Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day

Commemorating the Haymarket Riots, today is International Workers Day, or May Day. Initially, it was a day for workers and trade unions around the world to have a one-day annual strike to highlight demands for an 8-hour work day. To celebrate, here are books where workers go on strike:


Kids On Strike! by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Until the early twentieth century, child labor was common with kids doing some dangerous and horrifying jobs. As American workers started standing up for their rights and demanding things we now take for granted (such as bathroom breaks, fire exits, and weekends) the children went on strike, too. Sometimes they striked with adults, sometimes by themselves. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. This classic is one many teens will read in American Lit. class. Jurgis is a recent immigrant to America who just wants to work an honest day's work to support his family. What he sees in the meat packing industry, both in how the food and the workers are treated spurs him to action.

Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century by Howard Zinn, Robin D. G. Kelley, and Dana Frank. Published for adults, this slim volume (under 200 pages!) covers three influential, but little known strikes. Each author covers a different strike-- Zinn the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-14, Kelley the New York Musicians Strike of 1936-37, and Frank the Detroit Woolworth's strike of 1937.


Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Patterson. When the millworkers in Lawrence, Mass. go on strike, Rosa is confused. Her teacher says the strikers are good-for-nothing rabble rousers, but Rosa's mother and sister on the picket lines. Then she's sent away with the other children, to stay safe until the strike is over.

Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr's Final Hours by Ann Bausum. In 1968, Memphis's sanitation workers went on strike. Bausum describes the horrific and unfair working conditions, as well as the on-the-job deaths that finally pushed them to action. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech was about the strike. It was his last speech-- he was murdered the next day.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Three girls from different backgrounds become friends at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Told in each voice, this covers the fire, but focuses on an earlier strike against unfair labor conditions.


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This is another one that teens will probably get in English class, but just in case they don't... Pushed off their Oklahoma farm by the Dust Bowl, the Joad family heads to California to be migrant workers in the fields.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. When her father is murdered, Esperanza and her mother flee to from Mexico to the US. Esperanza is used to an upper class life, not her new life as a migrant worker worker during the depression.

The Diviners by Libba Bray. When Evie is shipped off to live with her uncle at the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies (The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult), she is sucked into his investigation of a serial killer involved with the occult. While this story mostly focuses on the investigation, Bray's novel is very evocative of the 1930s setting, and Evie's best friend, Mabel's parents are labor organizers. While the labor plot isn't huge (although a minor plot point revolves around a large rally) there's a good chance it might become larger as the series continues.

What books would recommend for May Day reading?

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