Cover Image: Dirty Work

Dirty Work

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Dirty Work is an illuminating venture into the world of jobs that are considered "dirty." Much of this work is hidden from view so most people do not need to think about it, but we still reap the benefits. I really enjoyed the book. For me, it’s one of those defining books you come across every few years that shape and enlightens you.

This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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An exposé of the ‘dark side’ - the underbelly of the work world and its ‘essential workers’ - upon whom society is so dependent yet whose citizens remain so (wilfully) ignorant, oblivious and unaware. Brutally revealing, this book casts a behind-the-scenes spotlight on employment at prisons, abattoirs, military drone operations, and the energy and tech sectors across the USA. These are often the stigmatised, low-income jobs that no one wants to do, and thus little attention is paid to the workers whose lives often become morally compromised.       
This book often made for difficult reading, and some of the images and disclosures will be difficult to forget. But I guess that’s the essential point: we are ostriches with our heads in the sand. The author wants to highlight our complicity in allowing this to occur and our indifference in trying to ignore it or put it out of our minds. It was staggering to believe this was not a work of fiction but a revelation of actual employment conditions in 21st Century America. 
My thanks to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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"Pinning the blame for dirty work solely on the people tasked with carrying it out can be a useful way to obscure the power dynamics and the layers of complicity that perpetuate their conduct."

Dirty Work is a well needed look into the jobs society NEEDS fulfilled in order to function properly - but where workers are negatively impacted by public opinions on the roles and dehumanised the the point where animal deaths are often mentioned in lawsuits over human lives lost as it garners more empathy from the public and jury. Workers, often those who are forced into the roles, become scapegoats when the nature of their role is revealed and employees higher up can remain untarnished by the system they put in place.

"But who bears more responsibility for this cruelty; the workers who shock and kill the animals (and whom some PETA activists have advocated charging with criminal felonies), or the consumers who eat meat without ever thinking of the costs?"

The book takes a look at a fantastic variety of 'dirty' roles, including meat processing factories, prisons, chemical factories etc. It highlights the role the public play in increasing demand for the end product these roles produce and a surface level explanation of why 'locavores' are flawed. Locavores carry out "virtuous consumption", purchasing items that align with their values, but the primary focus is on their own diets and animals involved, not stretching as far as labour regulations for the workers. Animal welfare is prized over human welfare, hence why we see 'free range' growing, but salaries decreasing.

The reflection is crucial for understanding true changes needed in society. The book is US-centric but useful for readers from all countries and take into consideration the history of scapegoating, including of the black and Jewish communities.

There is a chapter on the US army but I neither read it nor included it in my reviewing score.

Thank you to NetGalley for the Arc.
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A fascinating and well-researched look at a variety of “dirty” unseen jobs, ranging across fields and education levels.
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Dirty Work is a book that investigates some of the jobs that society would rather not think about, done by people who often work in terrible conditions or at personal risk. Eyal Press takes the reader through America's prisons, slaughterhouses, and oil rigs, and looks into the lives of drone operators, to explore "dirty work," the jobs that are often necessary to the way society lives but most people don't want to consider. Delving into the personal stories of workers, why they do the jobs and how they might be able or not able to fight for better conditions, the book paints a picture of work that is often hidden from view.

The book wasn't quite what I expected it to be, focusing more on particular jobs and why people might feel trapped doing them rather than looking more broadly at "dirty work". Especially for non-Americans who perhaps have read less about some of these roles already, there is some eye-opening material, especially around the societal attitudes, government bills, and consumer habits that mean these jobs need to happen. The end delves into some other uncomfortable areas, like what tech workers' code might be used for and the mining of cobalt, but these are more of a extra chapter at the end, and I would've liked more of this, especially thinking about power and ethics in these areas and how people can be purposefully ignorant of some of these issues when using technology.

The focus on individuals' stories may help to convince some people, but it did feel like the book shied away from some of the more complex ethics, painting everyone who works these jobs as forced into it by economics and situation and not really exploring where the ethics sits with people slightly higher up. There is hints towards larger issues too - like why this kind of work can pay better than say working in a restaurant - and I thought the book would perhaps look at essential jobs more broadly to fit these roles into that picture.

Dirty Work covers interesting and powerful ground, and will be eye-opening to some people who've not really thought much about some of the jobs covered, especially perhaps things like drone operators. I did feel like it spent a lot of time on some of the jobs without looking at some of the larger picture, which made the parts feel quite separate and occasionally drag a bit.
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There are certain professions that are defined as “dirty work”; employment that author Eyal Press describes as “low-status jobs of last resort”. In “Dirty Work”, he shines a visceral light on just a few of them, highlighting their existence as a symptom of societal inequality. 
All these jobs are deemed essential to society, but society as whole would sooner ignore them or even forget they exist. Ayal Press argues that because we sense the immoral nature of such work, the people who do the jobs are burdened with our collective guilt, leading to loss of dignity and shattered self-esteem. He takes readers inside a series of such jobs, not only to expose the abysmal conditions under which many people are forced to work, but also to prick our collective conscience. 
Press begins his harrowing roll-call with corrections officers in Florida, where prisons are overpopulated and run on a shoestring. Lacking the care they deserve, mentally ill prisoners are at the mercy of under-trained and over-worked guards, and abuse is rife. Press’s sympathy primarily resides with the prisoners, but his interest is in the guards who take the job with good intentions but become trapped in a broken system and compromise their ethics. Sadly, prisons aren’t usually located in regions with a variety of employment options, tending to be located in rural, economically deprived areas. By and large, guards aren’t sadists; they are average people compelled by necessity to work. The toll is devastating: one study found that the suicide risk of corrections officers is 39 per cent higher than for the rest of the population.
The most complex and shadowy occupation that Press investigates is drone warfare. Intended to create a cleaner form of war, Press vividly shows that the bloodlessness of this kind of warfare (for Americans, that is…not so much for those on the receiving end) opens new kinds of wounds. The psychological damage of ordering remote strikes is severe, with post-traumatic stress disorder widespread among drone operators. The work may be performed in secret military compounds, but in some ways it isn't hidden enough: war is no longer contained to far-off warzones but integrated into workaday life, sullying the home for which soldiers are ostensibly fighting. One retired pilot tells Press that twenty minutes after remotely bombing people in other countries, he received a text from his wife asking him to pick up some milk on his way home. 
Press also focuses on various forms of dirty tech and offshore oil rig workers, a job we all know exists but know next to nothing about, but his study reaches a depressing nadir in the saga of Flor Martinez, one of countless undocumented migrants who, after an illegal border-crossing, make their way to the “disassembly lines" of a Texas poultry plant. Martinez, subjected to sexual harassment and denied bathroom breaks, also has her hands ruined by the work processing sixty-five chickens per minute; then becomes a single mother, faces eviction, and contracts Covid-19 before being given a diagnosis of breast cancer. Her resilience is in itself an indictment of the system. 
Press concludes with a call for collective action to save our social soul but he does not say what form this action might take. Nothing in the book is precisely new; these various jobs and their appalling human cost have been well known for years so Press's view that it is the hidden nature of the work that allows it to thrive is not exactly correct. Despite this slight misgiving, Eyal Press has written a timely and shocking work that deserves to be widely read, but maybe the most shocking thing about it is that it needed to be written in the first place.
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