The most recommended books about labor unions

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to labor unions, and here are their favorite labor union books.
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What type of labor union book?


Book cover of Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide

Ellen Cassedy Author Of Working 9 to 5: A Women's Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie

From Ellen's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Women’s rights activist Memoirist Translator from yiddish Reader

Ellen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Ellen love this book?

I lived through some of the events that Lane Windham describes in her super-readable and super-informative account of how new types of workers challenged both their employers and the American labor movement to listen to them and improve their work lives.

Shipyard workers, department store workers, office workers – these groups figured out new ways to raise their voices and “knock on the door” to make themselves heard. The result was big changes in their own lives, in the workplace, and in America’s unions.

Today, we’re seeing a surge of labor organizing just as groundbreaking as the initiatives Lane Windham describes. This made the book especially relevant for me. 

By Lane Windham,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Knocking on Labor's Door as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The power of unions in workers' lives and in the American political system has declined dramatically since the 1970s. In recent years, many have argued that the crisis took root when unions stopped reaching out to workers and workers turned away from unions. But here Lane Windham tells a different story. Highlighting the integral, often-overlooked contributions of women, people of color, young workers, and southerners, Windham reveals how in the 1970s workers combined old working-class tools--like unions and labor law--with legislative gains from the civil and women's rights movements to help shore up their prospects. Through close-up studies of workers'…

Household Workers Unite

By Premilla Nadasen,

Book cover of Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement

Jennifer L. Pierce Author Of Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash Against Affirmative Action

From the list on women’s rights in the American workplace.

Who am I?

Women’s rights in the workplace have been my passion for thirty years. As a sociologist who does fieldwork and oral histories, I am interested in understanding work through workers’ perspectives. The most important thing I’ve learned is that employers can be notoriously reluctant to enact change and that the most effective route to workplace justice is through collective action. I keep writing because I want more of us to imagine workplaces that value workers by compensating everyone fairly and giving workers greater control over their office’s rhythm and structure. 

Jennifer's book list on women’s rights in the American workplace

Why did Jennifer love this book?

Did you know that until 1974, the job category ‘domestic worker’ was excluded from labor rights that were established in FDR’s New Deal legislation such as the minimum wage and workers’ compensation? Did you know that 1960s union leaders ignored the exploitative labor conditions of domestic work because they considered these workers “unorganizable”?

Historian Premilla Nadasan’s wonderful book tells the story of Black domestic workers’ exclusion from legal rights to which other workers were entitled and their fight to gain those rights beginning in the 1950s and extending through the establishment of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1974.

Telling this history through the life stories of domestic workers who were leaders in this movement makes this book a particularly compelling and worthwhile read.  

By Premilla Nadasen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Household Workers Unite as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Telling the stories of African American domestic workers, this book resurrects a little-known history of domestic worker activism in the 1960s and 1970s, offering new perspectives on race, labor, feminism, and organizing.
In this groundbreaking history of African American domestic-worker organizing, scholar and activist Premilla Nadasen shatters countless myths and misconceptions about an historically misunderstood workforce. Resurrecting a little-known history of domestic-worker activism from the 1950s to the 1970s, Nadasen shows how these women were a far cry from the stereotyped passive and powerless victims; they were innovative labor organizers who tirelessly organized on buses and streets across the United…

Sex Workers Unite

By Melinda Chateauvert,

Book cover of Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk

Kay Stephens Author Of The Porn Star's Daughter

From the list on sex-positive reads you may have missed.

Who am I?

I spent nearly two decades as a highly successful corporate attorney. Or, perhaps I should say, a successful attorney with a crude mouth and a love for all things spandex. And my unabashed personality was a differentiator in my career—it allowed me to cut through the corporate nonsense and personally connect with my opposition. But my career imploded when I became the subject of overt sexual harassment in my workplace and my employer worked harder at a coverup than resolution. Rather than sell back my story through litigation, I decided to write openly about sexual empowerment in the face of systemic slut-shaming.

Kay's book list on sex-positive reads you may have missed

Why did Kay love this book?

I agree, a non-fiction recommendation is a bit of a curve ball from a romance author! But Sex Workers Unite is well worth the mention because it has been such an overwhelming inspiration for my own writing.

