- Alexander Riccio
While 2020 has been mostly miserable I'm counting my blessings by sharing with you content that has given me joy this year. And what better format than a "best of" list? Below are Laborwave's pleasures of 2020.
A People's Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics by Hadas Thier
Published by Haymarket Books.
The goal of this book was to provide a clear, accessible, and modern explanation of capitalist economics through a Marxist lens, and it really delivers. I read about capitalism...a lot, and learned quite a bit by engaging in this work. From the back: "Economists regularly promote Capitalism as the greatest system ever to grace the planet. With the same breath, they implore us to leave the job of understanding the magical powers of the market to the “experts.”
Despite the efforts of these mainstream commentators to convince us otherwise, many of us have begun to question why this system has produced such vast inequality and wanton disregard for its own environmental destruction. This book offers answers to exactly these questions on their own terms: in the form of a radical economic theory."
Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe
Published by Bold Type Books.
The title of this book says it all, and I personally struggle with a paradoxical commitment to anticapitalist politics while unable to kick my own addiction to work- so this book hits home! Sarah Jaffe frames this book with real stories from workers on the ground in all types of industries, including retail, education, domestic care, and more, and provides a sound analysis of the development of particular forms of work under capitalism and the ideologies that naturalize exploitation. At the core of Jaffe's argument is how the "labor of love" keeps us bound to miserable jobs and makes us feel guilt and shame at any instance we might dare to complain, or fight back, against the imposition of work. Technically this is a 2021 book, to be public in January, but pre-order it now! We've had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Jaffe on Laborwave (and will bring her back soon) about the labor movement on our special May Day episode. Take a listen! https://www.laborwaveradio.com/sarahjaffe
Anarco-Blackness: Notes Toward a Black Anarchism by Marquis Bey
Published by AK Press.
AK Press continues to provide the space for writers to develop Black Anarchism, and I highly recommend reading this newer title from Marquis Bey in tandem with another AK Press title, William C. Anderson's and Zoé Samudzi's "As Black as Resistance." That's not to claim that these two books make the same theoretical arguments, but they both push the "anarchist canon" and its proponents to broaden both the concepts and practice of anarchist politics. From the book: "In this bold and expansive treatise, Marquis Bey seeks to define the shape of a Black anarchism—not, he says, by listing “all the Black people who are anarchists and the anarchists who are Black people,” but though a fluid and generative encounter between anarchism and Blackness.'
Classical anarchism tended to avoid questions of race—specifically Blackness—as well as the intersections of race and gender. Skeptical of satisfying himself with the usual finger-pointing this lack invites, Bey addresses it head on, not by constructing a new cannon of Black anarchists but by outlining how anarchism and Blackness already share a certain subjective relationship to power, a way of understanding and inhabiting the world. Through the lens of a Black feminist and transgender theory that unsettles and subverts social hierarchies, he explores what we can learn by making the kinship of Blackness and anarchism explicit, including how anarchism itself is transformed by the encounter.
As Bey frames it, if the state is predicated on a racialized and gendered capitalism, its undoing can only be imagined and undertaken by a political theory that takes race and gender seriously, a theory of anarcho-Blackness."
Bigger Than Bernie: How We Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism by Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht
Published by Verso Books.
What I enjoyed most about this book is it sought to offer pathways beyond Sanders specifically, whether he won or lost, and provided concrete examples of ways organizations like the DSA could help build the labor movement and power outside of the electoral arena. It also contends with the reality that, as I've said a lot, the state is more powerful today than it ever has been. The nexus between the state and private sector has increased to the point where there is hardly any way to distinguish between the two, so how do we fight the state without being completely absorbed into its power structures? Day and Uetricht try to address these questions, and I hope to see more development of these ideas along the lines of prioritizing the role of organized labor. I interviewed Micah Uetricht about the book back in April, immediately prior to the Sanders campaign suspending their bid for the presidency.
The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese
Published by Pluto Press.
This collection of essays analyzes how Amazon has grown into the second-largest global employer and positioned itself as a retailer, logistics hub, and technology mega-corporation. It also features interviews and chapters on ways to attack the giant and pose serious challenges to its dominance. Every labor organizer and rank-and-filer who wishes to think strategically about unionizing Amazon needs to read this book, and check out our upcoming episode with the editors!
Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid During the COVID-19 Crisis edited by Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar
Published by Pluto Press.
The title basically says it all, this is a collection of pieces chronicling all the amazing mutual aid projects and practices that have sprouted all over the world in response to COVID-19. Reading this brought me back into the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and its imaginative potential, and reminds me that, as Rebecca Solnit beautifully writes, “inside the word "emergency" is "emerge"; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” I also had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Sitrin and Vanessa Zettler about their experiences in Occupy Wall Street and tied to their current mutual aid efforts detailed in this book.
(Books I'd need a second life to have time to read, and wish I did!)
Class Power on Zero Hour by the Angry Workers (fortunately, I got to interview them!)
