365 Days of Earrings

Monday, September 5, 2011

An endless game of Monopoly

Labor Day. I read about the origins of this day on The Writer’s Almanac. A federal holiday created to appease Labor Unions after Grover Cleveland sent the military to put down the Pulman workers' strike. I’m one of many who are of two minds about unions. I fervently believe that all who work should earn a living wage. That it’s balderdash that the CEO’s and Hedge Fund managers are the “most productive members of society.” That wage inequality will destroy the America I love. But that unions often take advantage of the very workers who pay their dues, creating rules that limit flexibility and cooperation in the workplace.

I looked around today in search of Labor Day earrings, but didn’t find any that suited. So I wandered about looking for likely objects to use. I found a hammer charm, the reward for a Habitat for Humanity donation. As I looked for something to go with it, I came upon a baggie with Monopoly game pieces.
As my children will attest, I hate Monopoly. It’s endless and boring and way too complicated. Perhaps I was scarred as a child because my brother—who stored Monopoly money under the area rug in his bedroom—dominated every game we ever played. But I refuse to play on principal. A game in which you try to inflate prices and destroy the economic well-being of the rest of the community? And it’s boring and endless.
So perhaps this avoidance of Monopoly is why I’d never realized the irony of the game pieces. They’re lowly working people! In the baggie I found a thimble, an iron, a wheelbarrow, and a shoe. I think I recall a racecar (that was my brother, I think)...
I spent some time listening to labor songs: John McCutcheon’s Labor Day, Pete Seeger singing Pay Me My Money Down, Paul Robeson’s Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie’s 1913 Massacre, Bobbie McGee singing Bread and Roses, and lots more I found on iTunes.  Pie in the Sky. My dad sang that one to me when he explained unions, and the dust bowl, and the attraction of communism during the Roaring Twenties and the depression.
I worked in a unionized school once, from 1984 to 1986, but opted not to join the union. I felt that I couldn’t afford the dues. (I earned $17,000 and the dues were 1,700, as I recall.) And it seemed like a supportive work environment. (I didn't have to clean the toilets, as I had at my previous school...) Other workers had paved the way for me, I know. As I said, I’m conflicted about unions. But I believe that honest labor should earn a fair wage.
I wore an iron and a wheelbarrow dangling from my ears today, and listened to Labor songs. It's so striking that as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, there is no resurgence of the labor movement. It's like we're all in an endless monopoly game, and someone's stashing our hard-earned cash under his rug.

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