What Work Is

Author: Robert Bruno
A distinctive exploration of how workers see work
Cloth – $110
Paper – $24.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/09/2024
Cloth: 01/09/2024
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About the Book

For nearly thirty years, Robert Bruno has taught labor history and labor studies to union members from a wide range of occupations and demographic groups. In the class, he asked his students to finish the question “Work is—?” in six words or less. The thousands of responses he collected provide some of the rich source material behind What Work Is. Bruno draws on the thoughts and feelings experienced by workers in the present day to analyze how we might design a future of work. He breaks down perceptions of work into five categories: work and time; the space workers occupy; the impact of work on our lives; the sense of purpose that motivates workers; and the people we work for, in all senses of the term.

Far-seeing and sympathetic, What Work Is merges personal experiences with research, poetry, and other diverse sources to illuminate workers’ lives in the present and envision what work could be in the future.

About the Author

Robert Bruno is a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he also serves as Director of the Labor Education Program. He is the author of Justified by Work: Identity and the Meaning of Faith in Chicago’s Working-Class Churches; Steelworker Alley: How Class Works In Youngstown; and Reforming the Chicago Teamsters: The Story of Local 705. He is a coauthor of A Fight for the Soul of Public Education: The Chicago Teachers Strike.


"Bruno’s humanistic analysis often approaches the poetic ('Work hurts. Work disables and abuses. It exhausts, stresses, and ultimately kills. Work dictates life spans. It also invigorates, inspires, satisfies, and brings joy'), and his shrewd recommendations for improving American labor include strong unions, reducing the 40-hour workweek, and stronger enforcement of overtime benefits. It’s a worthy update to Studs Terkel’s Working." --Publishers Weekly


“Understanding what work means is critically important for understanding the lived experiences of millions of people and for research and policymaking. Bruno gives voice to workers who are critically important for society but overlooked by research focused on the managerial and professional class. The nuances revealed by the workers’ own words can’t be observed in statistical analyses, and the more we learn about their experiences through their own voices, the better.”--John W. Budd, author of The Thought of Work