An Invisible Year: Gabriel Thompson’s new book ‘Working in the Shadows’

February 11, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been fascinated by the press around Gabriel Thompson’s new book, Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing Jobs Americans Won’t Do.  After I posted about it on Facebook (for the second time) a friend offered to send it to Germany (thanks Jose!), so I look forward to reading it soon.

Thompson spent a year working side by side with many undocumented immigrants, in chicken plants in Alabama, lettuce fields in Arizona and delivering take-out by bicycle in New York City.   He did things like tear apart 7,000 chicken breasts in one shift, cut 3,000 heads of lettuce per day.  He was also hit repeatedly by taxicabs.

I keep thinking about the act of what he did.  It reveals how class-based American society actually is, that working for low paid wages would be viewed the same as an extreme sport (or worse).  This especially comes out in an interview with MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’.   The journalists (if you can call them that) mouth’s literally hang open when he tells them what he did, and seem most concerned with if he wore gloves and if he deceived his employers:

Video is here ( I can’t embed it without it turning on automatically)

In an interview with the Indypendent, Thompson reflects on what kinds of  change is necessary: “To improve the work, we need much more vigorous government enforcement and union organizing. Organizers need to be more thoughtful in how they build a union and how they recruit workers who are diverse. But the expectations of how much output a worker generates must be changed. You can have a union, but if you’re still making 18,000 cuts per shift, you’ll still have serious health problems.”

Thompson believes that the role of journalists is to go where the silences are.  “The chicken plant fired me immediately upon learning that I was a journalist. This says something about their perspective: the less people know about where their food comes from, the better, because exposing these conditions doesn’t paint them in a favorable light.”

And, to top it off, he is also a fellow Johnston Center Alumni.


Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: