Tag Archives: Laborers

U.S. Department of Labor (& Lit?) Marks a Centennial of Work in America

Putting a face on government information offers some delightful surprises! Thanks to National Public Radio Weekend Edition (which btw is supported in part with federal funds) I just learned about the United States Department of Labor’s commemoration of their Centennial year.    In March 1913 President William Howard Taft signed the legislation that established the DOL, Taft was on his way out and the establishment of DOL marked a triumph for the Progressive movement that was on the ascendancy with the election of Woodrow Wilson.

To celebrate its roots DOL might have created a massive bibliography of the countless books by and about the Department’s century of achievement.  Instead, in partnership with the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, DOL launched an open-ended campaign to identify a list of Books that Shaped Work in America.

The intent of the project is to ignite a lively national conversation about the impact of books on American life – with an obvious emphasis on books related to work in America.   The promotional material from DOL notes that “it was the wide range of books with work as a central theme that really served to underscore the significant role published works have played in shaping American workers and workplaces.”

Like any good list builder, DOL primed the bibliographic pump.  They asked a cross-section of Americans – politicians, writers, bureaucrats and others – to think about the books that have shaped Americans’ attitudes towards labor.  There are the obvious – e.g. Barbara Ehrenreich’s  Nickle and Dimed, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged along with a host of less obvious titles that have captured the attention of readers.  And there are children’s books such as Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town and Doreen Cronin’s very funny Click, Clack, Moo-Cows That Type.

Carl Fillichio, who oversees the DOL project, avers that his pick is Moby Dick.  You can hear his rationale and his enthusiasm for the project in his interview with Jennifer Ludden on NPR’s Sunday Edition for December 29, 2013.

All of the responses, with photos and information about the readers and their choices are posted on the DOL website.

Better yet, the website invites all readers to name their own pick.   Join the conversation by posting your choice.  The very simple form is also on the website where readers will be advised that “of course, the list of Books that Shaped Work in America is, and always will be, a work in progress, since – like America itself – work is constantly changing and evolving.”



Thanks to Those Who Make Things Work

With thanks to a host of good people whose names I don’t even know, I share the thoughts of Marge Piercy who wrote:

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who stand in the line and haul in their places,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

                                                 To Be of Use, by Marge Piercy

This season my special thanks go to the unsung techies who are the WD40 of the information age –

  • the workers who get down on their hands and knees, crawl through ceilings and stuff themselves in closets to magically create order out of a maze of multi-colored cables with prongs more functional than sexy.
  • the energetic crew at the Apple store who struggle endlessly with the psychological and technological foibles of struggling surfers.
  • the staff at Central Library who lend a compassion ear and helping hand to the steady stream of job-seeking searchers
  • the hackers at Open Twin Cities who manipulate raw data until it makes sense to community organizers working to make their streets safe
  • the linemen/women who lay the broadband that links people, ideas and commerce
  • the coders and taggers and catalogers who organize the stuff until it’s actually accessible on request
  • the folks who evaluate, update and share the latest software
  • the enlightened ones who use the task bar,
  • Those who claim the rare ability to reverse polarity

In this digital age the fact remains that “the work of the world is common as mud.”  A Thanksgiving shout-out to those who don’t shrink from “work that is real” – those who “move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out” or the new app installed.