I spent International Labor Day biking to Monopoli. Italy. A bit ironic as this day is to commemorate resistance to big bosses buying up Park Place and Broadway in the real capitalistic game of Monopoly! But no surprise that it’s a story that few Americans know.
The short version is that in 1886, workers across America organized a general strike to insist on an 8-hour work day. The police backed the bosses and a riot ensued in Haymarket Square in Chicago, causing the deaths of both protestors and police. The government hung four protesters with no evidence against them and the outrage provoked international interest. Across the world, May 1st became known as International Labor Day to commemorate the fight for worker’s rights and is celebrated as such in countries worldwide with one notable exception— the United States. Worried that proposals for a U.S. Labor Day on that date would call attention to the event, President Grover Cleveland suggested a day in September which Americans would remember forever as— the day after which (at least up until recently) school would begin in September.
Hmm. I wonder why. When in doubt, follow the money. For much of the 20th century, labor-management conflicts were handled through the creation of unions. By 1955, 33% of American workers belonged to a union. Today it’s 6%. Back in the day, anti-trust laws were put in place to put a ceiling on —well, monopolies— and rich people payed taxes, giving back to the economy like the rest of us. Now the dogs of greed are unleashed— the top 1% earn more money than the entire middle class! And thanks to Trump’s gift to his cronies, ain’t none of them paying taxes. Amazon workers are suffering from overwork while CEO Jeff Bezos decides he needs a $500 million dollar yacht and hey, why not fly into space? Is anybody noticing?
Michael Moore is. In a piece titled “May Day Every Day,” he notes that there is a gradual awakening amongst young people who are gathering to say “Enough.” While the billionaires got richer during Covid (one statistic said 62% richer!) there has been an underground rumbling in the form of “a 57% increase in the number of workers and labor groups demanding to be recognized as a union, demanding better wages, benefits, time off and safety protection.” Starbuck employees, Amazon workers, REI, Apple, the Art Institute of Chicago and others have created, or are in the process of creating, unions that allow for a more humane working environment.
It’s in the interest of those driven by excessive and unapologetic greed, those willing to profit from the country’s crisis, those whose driving mission statement is “More. More. And yet more,” to keep us all in the dark. Economy is the last conversation we need to be having, the one we keep ignoring, the one Florida’s Governor De Santis would ban immediately from schools if we started having it and heaven forbid, teach the children about the real history of May Day. They might learn about the motto of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) coined by labor activist Joe Hill in response to his coming execution: “Don’t mourn. Organize!”
And so this little look at Monopoly in the town of Monopoli.