We have a winner in our Best Labor Book of 2009 poll.

By a huge majority it’s “Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures“, edited by Peter L. Schnall, Marnie Dobson, and Ellen Rosskam. Why did this book gain a full 49% of the vote? We will have a full review in the next newsletter, but in the meantime here’s a couple of quotes that might help you see where the authors are coming from:

‘The ways in which work is organized… can be as toxic or benign to the health of workers over time as the chemicals they breathe in the workplace air.’

(quoting Erich Fromm, 50 years ago): “…economy must become the servant for the development of man. Capital must serve labour; things must serve life.”

As work has changed, so have work-related health risks. There are not many unions or OHS reps who could claim to have kept up with this change. Reading this book can change all that, and help us rethink our model of safety culture for a globalized world. It’s that good.

You can download Chapter One for free here, and you can (and probably should!) order a hard copy here.

Second choice among our readers was “Organizing Prosperity: Union Effects on Job Quality, Community Betterment, and Industry Standards“, by Matt Vidal with David Kusnet.  In some ways the content is similar. Trying to survive in business today without a genuinely engaged workforce is just bad management.  “Unions can help employers provide training, reduce turnover, and generally improve the work environment in ways that… ensure that competitive pressures do not bring out the worst tendencies in employers. Indeed, unions can help set and protect basic employment standards for entire industries”.

This book will be of particular interest to those who follow US labor trends (or try to avoid doing so!). It comes to us via the Economic Policy Institute — which is a recommendation in itself. You can download the full text here (good on them!) or find out more and order a hard copy here.

Third choice was a draw. Again, both books ask and answer big questions. Prof Guy Standing’s “Work after Globalization: Building Occupational Citizenship” has been (rave-) reviewed on our blog here. Standing goes far beyond analysing the aches and pains of 21st century work… he does a full set of x-rays, compares these with earlier tests, diagnoses a new illness and then shows us how to galvanise the corpse. And if you think that’s over-written, read the review! Essential reading for all social democrats who’ve got the integrity to admit the old dear is getting a bit whiffy. You can order the book here.

Scoring the same number of votes was Marshall Ganz’s “Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement“. Ganz was behind Obama’s wildly successful grassroots organizing model in 2008. His approach drew on 16 years experience with the legendary United Farm Workers’. If it’s proof in the pudding you’re wanting, Ganz’s record has earned him 3 Michellin stars. Read this book and you will understand why some organizing styles work better than others. “Strategy is how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want… Strategy is a verb–something you do, not something you have.” You can find out more and order the book here.

Thanks to all those who voted in the poll. Let’s hope 2010’s crop of books can maintain this level of openess, creativity and big picture thinking.