This book is a gut-wrenching description of both the dehumanization of sex workers and the social ills we all suffer as a result. It is not just a call for social justice—it is a warning message for those willing to turn a blind eye to the marginalization of a disenfranchised group.

By Melinda Chateauvert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sex Workers Unite as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A provocative history that reveals how sex workers have been at the vanguard of social justice movements for the past fifty years while building a movement of their own that challenges our ideas about labor, sexuality, feminism, and freedom
Documenting five decades of sex-worker activism, Sex Workers Unite is a fresh history that places prostitutes, hustlers, escorts, call girls, strippers, and porn stars in the center of America’s major civil rights struggles. Although their presence has largely been ignored and obscured, in this provocative history Melinda Chateauvert recasts sex workers as savvy political organizers—not as helpless victims in need of…

All That Glitters

By Elizabeth Jameson,

Book cover of All That Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek

Mary Ellen Johnson Author Of The Lion and the Leopard

From Mary's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Autodidact Medieval Anglophile Idealist Reader Blue collar

Mary's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Mary love this book?

Having been raised in a union family, I’ve always been fascinated by labor history.

Since some of the deadliest strikes took place here in Colorado—and some forty minutes from my home—I decided to write about the 1902-04 labor wars. But where to begin? Who mined the gold? What was daily life like for the miners? The mine owners? Were politicians as venal then as they are today? 

All That Glitters is my go-to bible for all things turn-of-the-century Cripple Creek. In novel-like prose, the author vividly captures a time that, while only a century past, is quite different from our own. The heartbreaking end to the labor wars reminds us that, while the arc of the moral universe IS long, it doesn’t always bend toward justice.

By Elizabeth Jameson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked All That Glitters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the turn of the century, Colorado's Cripple Creek District captured the national imagination with the extraordinary wealth of its gold mines and the unquestionable strength of the militant Western Federation of Miners.

Elizabeth Jameson tells the entertaining story of Cripple Creek, the scene in 1894 of one of radical labor's most stunning victories and, in 1903 and 1904, of one of its most crushing defeats. Jameson draws on working-class oral histories, the Victor and Cripple Creek Daily Press published by 34 of the local labor unions, and the 1900 manuscript census. She connects unions with lodges and fraternal associations,…

Long Live the Post Horn!

By Vigdis Hjorth,

Book cover of Long Live the Post Horn!

Julia Argy Author Of The One

From the list on women grinding their way through late capitalism.

Who am I?

I am a novelist with my debut, The One, out in April 2023. I’m interested in stories about the role of gender, technology, and privacy in our contemporary culture. We spend so many hours at work, yet often the literature we read spends so little time discussing what that experience is actually like. As I wrote my own novel with a narrator flailing so aimlessly through her early post-grad years that she ends up on a reality dating show, I craved other books that tackled what it was like to have to earn a living at the forefront of the text, rather than a nebulous character detail in the background. 

Julia's book list on women grinding their way through late capitalism

Why did Julia love this book?

To close off the list, I picked a novel where the main character ends up becoming energized by her work.

At an otherwise soul-sucking job at a PR firm, Ellinor becomes involved with, and motivated by, a political movement about supporting postal workers in Norway.

For a novel that could have been bogged down by the inner workings of the EU and the Norwegian Postal Service, Hjorth’s writing style is crisp and perfect. She could choose any subject matter and it would be interesting. 

By Vigdis Hjorth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Long Live the Post Horn! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ellinor, a 35-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she's not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognise the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she's ever been. But when her coworker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. Off she goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months.

This is an existential scream of a novel about loneliness (and the postal service!), written…

Mary Barton

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Jennifer Foster (editor),

Book cover of Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life

Don LePan Author Of Animals

From the list on to help us think of and want to help others.

Who am I?

Like just about everyone, I was taught in childhood that we should think of others and help others. But then we start to hear different messages: “it’s naïve to think you can make the world a better place,” “you’re better off trying to help yourself—don’t waste your time with misguided attempts to help others,” "it’s sanctimonious to be a do-gooder,” and on and on it goes. The fact is, we can help to make the world a better place (without being sanctimonious). And we all should. We can volunteer, donate to good causes, eat less meat (or no meat at all), fly and drive less (or not at all!). And, as these authors have shown, the books we write can also make a real contribution.  

