Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.
Every now and then, a book comes out about events that I personally was involved in. The new book, “El Golpe,” described below, is one such book.
Years ago, I made a 19-minute documentary film (available free on YouTube) called $4 a Day? No Way!: Joining Hands Across the Border that, unfortunately, is still relevant today. The film is about working people in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada courageously organizing together to challenge global corporations and their political allies who have used violence and so-called "free trade" policies to try to drive down pay and working conditions in all three countries.
One dramatic incident explored in the film involves the murder of a union worker inside a Ford auto plant in Mexico by gunmen on the company payroll. The book, “El Golpe,” shares documents that shed light on the role the U.S. government has played in supporting corporate special interests like Ford against workers around the world.
Is Love Enough? Sir. A beautifully nuanced feature film from India focuses on a young widow from a small rural village who comes to the big city to work as a maid for a rich single man about her age. When he falls in love with her, she has to make him see the impact of class and gender disparities that he has always taken for granted.
Yalda. A young Iranian woman sentenced to die for the accidental death of her much-older husband has one chance at a reprieve. She has to go on a popular national TV show to beg forgiveness from the victim’s closest surviving relative. If she is forgiven during the show, the courts will let her off. This fictional story is based on an actual arrangement between a TV show and the Iranian courts that existed until recently.
Lunana. Gorgeous scenery, people, and music are featured in this story from Bhutan about a young man from the city who is sent to be the teacher in one of the most remote villages in the world.
Delicious. Food lovers will enjoy this feature film that takes place in France on the eve of the revolution in 1789. A highly skilled chef is fired by a wealthy duke, in an era when working for aristocrats is a chef’s only option and restaurants do not exist. A mysterious woman approaches him with the innovative suggestion that they open a business serving food to the public.
Gaza Mon Amour. A fisherman and a seamstress in Gaza, both around 60 years old, begin to fall in love in this often humorous feature film. But when he pulls up an ancient phallic statue in his fishing nets, he gets entangled in the corrupt police state they live in.
The Great Postal Heist. For decades, major corporations and their political allies have been trying to dismantle and privatize the U.S. Postal Service at the expense of customers, communities, and postal employees. Workers, community members, and activists share their experiences and an alternative vision for how the Postal Service could be strengthened and improved instead.
The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin (Dutton). A 44-year-old woman in Hood River County, Oregon who is an administrator in county government and a beekeeper on the side has to overcome a crisis in her personal life, with help from an 18-year-old boy who is permanently confined to a wheelchair and a 24-year-old wanderer who suffers from severe social anxiety. In the process, she gains the strength to challenge corrupt officials and corporate polluters in the community where she lives.
I Only Cry with Emoticons by Yuvi Zalkow (Red Hen). A clever and humorous novel explores the emotional life of a 45-year-old man navigating a divorce initiated by his wife, the absurdity of his work at a tech company, a possible new love, and his relationship with his 7-year-old son.
New Moons edited by Kazim Ali (Red Hen). A very moving and varied anthology of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoir by American Muslims provides a window into their experiences, especially after 9/11.
Roll With It by Jamie Sumner (Atheneum). Ellie is a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy that confines her to a wheelchair. She’s also a lively, outspoken kid who aspires to be a professional baker. When she moves to a new town because her grandfather has Alzheimer’s and needs her mother’s help, she meets the best friends she’s ever had.
Looking for the Good War by Elizabeth D. Samet (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In the years since World War II, what actually happened in that war has been rewritten so that many Americans today believe that the U.S. entered the war to fight fascism, stood united in making major sacrifices at home, and selflessly saved democracy in other countries. That description has then been used to justify U.S. wars and invasions ever since. A West Point professor revisits the war and its aftermath, finding that the story we tell ourselves is not accurate and has kept us from being realistic about the damage war causes and how little it accomplishes.
Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed edited by Saraciea J. Fennell (Flatiron). An anthology for junior high and high school students contains essays by 15 Latinx writers recalling their own experiences dealing with assimilation, immigrant parents, race, sexuality, white supremacy, in-laws, and more.
Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot (Berrett-Koehler). How can people who work for social change or in helping professions avoid burnout, maintain their own health, and continue to be effective? How can they deal with feelings of hopelessness, guilt, cynicism, martyrdom, anger at colleagues, or an inflated sense of self-importance? This book provides suggestions, exercises, and case studies, as well as some amusing cartoons.
Police Brutality and White Supremacy by Etan Thomas (Akashic). Former professional basketball player Etan Thomas had candid conversations about race in America with families affected by police violence, famous sports figures (both Black and white), retired police officers, journalists, educators, and more.
The Panthers Can’t Save Us Now by Cedric Johnson (Verso). A Black political scientist argues that fundamental social and economic change cannot be achieved by a movement that focuses only on race and not on class. An unusual aspect of the book is that the author includes responses by other commentators, including several who strongly disagree with him.
Elite Capture by Olufemi O. Taiwo (Haymarket). Analyzing progressive movements around the world, a Black professor argues that identity politics has been captured by capitalist and professional class elites. He argues for a movement that would “calibrate itself directly to the task of redistributing social resources and power rather than to intermediary goals cashed out in pedestals or symbolism.” He is critical of what he calls “deference politics” that “places the accountability that is all of ours to bear onto select people – and, more often than not, a sanitized and thoroughly fictional caricature of them.”
One Fair Wage by Saru Jayaraman (New Press). Not only is the minimum wage too low to live on but millions of workers are not even covered by it in most states, including many food service workers, delivery drivers, nail salon technicians, parking and airport attendants, home care workers, and workers who are disabled, below a certain age, or incarcerated. A leader in the movement to change that describes organizing campaigns that have gained increased momentum as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Watercress by Andrea Wang and Joson Chin (Holiday House). In this children’s book, a young daughter of immigrants from China is embarrassed by parents until she understands more about where her family comes from.
Major League Rebels by Robert Elias and Peter Dreier (Rowman & Littlefield). Battles between major league baseball players and team owners over worker rights and pay have been going on since the sport began in the 1800s. This historical account concludes with an informative chapter on the unfinished agenda for baseball and its union, including ending the exploitation of Latin American players, improving the conditions in which baseballs are made, ending public subsidies for billionaire team owners, improving the treatment of stadium workers, unionizing minor league players who make an average of $7,500 per year, and ending baseball’s support for military interventions abroad.
Baseball Rebels by Peter Dreier and Robert Elias (University of Nebraska). A companion book to “Major League Rebels” focuses on the history of involvement by baseball players in fighting racism, sexism, and homophobia both in the sport and in society at large.
El Golpe by Rob McKenzie with Patrick Dunne (Pluto). McKenzie was working at a Ford assembly plant in Minnesota when he heard that workers at a Ford plant in Mexico had been shot on the shop floor, one of them fatally. For years, he worked to obtain documents about what happened. The gunmen who entered the plant had been temporarily put on Ford’s payroll. The attack was designed to keep workers from choosing an independent and democratic union to replace the corrupt incumbent union allied with the Mexican government. Workers at the Minnesota plant provided various kinds of support for their Mexican counterparts, which drew the ire of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He wrote to his bosses at the State Department, urging them to get U.S. union leaders who were receiving government funds to help suppress – rather than support -- the workers’ upsurge at the Mexican plant.
International Solidarity in Action by Robin Alexander (UE). Two small labor groups, the United Electrical Workers in the U.S. and the Authentic Labor Front (F.A.T.) in Mexico, have partnered for more than 30 years to support each other’s campaigns for labor justice and to strengthen bonds through cross-border, worker-to-worker exchanges.
Almost Proud by Del McCoury Band. Bluegrass songs about coal mine wars, “Working Man’s Wage,” love, and loss.
Flowers That Bloom in the Spring by Kieran Kane and Rayna Gellert. Old-timey fiddle, banjo, and guitar music, from the Bailout Blues (“Crops are flooding, crops are dry, everybody talkin’ ‘bout a reason why”) to relationships (“Gimme that worn-out shirt, let me mend that tear, you’re hard on everything, not just the clothes you wear”).