cover image Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice

Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice

Jamie K. McCallum. Basic, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1991-3

The Covid-19 pandemic inaugurated a rare national conversation on justice for the working class, according to this enlightening analysis. Sociologist McCallum (Worked Over) highlights the tragic experiences of blue-collar workers caught in the grips of the pandemic, including a Houston mother of four forced to live out of her car after the local eviction moratorium ended, and a Burmese immigrant who fell sick while working 15-hour days at a Colorado meatpacking plant and slipped into a fatal coma soon after her grandson was born. According to McCallum, these and other calamities sparked an “awakening” that united essential workers across industries. Amazon workers formed the first labor union in the company’s history; Massachusetts nurses picketed for 301 days to end cost-cutting staff furloughs and mandatory overtime; Chicago teachers refused to return to overcrowded, poorly ventilated classrooms. McCallum delves into the long-festering tensions behind these actions, including the “tectonic shift” in risk distribution across society, as corporations and governments raised employee healthcare premiums while simultaneously increasing work hours. His solutions include continued labor actions, passage of the Green New Deal, and shorter work hours. Interweaving deeply affecting personal stories with whip-smart structural analysis, this is a revealing diagnosis of America’s ills and an invigorating call for change. (Nov.)