Happy Labour Day Weekend!
In a normal, I’d be down in Calgary this weekend, attending Pride events followed by Labour Day events (and likely finding a TV to catch the Labour Day Classic, go Riders!).
I’ve always found Calgary Pride taking place during the Labour Day weekend to be fitting timing. LGBTQ2S Rights. Workers’ Rights. When it comes down to it they are one and the same. The histories of these movements over the last 50 years are deeply intertwined.
Which is why I’ve also tried to use the Labour Day weekend to read a book that combines these two movements. Below are the four books I’ve read over the last four years that are worth checking out.
I’ll note it’s tough to find books that explicitly look at the overlap between the labour movement and queer & trans movements. Unfortunately, I find that often queer and trans histories leave out a working class lens or history. So, if you have any recommendations for me to check out please send them my way! I’ll need something to read for next year’s Labour Day weekend!
Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America
By Miriam Frank
I stumbled across this book when visiting the Gay’s the Word Bookshop; made famous through the award winning film Pride. (Itself a great example of solidarity and pride.)
It is a fantastic history chronicling queer labour history from the 1960s up until 2013. From internal union struggles and changes, bargaining table fights, to activism, public campaigns around gay rights ordinances and building coalitions for common causes, Miriam Frank crams so much in.
If you’re only going to pick one book this would be the one I’d recommend.
Out at Work: Building a Gay-Labor Alliance
Edited by Kitty Krupat and Patrick McCreery
There is so much packed in to this book. Early history of sexuality as workplace issues, collective bargaining wins, the fascinating history of ‘Gay Days’ at Disney, internal changes in the union movement, attempts to secure queer rights on a national scale and so much more.
This book was written in 2000, yet still provides a thorough base of knowledge on the queer and labour movements. Personally, I also found it interesting to read something about progressive movements and struggles that was written in a pre-9/11 environment and lens.
Both of Anne Balay’s Books
The actual experiences of working class, blue collar workers are often left out of the conversation, the power structures, and the history books. This can be especially true for queer, trans and other marginalized workers.
Both of Anne Balay’s books are done through extensive oral interviews with workers, bringing their narratives to the books to tell a wider story. She brings to life their experiences, communities, and politics.
Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers
In this book Anne Balay relies exclusively on interviews with 40 steelworkers, who are almost universally closeted. They work in the steel mills in Northwest Indiana; an industry with a long and deep history, that has been deeply impacted by globalization. These are workplaces where a version of male masculinity dominates the workplace culture.
Published in 2014 it was written based on interviews done from 2009-2011, some of it is a tough reading. I truly hope some things have changed for the better in the steel mills since then.
Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans and Black Truck Drivers
Again, relying on interviews, this time Anne Balay dives in to the trucking industry. She is able to provide a rich source of material looking at why people choose to be long haul truck drivers, their desire for freedom and autonomy, how being alone in a truck is often seen as the safest employment option by some, and how truck drivers navigate sexism, racism, homophobia and so much more in their day to day work.
The trucking is an industry with deep roots and a wide network, but is also experiencing great change, a loss of unions, automation, increased surveillance, changing regulations, and so much more. I found it fascinating to get a rare look in to a changing industry that I knew little about.