Don's book list on to help us think of and want to help others

Why did Don love this book?

Gaskell wrote this novel at a time when workers and their families in Britain’s industrial cities labored under intolerable conditions, and it was all too common for their suffering “to pass unregarded by all but the sufferers,” as Gaskell puts it in her preface. Her aim in writing the novel was to bring their plight to the attention of those better off—and to engender sympathy for their plight in the hearts and minds of readers. In the first half of the novel, she succeeds completely; it would be impossible for any reader to remain unmoved while reading of the lives of the Wilson family and the Barton family. The second half of the novel succeeds less fully, but the first half remains as powerful a piece of writing as I have ever read.

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Jennifer Foster (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Barton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary Barton first appeared in 1848, and has since become one of the best known novels on the 'condition of England,' part of a nineteenth-century British trend to understand the enormous cultural, economic and social changes wrought by industrialization. Gaskell's work had great importance to the labour and reform movements, and it influenced writers such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Charlotte Bronte.

The plot of Mary Barton concerns the poverty and desperation of England's industrial workers. Fundamentally, however, it revolves around Mary's personal conflicts. She is already divided between an affection for an industrialist's son, Henry Carson, and for…

Miguel Marmol

By Roque Dalton, Richard Schaaf (translator), Kathleen Ross (translator)

Book cover of Miguel Marmol

James Dunkerley Author Of Power in the Isthmus

From the list on Central American history and politics.

Who am I?

My passion for Central American politics and history derived quite directly from the conflicts in the region from the late 1970s onwards. Previously I had worked in Bolivia, where I had studied as a doctoral student, and although many people still view Latin American countries as pretty homogenous, I quickly discovered that they are very far from being so. I had to unlearn quite a bit and acquire new skills, although luckily, indigenous languages are really only dominant in Guatemala. Now we can be rather less partisan although many injustices remain.

James' book list on Central American history and politics

Why did James love this book?

Dalton was a wonderful poet and radical activist tragically executed by his Salvadorean comrades in 1975 when they erroneously believed him to be working for the CIA. The Salvadorean left has a poor record in devouring its own in bouts of paranoia that attended the civil war of the 1980s. Marmol, who survived deep into old age, was a ringleader of an uprising in 1932 that briefly promised a peasant overthrow of a state controlled by an oligarchy of a dozen families. The uprising was repressed with such force that the military was able to retain political power for the next four decades. This book is beautifully written and translated wonderfully well by Richard Schaaf and Kathleen Ross.

By Roque Dalton, Richard Schaaf (translator), Kathleen Ross (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miguel Marmol as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Miguel Mármol is the testimony of a revolutionary, as recorded by Salvadoran writer, Roque Dalton, which documents the historical and political events of El Salvador through the first decades of the 20th century. This Latin American classic describes the growth and development of the workers' movement and the communist party in El Salvador and Guatemala, and contains Mármol's impressions of post-revolutionary Russia in the twenties, describing in vivid detail the brutality and repression of the Martínez dictatorship and the reemergence of the workers' movement after Martínez was ousted. It also gives a broad and clear picture of the lives of…

Beaten Down, Worked Up

By Steven Greenhouse,

Book cover of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor

David Buckmaster Author Of Fair Pay: How to Get a Raise, Close the Wage Gap, and Build Stronger Businesses

From the list on the importance of expecting less from your workplace.

Who am I?

I’ve worked with business leaders on pay projects all over the world, at companies like Nike and Starbucks, in places like Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam, Singapore, the UAE, and all over Europe. While many business books are written from a theoretical or academic perspective, I bring an operator’s perspective. I get to work out the ideas in my book, Fair Pay, on a daily basis, and so I wrote the book to be a realistic and practical guide for understanding the perspectives of business leaders, human resources, and the typical employee. 

David's book list on the importance of expecting less from your workplace

Why did David love this book?

