A side stack of books.
A side stack of books. Credit: Tom Hermans / Unsplash Credit: Tom Hermans / Unsplash

The revolution may not be televised, as Gil Scott-Heron advised us in 1970, but it is certainly going to require some preparatory reading. As a new year of worker struggle opens up, here are a few recommended reads for labour activists and allies.

First of all, of course, keep on reading rabble.ca regularly. We work hard to provide coverage of labour issues the business class controlled press ignores or misrepresents. While battling funding crises, rabble’s dedicated staff are still on post, providing “news for the rest of us.”

Thomas Picketty, the French scholar, known for his work updating class analysis for the current generation of workers and allies, has recently published Capital in the 21st Century and while some readers, including this one, may be daunted by the wealth of statistical data that undergirds Piketty’s analysis, it rewards careful reading and helps illuminate the structure of late stage capitalism in a way that will provide useful material for all committed, as he is, to a kind of post capitalist democratic socialism. For a look at the issues of inequality driven by capitalism, take a look here at the data laid out in this webpage.  

The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, would be a wonderful read together with the Picketty volume. Just as Piketty provides a lucid description of the economic mechanisms of capitalist exploitation, Oreskes and Conway gives a brilliant thumbnail history of the lies we have all been told about the market by well-paid business class propagandists, lies that mystify and deny the brutal consequences of market fundamentalism. Many books claim to deliver intellectual history. This magisterial volume actually delivers the goods in a brisk account of how businesses in the US have lobbied hard to create popular suspicion of government regulation and lunatic confidence in the inherent wisdom of the market. This is an  absolutely vital study of an anti-labour phenomenon that has had global reach and toxic impacts for over a century.

And for a look at a telling example of  the worldwide and toxic impacts of unrestrained capitalism, take a look at Christopher Pollon’s magisterial new study of the mining industry, Pitfall. Pollon, one of Canada’s best investigative journalists, details the devastation that follows in the wake of the largely Canadian based world mining industry. This is a resource extraction industry study par excellence and a painful, but necessary read.

C.R.L. James, the author of Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Santo Domingo Revolution is a classic look at imperialism and resistance that persuasively demonstrates the importance of Haiti’s world shaking, Black led revolution. History we all need to know, lessons we all need to learn.

Naomi Klein, who has staked out her claim as a progressive public intellectual with a series of books that began with her stellar debut No Logo in 1999 has added to her already impressive body of work with her latest offering, 2023’s Doppelganger: A Trip into The Mirror World She begins with a phenomenon that could seem at most as an annoying muddle- the many ways that she is often taken to be another Naomi, Naomi Wolf, the author of The Beauty Myth. Since Wolf has taken a deep dive into right-wing conspiracy theories and anti-vax agitation, often appearing as a featured guest on Steve Bannon’s odious War Room podcast, this is annoying and embarrassing for Klein. But rather than shrugging off Wolf’s inadvertent identity theft, Klein has taken it as a starting point for a subtle, nuanced reflection on the phenomenon of doppelgangers in political life, in literature, in history and on line. This is a book that has a lot to teach us about the fragile state of personal identity and the way cyber technologies can turn users into alienated doppelgangers of themselves. This book is analytically precise and beautifully written, and worth reading and discussing in labour circles.

On The Line: A Story of Class, Solidarity and Two Women’s Epic Fight to Build a Union, by the wonderfully named Daisy Pitkin, belongs on every worker’s five-foot shelf of must-read books this year. It is a deeply personal, lyrical and inspiring account of an organizing drive among industrial laundry workers in Arizona, as rich in analytic implications for future organizing as it is rich in humanity. And let’s not forget the songs! One of the benefits of belonging to the labour movement and/or the broader movements for social justice is that we have much better music! A recent book from Vancouver based writer Andrea Warner and illustrator Louise Reimer, Rise Up and Sing celebrates protest music from the picket line to the recording studio. Well worth a look.

Tom Sandborn

Tom Sandborn lives and writes on unceded Indigenous territory in Vancouver. He is a widely published free lance writer who covered health policy and labour beats for the Tyee on line for a dozen years,...