, however, didn’t even bother to look at the injury, instead sending Smith home with ibuprofen. When she got to her car, Smith looked down and noticed that pieces of bone were poking out through her sock. She had broken her ankle in three places.
For the last few months, with the critical support of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, I’ve been working on a long piece about the explosive growth of the blue-collar temp industry. The result has just been published by Mother Jones, which you can read here: “Everyone Only Wants Temps.”
It was an educational and challenging assignment, and included working for two weeks at Labor Ready–the company that has come to dominate the market. I’m definitely excited to check out the forthcoming EHRP projects–you can take a look at what’s on the way here: http://economichardship.org/contributors/
Have a new piece up at The Nation about the fight on the part of advocates and the Dept of Labor to protect guestworkers, and the counter-offensive by businesses and a bipartisan group of Senators.
The piece begins:
“In May, a 911 dispatcher received a call from a desperate employee of CJ’s Seafood, a crawfish processing company in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The phone conversation was confusing—the caller only spoke Spanish—and when police arrived to investigate, the nervous worker, under the watchful eye of her boss, explained that she had dialed the number by mistake.” (You can read the entire article here.)
I did a short interview yesterday with Nation editor Betsy Reed about the article I wrote regarding increased hardships for poultry workers. You can have a listen here: http://www.thenation.com/audio/167599/gabriel-thompson-how-usda-endangering-workers-health
A few months back I got a troubling email from someone who closely follows worker safety issues, describing a USDA proposal that could make life much harder for poultry workers. Poultry work is already very fast-paced–as I learned when working at a plant in rural Alabama–leading to a high number of repetitive stress injuries. But in January the USDA published a proposal that would allow poultry companies to jack up their maximum line speed from 91 birds a minute to a whopping 175 birds.
As one can imagine, the proposal could have terrible consequences for workers, but thus far such concerns have received almost no media attention. I write about the proposal, and the dangers faced by poultry workers, in this week’s issue of The Nation. You can read that article here: New Rules Mean New Hardship for Poultry Workers.