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Author Talk: Jamie K. McCallum on Essential

February 14:00 pm5:00 pm IRLE Director’s Room

Two overlapping circles, one containing the book cover for "Essential" by Jamie K. McCallum with the phrase "How the pandemic transformed the long fight for worker justice" displayed on a delivery hand truck; the other circle contains a headshot of author Jamie K. McCallum

Join us for an in-person book talk with award-winning sociologist Jamie K. McCallum on his latest book, Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice.

Co-hosted by IRLE, the Labor Center, and Berkeley Sociology.

About the Book

In Essential, McCallum uncovers the deep roots of essential workers’ rage and reveals how their fight for better jobs during the pandemic revolutionized US labor politics. The outbreak of COVID-19 may have thrown American working life into a tumult, but McCallum shows that decades of inequality and austerity had already left essential workers vulnerable to employer abuse, lacking government protections, and increasingly furious. When the pandemic hit, they were primed to revolt.

Through firsthand research conducted as the pandemic unfolded, McCallum tracks the evolution of workers’ militancy, showing how their struggles for safer workplaces, better pay and universal health care, and the right to unionize benefitted all Americans and spurred a radical new phase of the labor movement. In other words, during the pandemic, workers breathed new life into the old slogan: An injury to one is an injury to all.

About the Author

Jamie K. McCallum is an author, teacher, and activist, focusing on labor and work issues around the world. He is currently associate professor of sociology at Middlebury College. His work has won scholarly awards and appeared in The Washington Post, Mother Jones, Jacobin, Dissent, In These Times, and other magazines. His most recent book, Essential: How the Pandemic Transformed the Long Fight for Worker Justice, focuses on essential workers’ impact on US labor politics and was published by Basic Books in late 2022.


Labor Center
Berkeley Sociology


IRLE Director’s Room
2521 Channing Way
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States
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