World Wide Work: Books and Films You May Have MIssed

May 18, 2023

Camas in BloomCamas in BloomTable Rock, Oregon

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.


Milked by Ruth Conniff (The New Press). Midwestern dairy farmers depend on workers from Mexico, many of whom are undocumented, at the same time that large agribusinesses are driving many small family dairies out of business. Over two decades, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit called Bridges/Puentes has taken dozens of U.S. farmers to Mexico to get to know the families and communities of the people who work for them. The former editor of The Progressive magazine observed some of these exchanges and gives voice to the farmers, the Mexican families, and activist groups organizing for solutions that would benefit both.

The Man Who Changed Colors by Bill Fletcher Jr. (Hardball). In this complex crime novel, a reporter risks his life to investigate the death of a Massachusetts shipyard worker, with the legacy of African colonies’ struggles for independence from Portugal as the backdrop.

Fire Scars by John B. Wright (University of Nevada). A series of fires fueled by climate change have broken out in Montana in this timely whodunit novel, destroying hundreds of houses, many of them belonging to recent wealthy transplants from California. While some are caused by lightning, it becomes clear that the most damaging are the result of arson, and there are many suspects with potential motivation.

Quick Fixes by Benjamin Y. Fong (Verso). The U.S. appears to be unique in human history in the prevalence of drug sales, the incarceration of people on drug-related charges, and the high rate of mental illness. Americans are about 4% of the world’s population but consume about 80% of its opioids and are more than six times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than people in the rest of the world. This creative and informative history of drugs in the U.S., including coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, cocaine, marijuana, psychedelics, and more, finds that drug sales often are related to stressful work, feelings of powerlessness and isolation, corporate profiteering, and racism, classism, and sexism.

Unbroken by Angela Sterritt (Greystone). Sterritt weaves together two powerful stories. One follows her own life, from survival on the streets as a homeless indigenous teenager to her current work as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. The other is the investigative reporting she has done on the disappearance and murders of at least 1,500 indigenous women and girls in Canada.

The Jackson County Rebellion by Jeffrey Max LaLande (Oregon State University). Scapegoating of Black people, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants has a long history in southern Oregon, including Ku Klux Klan organizing and a sometimes violent movement in the 1930s that, among other things, refused to accept local election results. Demagogues who led these movements exploited rural residents’ economic insecurity and resentment of wealthy elites.

Embroidery by Sigrun Palsdottir (Open Letter). A young girl’s aspirations for a better life, and the simple twists of fate that can upset anyone’s best laid plans, are at the heart of this short novel that takes place in Iceland and New York in the 1890s at a time when industrialization in the U.S. was creating a growing class of aristocratic capitalists.  

Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov (MacLehose). Characters in this whimsical novel set in western Ukraine’s largest city before the current war include a man who makes his living driving Polish men over cobblestone streets to jar loose their kidney stones; a woman who works in a currency exchange but has a skin allergy to paper money; an ex-KGB officer who is a fan of Jimi Hendrix, and more.

It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism by Bernie Sanders (Crown). The senator takes on questions such as why so little changes for working people no matter which party is in power, why many Americans expressed their anger by voting for Trump, and what concrete reforms could be adopted to counter the power of billionaires and improve life for the rest of us.

When the Hood Comes Off by Rob Eschmann (University of California). Racism in online communication takes many forms, from overt to subtle. A researcher combines data and interviews to show online racism’s impact on in-person interactions and to give examples of resistance by anti-racism activists.

Secret Life of the City by Hanna Bjorgaas (Greystone). A biologist provides interesting facts about creatures typically seen by urban residents, including how certain birds incorporate city sounds into their songs, why bats like churches, how crows remember and distinguish between specific humans, what can be learned about soil health by burying cotton underwear for a few months, and much more.

Like, Literally, Dude by Valerie Fridland (Viking). In entertaining style, a linguist educates readers on how changes in American English emerge, what functions they serve, and how class, gender, race, region, and other factors play into ideas about what expressions and speech patterns are “correct.”

Labor Power and Strategy by John Womack Jr., edited by Peter Olney and Glenn Perusek (PM Press). Some labor strategists argue that unions should concentrate organizing resources on choke points in the economy – shipping or information technology, for example -- to force corporations and politicians to allow workers to organize. Others emphasize the importance of supporting workers who have demonstrated active interest in organizing – Starbucks workers, for example – even if they don’t have the power to create a significant economic crisis. A university researcher and ten organizers debate this question.

The Work by Zachary Sklar (Olive). A journalist and screenwriter recounts memories in this collection of nonfiction essays, from growing up as a child of blacklisted parents to collaborating on the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the movie JFK to editing books exposing the CIA to time spent as a young white man in a Black community on a South Carolina Sea Island and in war-torn Nicaragua.


Open Up to Me. A touching and nuanced Finnish feature film follows a trans woman as she searches for love, faces job discrimination, and reaches out to her teenaged daughter despite opposition from her bitter ex-wife.

Discount. A group of low-wage supermarket workers are told that the company plans to introduce self-checkout with no provision for saving their jobs. With the support of their working-poor community, they come up with a risky plan of resistance in this fast-paced feature film from France.

Crystal Swan. A young woman in Belarus who scrapes by as a music DJ dreams of emigrating to Chicago where she imagines she will find fortune in that city’s music scene. She makes a mistake on her visa application, though, and correcting it turns out to be complicated.

Critical Thinking. A feature film based on the true story of the first inner-city team to win the national high school chess championship features outstanding acting and an honest portrayal of the obstacles the students and their teacher faced.

On the Fringe. Penelope Cruz leads an all-star cast In this Spanish film about a variety of characters impacted by evictions, exploitation of immigrants, and profiteering by banks and utilities. The supermarket worker played by Cruz becomes part of a community group that tries to block evictions and provide mutual aid in other ways.

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