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The Unbound Book Festival comes to downtown Columbia each spring. They aim "to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives."

Kim Kelly on Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor: ‘Solidarity is essential. We can't win without it.’

Edited Kim Kelly.jpg
Elizabeth Kreitschman

Kim Kelly is probably best known for her labor column for Teen Vogue.

Her new book, “The Untold History of American Labor: Fight Like Hell,” explores the stories of underrepresented and forgotten leaders in the labor movement. She spoke with KBIA's Lauren Hines.

The Unbound Book Festival is coming up on Saturday, and KBIA has been talking to some of this year's authors in a series we're calling "Unbound Authors."

Lauren Hines: First off, can you tell me a bit about where did the idea of this book come from?

Kim Kelly: I've been covering labor pretty much full time since 2019, and I've always found myself drawn to the stories of people who were kind of left out of the story – people on the margins that didn't fit into the easy, mainstream narrative of what the “working class” or what “union members” look like.

And when I got the opportunity to write a book, of course, I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I can finally dive into some of these stories and these figures that I've been touching on in my Teen Vogue columns and other pieces for so long.

I will say that the chapter on disabled workers was really personal for me to write because I'm a disabled person, and until I started researching this book, I never really thought about the connections between the disability justice movement and the labor movement.

And lo and behold, they're deeply intertwined. It was just really nice to see because I wrote this book for everyone, right? But I wrote it for me too and seeing things like that just kind of reinforced this whole idea that we really are in this together and that labor really is the cause of the world.

Provided by Kim Kelly

Hines: A lot of labor, a lot of union stuff going on right now.

Kelly: Love to see it.

Hines: I'm wondering, you know, how has that informed you about the issues going on now regarding, you know, the Amazon labor union and all the Starbucks unions.

Kelly: I mean one of the most important things to remember, like, when you're trying to make the world a little bit better, is that solidarity is essential. We can't win without it.

Speaking of what happened with the Amazon labor union – their entire project was built on solidarity, on person to person organizing, on building those strong community bonds, and I think that’s why they've been so successful.

Why I hope so many more workers see this and take inspiration from that because there's a lot of historical precedent there – whether you're talking about the washerwomen of Jackson in the 1860s or Dorothy Lee Bolden and the National Domestic Workers Union in Atlanta in the ‘60s who organized about 10,000 Black women to professionalize household work.

It’s really incredible to see what's happening on Staten Island and to tie it together to these past victories and these past struggles. That's kind of what I tried to do throughout the book to take something that happened before and show how we can take those lessons and move forward.

Hines: So, I guess what's one thing you know, you want readers to really take away from your book?

Kelly: It's very simple, but I think it's something that a lot of folks forget – is that everyone deserves to be treated fairly.

Everyone deserves to be safe on the job, to have a decent wage, to be respected, to have health care, and I just hope that folks pick up this book, and they see themselves in it – no matter who they are.

And they take a little bit of inspiration from seeing, you know, look at how far we've come and now think about how much further we can go.

Lauren Hines is a reporter and producer at KBIA.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.