Greenhouse’s accounting of union history shares endlessly fascinating stories that could inspire 1,000 Netflix series, but most of us (myself included) know nothing of them. This book is not a pro-union polemic and even for those with a strong skepticism or distaste for unions, we should all understand the history of labor rights and appreciate how many of the things we take for granted now, like overtime pay and weekends, came at very real sacrifice and loss of life rather than through corporate benevolence. 

By Steven Greenhouse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beaten Down, Worked Up as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A page-turning book that spans a century of worker strikes.... Engrossing, character-driven, panoramic.” —The New York Times Book Review

We live in an era of soaring corporate profits and anemic wage gains, one in which low-paid jobs and blighted blue-collar communities have become a common feature of our nation’s landscape. Behind these trends lies a little-discussed problem: the decades-long decline in worker power. 

Award-winning journalist and author Steven Greenhouse guides us through the key episodes and trends in history that are essential to understanding some of our nation’s most pressing problems, including increased income inequality, declining social mobility, and the…

Illegal People

By David Bacon,

Book cover of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

Michael Blake Author Of Justice, Migration, and Mercy

From the list on understanding what’s happening at the border.

Who am I?

I’m a political philosopher who lives in Seattle. I teach and write about political ethics, and the ways in which moral concepts change when they get applied to the relationships between states—and to the complicated borders that define where states end. I tend to write about what puzzles me, and many of these puzzles come from my personal life; I’m a migrant myself, and the experience of migrating to the United States led me to write about what sorts of values a country can rightly pursue through migration policyand what sorts of things, more generally, it can and can’t do to migrants themselves.  

Michael's book list on understanding what’s happening at the border

Why did Michael love this book?

This book helped me to understand the reasons people choose to migrateand, in particular, how big structural changes in the policies and law of the United States can lead to changes elsewhere that makes it hard to avoid migrating. It’s easy to focus either on the particular stories of individual people, or on the big picture of global economics; it’s a rare thing to see these two done together, and done in such a skillful way.

By David Bacon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Illegal People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For two decades veteran photojournalist David Bacon has documented the connections between labor, migration, and the global economy. In Illegal People Bacon explores the human side of globalization, exposing the many ways it uproots people in Latin America and Asia, driving them to migrate. At the same time, U.S. immigration policy makes the labor of those displaced people a crime in the United States. Illegal People explains why our national policy produces even more displacement, more migration, more immigration raids, and a more divided, polarized society.

Through interviews and on-the-spot reporting from both impoverished communities abroad and American immigrant workplaces…

Dolores Huerta

By Sarah Warren, Sarah Warren, Robert Casilla (illustrator)

Book cover of Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers

Aimee Bissonette Author Of Headstrong Hallie!: The Story of Hallie Morse Daggett, the First Female Fire Guard

From the list on brave and extraordinary women.

Who am I?

I am drawn to stories of women who display a fighting spirit, faith in themselves, and the drive to help others. Perhaps this is due to growing up during the women’s rights movement. So many women paved the way for me. Perhaps it was my upbringing. I was raised with six siblings - three brothers and three sisters – and my parents never thought that my sisters and I couldn’t do something just because we were girls. Combine these experiences with the fact that I love history and you can see why I love these stories. Now I get to write and share stories like these with young readers. Lucky me!

Aimee's book list on brave and extraordinary women

Why did Aimee love this book?

I have long been a fan of stories about courageous women and I love it when I discover a book for young readers that brings to life an inspiring story of someone they may not know well (or at all). That’s exactly what Warren does in this book about Delores Huerta. The text works well for even the youngest readers. It promotes empathy by describing the poor living conditions of migrant children and their parents. Its themes are as relevant today as they were in Delores’ time. We need to care, we need to stand up for others, we need to be fair. It’s beautifully illustrated, too.

By Sarah Warren, Sarah Warren, Robert Casilla (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dolores Huerta as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Jane Addam's Children's Book Award Honor Book for Younger Children

Dolores is a teacher, a mother, and a friend. She wants to know why her students are too hungry to listen, why they don't have shoes to wear to school. Dolores is a warrior, an organizer, and a peacemaker. When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and working under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights.

This is the story of Dolores Huerta and the extraordinary battle she waged to ensure fair and safe work places for migrant workers. The powerful…