Reading list

May Day Reading 2022

All books are 40% off in celebration of May Day!

Verso Books29 April 2022

May Day Reading 2022

After a long period of dormancy, the labor movement has seen a wave of dynamism in recent years. Amazon workers at a warehouse on Staten Island, NY voted to form the company's first union in the United States, one of the biggest worker victories in modern US labor history, and twenty Starbucks stores across the country have now unionized. The last few years have also seen a spike of newsrooms and media companies, and now publishers and booksellers, organizing unions.

Below are readings on the history of the labor movement, the changing dynamics of work, and theory to arm ourselves for the organizing struggles ahead. 

Happy International Workers' Day! To celebrate May Day, all books are 40% off until May 16 at 11:59PM EST.

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A consensus-shattering account of automation technologies and their effect on workplaces and the labor market.

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In this landmark study of American labour history, Meredith Tax charts the actions of women in working-class, feminist, and socialist movements between 1880 and 1917.

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The brutal truth behind our automated futures and the new world of work.

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An exhilarating challenge to the way we think about work, technology, progress, and what we want from the future.

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A graphic biography of socialist labor legend Eugene V. Debs.

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As precarity and low pay become further embedded in the job market, at a time when work-related stress and exhaustion are endemic, it is clear that a new, radical approach to employment is required.

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A brilliant and comprehensive study of class struggle in the United States.

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In Revolting Prostitutes, sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring a fresh perspective to questions that have long been contentious. Speaking from a growing global sex worker rights movement, and situating their argument firmly within wider questions of migration, work, feminism, and resistance to white supremacy, they make clear that anyone committed to working towards justice and freedom should be in support of the sex worker rights movement.

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In this collection of essays, Steve Fraser, the preeminent historian of American capitalism, sets the record straight, rewriting the arc of the American saga with class conflict center stage and mounting a serious challenge to the consoling fantasy of American exceptionalism. 

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A bracing riposte to the conventional wisdom concerning the irresistible power of globalization, Workers in a Lean World is a definitive account of contemporary labor relations on a global scale.

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Looking to the future, Moody shows how the rise of immigrant labor and its efforts at self-organization can re-energize the unions from below. US Labor in Trouble and Transition is a major intervention in the ongoing debate within the US labor movement. 

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Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) argues that labor can be revived, but only if the movement acknowledges its mistakes and fully commits to deep organizing, participatory education, militancy, and an approach to workers and their communities that more resembles the campaigns of the 1930s—in short, social movement unionism that involves raising workers’ expectations (while raising hell).

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Political theorist Joshua Clover theorizes the riot as the form of the coming insurrection.

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A leading activist museum director explains why museums are at the center of a political storm and how they can be reimagined.

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A longtime movement insider's powerful account of the origins of today's protest movements and what they can achieve now.

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An indispensable window into the changing shape of the American working class and American politics.

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A classic book on the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg’s work with essays of political analysis by leading scholars.

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The classic text of Italian workerism finally available in English.

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Why every worker should join a trade union.

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Looking at labour history around the globe from the thirteenth to the twenty-first centuries, Komlosy sheds light on both discursive concepts as well as the concrete coexistence of multiple forms of labour—paid and unpaid, free and unfree. 

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In this provocative essay, Frédéric Gros explores the roots of political obedience, social conformity, economic subjection, respect for authorities, constitutional consensus. Examining the various styles of obedience provides tools to study, invent and induce new forms of civic disobedience and lyrical protest. 

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When cowboys were workers and battled their bosses.

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Strike for America is the story of the Chicago Teacher's strike movement and how it triumphed in the defining struggle for workers today.

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The hidden story of the 1970s insurgency from below, against employers and bureaucrats.

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Our Own Time retells the story of American labor by focusing on the politics of time and the movements for a shorter working day. 

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With extraordinary attention to the viewpoints of rank-and-file workers, Moody chronicles the major, but largely unreported, efforts of labor’s grassroots to find its way out of the crisis. In case studies of auto, steel, meatpacking and trucking, he traces the rise of “anti-concession” movements and in other case studies describes the formidable obstacles to the “organization of the unorganized” in the service sector. 

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Trampling Out the Vintage is the authoritative and award-winning account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers and its most famous and controversial leader, Cesar Chavez.


