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A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis

12 Dec

Labor history is rarely covered in great detail in high schools, which is a shame because the story of how workers gained the right to unionize, an eight-hour day, and a minimum wage is as riveting as any other piece of American history. Many people think that these labor reforms were gifted to workers by the generosity of progressive presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, but in A History of America in Ten Strikes, Loomis shows that it was workers who won these gains themselves by striking against abusive employers and the government, often when the odds were not in their favor.

For most of our existence as a country, work for the average person was bleak and brutal. Loomis writes about how starvation wages, gruesome workplace accidents and deaths, and violent repression of pro-union organizers was common. Conditions were so abysmal in the cotton and textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts that the life expectancy of a worker in the city was just forty years old. Over 100 garment workers burned to death in the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City during a time when it was common for factory owners to lock their employees inside the workplace. Mining companies would pay their employees in a type of currency called “scrip” that could only be used at company stores that would greatly inflate their prices.

The only tool workers had to fight back against these inhumane conditions was to go on strike. At the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan in 1936 – 1937, workers locked themselves inside while police shot tear gas through windows and management tried to freeze them out by turning off the heat. Workers from various industries shut down business in Oakland in 1946 in a city-wide general strike. Air traffic controllers unsuccessfully tried to stop international air travel when they walked off the job under President Ronald Reagan. Labor heroes such as Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Lucy Parsons all make appearances in Loomis’s history, but it is the striking workers themselves who take center stage in his history.

Loomis writes in an easily digestible narrative style that is never dull. His retelling of America’s labor history is both inspiring by highlighting the courage of average working people, but also tragic by showing inability of many of these same workers to look past the racism and xenophobia that was so deeply ingrained. Loomis’s book is as much about race as it is about class and how racism in America’s history has contributed to the weaknesses of many working class movements. Anyone who has enjoyed Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States will definitely enjoy Loomis’s book.

You can borrow A History of America in Ten Strikes from Hoopla as an ebook.  A People’s History of the United States is available as abridged and unabridged audiobook on Hoopla and as an ebook from eBCCLS.

You can stream a variety of documentaries about this topic on Kanopy including Triangle Fire: A Deadly Factory Accident in New York (Part of the PBS Series: American Experience). Our long time readers may remember our previous posts about the Alice Hoffman novel, The Museum of Extraordinary Things which involved the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

Written By:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

14 Nov

Their Eyes Were Watching God has always been a favorite read of mine ever since college. It’s so much more than the title and I am fascinated with novels that are more than what their titles imply. Of course, the title plays a major role within the book but it’s not what resonated with me the most about the book.

There is this quote that always stood out to me even as I got deeper into the plot.

“She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she know how not to mix them” (Hurston 72).

I have always touched upon this idea of identity, self and truth in many of my other posts, and how this all overlaps in one way or another. This is because truth and what is truth and how truth and beauty can not only be subjective but also incomprehensibly unbiased deeply intrigue me. How can something beautiful to all be ugly to one, but then in the end beauty and ugly are truths that everyone feels and agrees with. Now I know this may seem confusing and complex, but stay with me. What I mean is that the meaning of beauty remains the same but what is defined as beautiful is what changes.

On this note I love noticing things that are hidden within novels that others may not see. As farfetched – far-reaching – as this may seem I feel as though the title has a lot less to do with religion and a lot to do with keeping one’s eyes one oneself. There is a part of the book where her hair is tied together – no pun intended – with the word “glory” to which to me seems biblical, spiritual, and almost godlike. Wrestling with this and how it connects with other blogs I have written, I went on a symbolic and metaphorical word journey.

How does her hair and all its “glory” relate to having an inside and an outside? It could simply mean that she has her organs and then she has her looks, or she had her soul and then her spirit, or even she had a reality and then an appearance – if we look into the literal. I think it meant that she had vulnerability and she had strength. This can tie into having a reality that you portray about yourself and an appearance that you show to the world. We all appear as someone to others and it can be a form of truth of who we are but it’s not all of it.

We all have an inside and an outside. What I find fascinating is that they can’t be mixed. Of course she has her own reasons within the book as to why she knows not to mix them, but it’s an enlightening concept that really hit me with this novel.

All this to say – as my downward spiral did not serve this book justice – this book is definitely worth a read and is much more than just college material.

Besides the book in print you can also check out from BCCLS Libraries a movie adaptation starring Halle Berry and an audiobook on CD.  Ebook and digital audiobook versions are available from eLibraryNJ, and a digital audiobook version from Hoopla.  If you are interested in learning more about the author, you can check out the documentary, Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun available to stream from Kanopy.

Written By
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

What books have you read for school that resonate with you even more now?  Share them with our readers in the comments!

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