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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Working History Bill Adler on Labor, People, and Loss BY MICHAEL KING MOLLIE’S JOB: A Story of Life and Work On the Global Assembly Line. By William M. Adler. Scribner. 367 pages. $27.50. Readers of the Observer’s June 9 excerpt of Bill Adler’s Mollie’s Job \(Chapter Thirteen: “On the the book’s attention to the extraordinary details of “free trade” in action, as Adler follows the final stages of the descent of a single assembly-line job from Paterson, New Jersey, to Blytheville, Arkansas, to Matamoros, Mexico. That particular job once “belonged” to Mollie James of Paterson, although by 1987, after nearly forty years on the job, the ground is shifting radically under Mollie’s feet: [The] Paterson plant was breathing but skeletal 135 workers had already been laid off, with the promise of more to go soon. By virtue of her seniority, Mollie James was still on the payroll, but just then she was out of town; the company had sent her to Blytheville for a week. Like a deathrow inmate building her own casket, Mollie was training the workers there to do her job. That stark metaphor is uncharacteristic of Adler’s work. An occasional contributor to these pages \(we know him fondly as our Big Bend Bureau Chief, although he has written his way from New York to Califorgenerally content to follow the facts and let the story tell itself. But by the time the reader arrives at this somber moment in Chapter Thirteen, Adler has more than earned his momentary gesture. We have traveled with Adler and Mollie James and her honest labor from Virginia, to New Jersey, and now to Arkansas, and we are all entitled to an accumulated realization of her loss. That is by way of suggesting that if you enjoyed and learned from Chapter Thirteen, you will simply be astonished by the whole of Mollie’s Job. This is a book of impressive historical imagination, akin to Adler’s 1995 Land of Opportunity, although with even greater range and implication. Land of Opportunity was a remarkable journey in the wake of the Chambers brothers, an entrepreneurial group of siblings who traveled from the abject poverty of the Arkansas Delta to seek their fortune in Detroit. They found that fortune in spectacular and meteoric fashion, in the crack trade where in a few years the brothers had amassed and squandered millions, on their inevitable way to federal prison. But Adler’s interest was not in sensational criminality: “Indeed,” he wrote, “their story should frighten not because it shows what made them different, but rather what made them so common.” Adler pursued the Chambers’ story as a way to examine the broader capitalist culture of the Eighties: “The decade’s cult of money, its tone of rising expectations, insisted that the dispossessed aspire to the goals of the dominant culture yet denied them the means to obtain those goals legally.” And it was while researching the Southto-North migration of Land of Opportunity that Adler began piecing together the North-to-South migration of Mollie’s Job. What he found was another story that opens a whole modern era to re-examination and deeper understanding, although this book reaches back even further, to the beginnings of U.S. manufacturing in the eighteenth century \(Alexander Hamilton’s Paterson-based Society for the Establishing thread, the book follows a single job assembling current-regulating ballasts for fluorescent lighting fixtures in Paterson’s Universal Manufacturing Company “as it passed from the urban North to the rural South … to Mexico over the course of the past half-century and the dawn of the new one.” But in tracing that central story Adler also provides attentive biographical portraits of Mollie James and Balbina Duque \(the young Mexican woman who at the many other intriguing men and women who figure inextricably in Mollie and Balbina’ s story: company founders, working colleagues, union reps, labor gangsters, bankers, investors, politicians, and so on. It’s an an expanding web of fascinating historical narrative: “a story about the demise of unions and the middle class and the concurrent rise of the plutocracy; about the disposability of workers and the portability of work; about how government and Wall Street reward U.S.-based companies for closing domestic plants and scouring the globe for the lowest wages in places where human rights and labor rights are ignored; and about the ways in which ‘free ,trade’ harms democracy, undermines stable businesses and communities, exploits workers on both sides of the border, both ends of the global assembly line.” Yet Adler’s introductory summary, accurate as it is, fails to give a full sense of the range and engagement of his work, from top to bottom. From chapter to chapter, Mollie’s Job reads like a gripping historical novel, with a fully realized sense of people embedded in their time and place that one associates with Dickens or Zola. Here is but one moment with Universal’s founder Archie Sergy, part hero, part hustler, as the Paterson company he started \(with a few take off in the post-War years: Even as he added production lines, hundreds of employees, and a third, graveyard shift to keep up with the roaring demand, Archie operated as if he were running a corner store in the old neighborhood: He knew and greeted everyone by name, often by their street names “Hey Munny! Hey Moishe! ” Or it was like old times at the caddy shack: Archie dispensing 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 21, 2000