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31 Ways to Think About Work This Labor Day
Today, I'm celebrating the work of other folks who think about work all of the time! Here are my recommendations—whether you have a minute, a lunch break, or a whole weekend.
I think about work all the time.
Not my work, but our Work.
As a society, though, we often forget about work. It’s such a deeply embedded part of our lives that it goes without conscious consideration. Let alone celebration.
The US Department of Labor defines Labor Day as a “celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.” And it’s been a national holiday since 1894.
For most Americans, the holiday signals the final hurrah of summer more than it does an opportunity to celebrate the labor movement. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a break from my own work and share some of the work that’s intrigued or excited me when it comes to thinking about labor.
The list below isn’t exhaustive, of course. And I’ve prioritized sharing resources that could act as a doorway into another thinker’s body of work.
What Works is a newsletter & podcast about work in the 21st century that questions all of our assumptions about how we earn a living.
You’ll find the list divided into three sections: 1) for when you have a spare minute, 2) for when you’re on your lunch break, and 3) for when you’re ready to dig in.
Premium subscribers: I’d love to hear your own recommendations in the comments! I’d also love to know if there are other resource lists that you’d like to see!
For when you have a spare minute or three:
Vox has a great YouTube channel that offers video essays that are typically less than 10 minutes. This one on how Icelandic women shut down the country to demand equal pay and this one on the “Great Stewardess Rebellion” showcase women in the labor movement.
I love the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s YouTube channel, too. They have a whole series of shorts on various aspects of economics. But a good place to start is this video titled “What is work?” with feminist economist Nancy Folbre.
- isn’t a newsletter about labor per se. But it is about the internet and influencers and social media—and, if I haven’t made it abundantly clear, that’s all free labor we’re doing for tech companies with multi-billion dollar valuation. This piece by on when to call “that’s enough internet for today” is a good start.
For when you’re on your lunch break:
Executive pay is the subject of much consternation—but it never seems to be on the negotiating table when it comes to paying workers more.from calls executive pay a skeleton key to understanding today’s brand of capitalism.
I heartily recommend both’s newsletter and their podcast Tech Won’t Save Us. A good place to start is thinking about how technological change is used to benefit capital rather than workers. Or, take a long lunch break with this episode that examines how small businesses learn to operate like Amazon.
If you’ve only got time for a protein bar, check out Bob Merberg’sand his piece that thinks about where we put our economic priorities by remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist factory disaster.
I’ve been binging the 5-4 podcast like there’s no tomorrow. They cover a number of labor-related cases, but a good place to start is “American Ship Building Company v. National Labor Relations Board” (transcript) or listen in your favorite app.
Coffee shops have become a front in the fight for better working conditions, andfrom offers a look behind the counter. As a former barista and cafe manager myself, I really love this piece on the annoying phrase, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”
For when you’re ready to dig in:
All the links to books in this section go to Bookshop.org (and yes, they’re affiliate links). Of course, ordering through your local independent bookseller is a great option, too! And for the books published by Verso, if you go through their website (here’s their summer labor reading list), you can purchase a physical book and get the ebook free.
When I learned that speculative fiction author China Miéville had a commentary on the Communist Manifesto, I ran to the bookstore. This interview with On the Media's Brooke Gladstone is a good introduction.
For a short introduction to labor under platform capitalism, check out Work Without the Worker by Phil Jones.
Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change is at once an intimate reckoning with family history and a broad look at how women of color (specifically, Filipino women) have served as a stop-gap within imperialist and capitalist systems of labor in America. Or listen to author Angela Garbes’s interview on The Feminist Present.
Anthropologist David Graeber gave us all sorts of ways to think differently about work (and its relationship to the state). But I think Bullshit Jobs: A Theory is an important text for anyone thinking about how unnecessary so much work is.
- is a masterful podcaster, and the whole series is worth a binge!
Both Season 5 and Season 6 of This is Uncomfortable, hosted by Krissy Clark, ask really important questions about what it means to work, how the identity of worker has changed, and what we should expect from full-time employment.
Alright, that’ll do it for today! No matter where you are in the world, I hope you take the time (even if it’s just 60 seconds) to think about labor, your identity as a worker, and how we prioritize (or, rather, don’t) those who work for a living as a society.
Next week, I’m chiming in on the question of why it feels like the economy sucks even if the numbers of good. Hint: we’re trying to compare apples and oranges.
Finally, I have openings for one-on-one strategy sessions in September and October. And I am also still enrolling coaches, managers, consultants, and guides of all kinds for my fall program, Work In Practice.
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