Working Class History: Every Day Acts of Resistance and Rebellion by Working Class History
Ben Fletcher: Life and Times of a Black Wobbly by Peter Cole
The Communism of Love: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Exchange Value by Richard Gilman-Opalsky
Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Workers' Inquiry and Global Class Struggle: Strategies, Tactics, Objectives edited by Robert Ovetz
Futures of Socialism: The Pandemic and Post-Corbyn Era edited by Grace Blakely
I listen to podcasts non-stop (while cooking, cleaning, or just lounging on the couch half-awake). There are just a ton of amazing podcasts online, and I'm always looking for podcast recommendations. Here's just a sampling of podcast episodes this year I've enjoyed:
Horror Vanguard: Serial Mom; or, Talking Queer Cinema, The Rust Belt, and Femme With Raechel Anne Jolie
Horror Vanguard is regularly at the top of my podcast list, and Ash and Lit Crit Guy talking about John Waters is easily my favorite conversation they had this past year. Joined by Raechel Anne Jolie, author of the memoir Rust Belt Femme!
Behind the News with Theo Riofranscos & Alexander Zaitchik
Doug Henwood is a great interviewer, and this conversation covering the Green New Deal and profit-incentives in pharmaceuticals was particularly important to hear considering the absolute trash fire we're experiencing right now.
The Dig: Identity, Power, and Speech with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
Hands down the most illuminating and mind-expanding conversation I listened to all year. Described in the show notes, "prevailing identity politics norms call on people “listen to the most affected” or “centre the most marginalized.” But this often works out quite badly in practice." I also had the pleasure of talking about elite capture with Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò this past year, and his discussion on the defeat of the left and how it has impacted politics in general is well worth the listen.
The Dig: Higher Ed in Crisis w/ Tithi Bhattacharya, Daniel Bessner, Simon Torracinta
A round table on the manifold crises engulfing higher ed as covid exposes and exacerbates decades of austerity and neoliberal iniquity. As a labor organizer formerly employed with an academic workers' union I resonate with the deep cynicism held by Danny Besnner on this episode- he's right, universities are not radical spaces. But I want to have some of the optimism of the other guests about possibilities for radical movements within and against higher ed.
Michael and Us: Red and Blue on the movie Blue Velvet
A podcast about political cinema and our crumbling world, I tune in just as much for the sardonic banter as I do for the film and cultural analysis presented in each episode. Blue Velvet is an ambivalent favorite flick for me, and Will Sloan and Luke Savage help crystallize precisely the ways this movie problematizes the dichotomy between good and evil.
Nostalgia Trap: The Sorkin Effect w/ Jon Wiener and Danny Bessner
I enjoyed watching The Trial of the Chicago 7, and of course like everyone was eager to learn how much was fact and how much was fiction. Well, turns out the film was mostly fiction. Thanks to Jon Wiener, capable historian, for dispelling the myths while also elucidating a far more interesting and complicated history of the real historical event.
The Lit Review: Hammer and Hoe with Bettina Johnson
Each episode of this podcast tackles a canonical work of leftist literature and renders it accessible for mass audiences. It's something deeply needed to help us all wade through the thick maze of important writings that's so massive it's overwhelming even knowing where to start your journey. Thanks to the Lit Review, things are easier. This episode breaking down Hammer and Hoe, a masterful work from one of my favorite authors Robin DG Kelley, is immensely enjoyable. Kelley documents the transformation of the CPUSA in Alabama through the active engagement of Black radicals, and shares with us lessons we can learn from this moment in militant organizing.
The Wrong Boys are genuinely hilarious, and the amount of work that goes into each of their episodes, with all the sketches, conversations, and music, is impressive. Of their last year no episode made me laugh as much, while expanding my mind more, than this one on trash. I liked it so much I was inspired to bring Shawn from the show on to Laborwave to talk about utopian futures.
Organizing Work: A History of the IWW’s Organizer Training Program
A fascinating history of the IWW's training program, the OT101, conducted by Marianne Garneau. The OT101 was the first labor organizing training I ever attended, and it went a long way to help me get to where I am now within the labor movement.
Organizing Work: Labor Law Doesn’t Advance Class Struggle, The End
The title really says it all, and the longer I work in the system of US labor law the more convinced I am that Nick Driedger's words here are wise.
The Forge: Organizing the Neoliberal University
The feature story of an entire issue on organizing within academia, Lindsay Zafir makes clear how universities operate much like "company towns," and, therefore, ought to be approached like them when organizing.
Labor Notes: Steward’s Corner, A Path out of Fear
Just a practical advice and veteran tips on moving coworkers pass their fear when organizing. Labor Notes does a great job on refining the methods for doing the nuts and bolts building of all successful unions, and this piece reflects on a phenomenon I encounter constantly where the primary objection to participating in direct action, or union activity in general, is fear. Read some tips on moving your coworkers, and yourself, to overcome fear and fight.
New Syndicalist: Does Working from Home Weaken the Working Class?
A reflection from a remote worker on the experience of isolation and disconnection from fellow workers when working from home, with a list of great tips and resources on how to still effectively organize despite such distances. I thoroughly enjoyed the first hand account presented here on the day to day grind of remote work and management domination, even at a distance.
The Rank & File Strategy and the New Socialist Movement: A Response to Kate Doyle Griffiths
Kim Moody continues to advocate the "rank and file strategy" and enters into the conversation around social reproduction in his lengthy response to Kate Doyle Griffiths three pieces tackling his arguments and challenging them to their limits. KDG's three pieces are also worth the read, and I look forward to a possible continuation of this dialogue as Kim Moody appears to have maintained the space for further discussion.