Thursday, September 16, 2010

Booknote: The Big Squeeze

This is one of those books that I feel a need to share with people. It needs to be read by more people. I am first including the review as I posted it on my GoodReads profile, then some additional notes.

The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American WorkerThe Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker by Steven Greenhouse

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I only rated this two stars, but it is not because it is a "bad" book. The rating is because this is an extremely depressing book. If you are a worker, you already know how bad you have it (unless you are one of those jingoistic workers who vote for right wingers even when it is against your interests). Greenhouse does two main things in this book. One, he has put together an extensive collection of stories from workers who have been exploited and screwed by their companies. And I do not mean just being stingy in terms of salaries. From spying on workers to not paying for medical claims for injuries sustained at work to outright sexual harassment, workers have faced it all. Two, Greenhouse gives a pretty good history lesson on how the United States got to the point where employers pretty much can get away with exploiting their workers.

The book is very prophetic if nothing else. This book was written just as Obama was elected, and a lot of what the author predicts or envisions in the book has come to pass. In some cases, things have in fact gotten worse since the book's publication. I found it particularly foreboding when he asks what would happen if a presidential candidate proposed something like universal health care, which certainly would go a long way to solve many of our issues. Well, we already know what happened: the new president proposed it, then he watered it down to almost nothing in order to appease an opposition party bent on obstruction and which just favors the wealthy. In other words, the guy folded like a cheap suit, to borrow the cliche.

If you are somewhat informed, you probably have heard many of the stories in this book, like some of the lawsuits Wal-Mart has faced. Greenhouse does not just pick on Wal-Mart (even though the company does get one whole chapter), but he looks at a lot of other miscreants from Big Box companies to small convenience stores and predatory Rent-to-own scheme stores, call centers, so on. The book does include extensive end notes for those who want to verify some of what they are reading.

This is a book that more people should be reading. It should specially serve as an eye-opener to workers. Sadly, those workers are probably too worried trying to barely make a living to read it. We know employers pretty much won't read it, and if they do, they will probably not give a hoot. Now don't get me wrong. Greenhouse does highlight a few decent employers, but it is clear that those are few and far in between. And to those who may say that I have it for employers, think about this for a moment. Look at the current economic mess that bankers and Wall Street got us into combined with the fact that wages have been not only stagnant but decreasing (a lot of it due also to Wall Street pressures). Now, the economy relies on people spending. They can't spend if they do not have the money, and they won't have the money if you do not pay them for their work. There was an interesting quote in the book (I think I put it in one of the GR updates here) from Wal-Mart's current CEO, who apparently is a big GOP PAC donor, actually complaining that the Republican tax cuts under Bush went to the rich. Just think about that for a moment.

Overall, this is a necessary expose that needs to be read, even if it is painful and depressing at times.

Similar books: Off the top of my head, I would recommend Big Box Swindle, which I have read and reviewed here. It may be a bit more easy to read, and it looks at another side of the issues Greenhouse discusses. Another one may be Deer Hunting with Jesus which may help explain why is workers often vote against their interests for people more interested in giving tax breaks to the rich (nothing against the rich. You make your money legally and honestly, cool. You want tax breaks you do not need at the expense of the rest of society, that is wrong).

View all my reviews

Additional notes: This is a direct link to the status updates from GoodReads as I was reading. I made some notes and jotted down some quotes that interested me.

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