Saturday, April 7, 2018

Twarog, Cornell, and Trestman: My favorite 3 books of 2017

Of my three favorite books of 2017, one is not a book and one was published in 2016, but all are wonderful, and each opens a door to a whole new way of seeing work, labor, organizations, history - and women.



First on the list is Emily E. L.B. Twarog's Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

This excellent U.S. working class history book takes the reader to homes, grocery stores, and streets in a world that is almost the exact opposite of that portrayed in AMC's Mad Men.  While Don Draper and Sally Olsen worked out ways to display Dutch beer in grocery stores to catch the eye of the country's housewives, real housewives across the United States waged a grassroots struggle to ensure that their husbands and families had enough to eat on a working person's wages.  Imagine that just behind that glorious stand of beautiful green bottles there are housewives standing next to the meat counter refusing to buy until grocery chains reduce prices to fit into their meager budgets.

Ignored by histories of the labor and feminist movements, these courageous and well-organized housewives defined a working women's movement based on their identities not as bra burning feminists, but on their identities as home keepers and housewives with the duty to keep their families fed and strong.  Not only is the book intellectually stimulating and fill a gap in feminist and labor historical literature, its style and prose are light and enjoyable to read - not to mention filled with that absurdist Americana we all love, like the delivery of a live calf to the front yard of one midwestern housewife's home.  As Whoopie Goldberg said on TV recently, her working class mother couldn't afford to burn the one bra she owned.


Next on the list is the non-book, Angela Cornell's 2017 case comment Inter-American Court Recognizes Elevated Status of Trade Unions, Rejects Standing of Corporations, published in the International Labor Rights Case Law journal.  

Elegantly written and concise, this case comment highlights an important and new legal distinction between trade unions and corporations in Inter-American and International Human Rights Law - recognizing that as direct representatives, trade unions have standing to defend and protect the human rights of their members.  "The jurisdiction of the Court to entertain contentious cases involving freedom of association advanced by trade unions," writes Cornell, "has been established with the understanding that this result will facilitate broader protection and the effective exercise of workers rights."


Last on the list is Marlene Trestman's 2016 book Fair Labor Lawyer The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin, published by Louisiana State University Press.

Bessie Margolin was an elegant lady raised in a Jewish orphanage in New Orleans when her single immigrant father could not afford to keep her and her brother and sister.  She grew up to be a pre-eminent Constitutional Lawyer, arguing 27 - and winning 24 - cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is because of the strength of her intellect and argumentive style that the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the strong and effective legal tool it became during Margolin's three decades at the U.S. Department of Labor.  Margolin argued and won these cases in an era when few women were afforded the opportunity to do so.  She also - quite literally - wrote the rules for the prosecution of Nazi War Criminals in Nuremburg.

In addition to being an excellent advocate and attorney, Margolin was an avant garde bachelor woman enjoying life in her Washington, DC apartment on her own terms.  The book shows that even though she was imperfect, human, and feminine, Margolin, she is a true American hero we can and should all emulate.