Further resources / Verso reading lists:

Radical Futures: books to help us re-imagine new futures

Abolition is the only solution: a reading list for breaking police power

We all live in a country called Capitalism: books to deal with a very global problem

I Do Not Dream of Labour: Books that imagine a different working world

Histories of Global Underdevelopment: A reading list of history and theory that illuminates the effects of underdevelopment across the globe

Why does the left talk so much about work? Verso Student Reading on Labor and Marxism

Why the Left Studies History: Verso Student Reading on History

Automation and the Future of Work
Silicon Valley titans, politicians, techno-futurists and social critics have united in arguing that we are living on the cusp of an era of rapid technological automation, heralding the end of work ...
The Rising of the Women

The Rising of the Women

In this landmark study of American labor history, Meredith Tax charts the actions of women in working-class, feminist, and socialist movements between 1880 and 1917 in the USA. Caught between the h...
Work Without the Worker
We are told that the future of work will be increasingly automated. Algorithms, processing massive amounts of information at startling speed, will lead us to a new world of effortless labour and a ...
Breaking Things at Work
In the Nineteenth-century, English textile workers responded to the introduction of new technologies on the factory floor by smashing them to bits. For years the Luddites roamed the English country...
Eugene V. Debs
Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and...
Overtime is about the politics of time, and specifically the amount of time that we spend labouring within capitalist society. It argues that reactivating the longstanding demand for shorter workin...
Prisoners of the American Dream
Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industriall...
Revolting Prostitutes
How the law harms sex workers - and what they want insteadDo you have to endorse prostitution in order to support sex worker rights? Should clients be criminalized, and can the police deliver justi...
Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property
In popular retellings of American history, capitalism generally doesn’t feature much as part of the founding or development of the nation. Instead, it is alluded to in figurative terms as opportuni...
Workers in a Lean World
In this comprehensive study of current labour relations worldwide, Kim Moody surveys both sides of the picket lines. He provides a measured assessment of multinational managements’ strategies to do...
US Labor in Trouble and Transition
US Labor in Trouble and Transition tells the story of union decline in America and of the split in the labor movement it led to, following the dismal tale of union mergers and management partnershi...
Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)
In 1995, in the first contested election in the history of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney won the presidency of the nation’s largest labor federation, promising renewal and resurgence. Today, less than ...
Riot. Strike. Riot
Baltimore. Ferguson. Tottenham. Clichy-sous-Bois. Oakland. Ours has become an “age of riots” as the struggle of people versus state and capital has taken to the streets. Award-winning poet and scho...
Culture Strike
In an age of protest, culture and museums have come under fire. Protests of museum funding (for example, the Metropolitan Museum accepting Sackler family money) and boards (for example, the Whitney...
Direct Action
A vibrant, groundbreaking history of American radicalism since the SixtiesWhat happened to the American left after the Sixties? This engrossing account traces the evolution of disruptive protest ov...
Red State Revolt
Thirteen months after Trump allegedly captured the allegiance of “the white working class,” a strike wave—the first in over four decades—rocked the United States. Inspired by the wildcat victory in...
Rosa Luxemburg
This biography, first published half a century ago, remains the most detailed and comprehensive study of Rosa Luxemburg. Nettl’s extensive knowledge of the social and political context of the Europ...
Workers and Capital
Workers and Capital is universally recognised as the most important work produced by operaismo, a current of political thought emerging in the 1960s that revolutionised the institutional and extra-...
Why You Should be a Trade Unionist
In this short and accessible book, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, presents the case for joining a trade union. Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in unions, he...


Andrea Komlosy argues in this important intervention that, when we examine it closely, work changes its meanings according to different historical and regional contexts. Globalizing labour history ...
The world is out of joint, so much so that disobeying should be an urgent act for everyone. In this provocative essay, Frédéric Gros explores the roots of political obedience, social conformity, ec...
The Great Cowboy Strike
Although later made an icon of “rugged individualism,” the American cowboy was a grossly exploited and underpaid seasonal worker, who waged a series of militant strikes in the generally isolated an...
Strike for America
The Chicago Teachers Union strike was the most important domestic labor struggle so far this century—and perhaps for the last forty years—and the strongest challenge to the conservative agenda fo...
Rebel Rank and File
Often considered irredeemably conservative, the US working class actually has a rich history of revolt. Rebel Rank and File uncovers the hidden story of insurgency from below against employers and ...
Our Own Time
Our Own Time retells the story of American labor by focusing on the politics of time and the movements for a shorter working day. It argues that the length of the working day has been the central i...
An Injury to All
Over the past decade American labor has faced a tidal wave of wage cuts, plant closures and broken strikes. In this first comprehensive history of the labor movement from Truman to Reagan, Kim Mood...
Trampling Out the Vintage
In its heyday, the United Farm Workers was an embodiment of its slogan “Yes, we can”—in the form “¡Sí, Se Puede!”—winning many labor victories, securing collective bargaining rights for farm worker...

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