The Common Good

A Labor Day Reading, Listening, Watching List

Still from "Norma Rae"/20th Century Fox.
Still from "Norma Rae"/20th Century Fox.

I make no secret of the fact that there is a big soft spot in my heart for the tremendous gains of the labor movement in American history and a big sad spot for how certain unions — such as those representing meatpackers and agricultural workers — have been all but decimated.

Since many — probably most — of my ancestors made their way in the world and in this country as laboring folks, I am proud to acknowledge that the privileges I have had I owe to their hard work and struggle to create an American middle class.

(Not incidentally, my grandparents met and fell in love at a Catholic Worker meeting, where my grandfather had interned as a seminary student. With Dorothy Day, natch.)

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorite pro-labor, pro-union resources for really celebrating Labor Day.

Please add your own favorites in the comments!


How Green Was My Valley (1941)

On the Waterfront (1954)

The Pajama Game (1957) 
I may or may not have appeared in a stage production of this in 9th grade...

Norma Rae (1979)
Vintage Sally Field! Click the title to read how the real Norma Rae died of cancer and how her insurer delayed treatment. Which reminds me of this post.

Triangle Fire (PBS Documentary, 2011)


"Talking Union" by Pete Seeger

If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle (Pete Seeger)

"Union Maid" by Woody Guthrie

"Which Side Are You On?" (Ani DiFranco revision of the Pete Seeger Song)

Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" at Woodstock

Smithsonian Folkways' " 'Talking Union' and Other Union Songs"


I can't resist pointing out that Katherine Paterson (the author of the first two novels) is a former Presbyterian (USA) mission co-worker (what I currently am). I'm afraid I idolize her writing a bit. What a storyteller!

And four of the five are young adult (YA) novels. I can't help it; that's a favorite category of mine.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
(It's less about nasty meat than textbooks might lead you to believe!)

Rachel Marie Stone ( is a writer and a Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker who is headed, with her family, to Zomba, Malawi, in November of this year. Her first book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food, is forthcoming from InterVarsity Press in March 2013.

Photo credit: Image of Pete Seeger (middle, R) Pete Seeger of The Weavers performs at a reading of 'Pete Seeger: His Life In His Own Words' at Bryant Park Reading Room on July 18, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)






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