Title: Worked Over
Author: Jamie K. McCallum
Blurb: Most Americans work too long and too hard, while others lack consistency in their hours and schedules. Work hours declined for a century through hard-fought labor-movement victories, but they’ve increased significantly since the seventies. Worked Over traces the varied reasons why our lives became tethered to a new rhythm of work, and describes how we might gain a greater say over our labor time — and build a more just society in the process.
Popular discussions typically focus on overworked professionals. But as Jamie K. McCallum demonstrates, from Amazon warehouses to Rust Belt factories to California’s gig economy, it’s the hours of low-wage workers that are the most volatile and precarious — and the most subject to crises. What’s needed is not individual solutions but collective struggle, and throughout Worked Over McCallum recounts the inspiring stories of those battling today’s capitalism to win back control of their time.
Having read other well-known books about America’s problematic work culture, like Nickel and Dimed, I decided to pick this book up to read about the more recent issues that have come to the forefront as America’s gig economy has grown over the past decade. Worked Over covers the history of work and employee management by employers, the gains and losses that American employees have experienced in job quality over the past several decades, and the current state of the job market along with the organized movement to improve its function and outcomes.
Overall, the topics covered in Worked Over represent most of the key issues that underlie America’s job market and the various socioeconomic and sociocultural issues that have sprung from the ever-increasing inequality between business executives and the workers who are trying to get by. The book covers the history of the effort by employers to improve employee productivity and carries through to the effort by employees to reduce their work hours and increase pay and benefits throughout the twentieth century. The book then discusses the erosion of all the gains by workers, due largely to the decline of unions and the big business focus on profit over everything else.
In terms of information, the book delivers some excellent lessons that are critical to understanding how America’s work culture degraded into its current state, but I did think the book had a few flaws. The text was a tad dense for my taste and some of the topics discussed drifted away from the main themes of the book at times, causing me to lose interest in certain sections. I thought the book could’ve been a bit shorter and still delivered the same impact in terms of its core ideas.
Overall, however, I thought Worked Over was a decent overview of the main problems facing the working class in modern America.
Thanks to NetGalley and Basic Books for providing me with an eARC of Worked Over.