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Why The Bronx Can’t Forget About May Day

Reflections and Resources on International Workers’ Day

by Michael Partis and Evan Casper-Futterman

“Stock market going up, jobs going down
Ain’t no funky job to be found
People, people, we’ve got to get over
Before we go under
Let’s get together and get some land
Raise our food like the man
Save our money like the mob
Put up a fight, own the job”
James Brown, Funky President (People It’s Bad)

Screenshot from the film Decade of Fire about the resilience of Bronx communities in the face of a citywide economic crisis in NY in the 1970s

Today on International Workers Day, we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic that is hitting us here in the Bronx particularly hard as a result of intersecting and compounding systems of inequity and oppression. Our family members, friends, and neighbors are dying preventable and avoidable deaths. As with past May Day’s and in recent months, workers continue to assert their essential value to society both as workers and as human beings. We must reaffirm that the movements for Black Liberation, worker control, racial justice, gender justice, and solidarity, are also struggles of labor. And by labor, we are inclusive of all forms of work including creativity, productivity, unwaged labor, emotional labor, reproductive labor, art. In this expansive frame, all people should have the rights and responsibilities to exercise economic collective and self-determination.

Demands of Young Lords who occupied Lincoln Hospital due to lack of adequate care for community and workers in the BX.

As the possibility of a major recession and depression looms ahead, we in the Bronx and New York City are also witnessing a potentially massive shift in our political moment. From a present dominated by rapacious, speculative, fictional growth and gentrification in our communities, to the return of unemployment and disinvestment rates not seen in the Bronx since the 1970s, new circumstances create new challenges and require new strategies. Here in the Bronx, we are reminded of our not too distant work to sustain our communities in the face of the disinvestment and bankruptcy of those earlier eras and recognize that our labor will once again be called forth to save that which the private sector cannot be bothered to address without adequate profitable return.

Takeover at Hostos Community College 1976

To honor these legacies, we offer this list of resources, articles, and books on the topics of economic democracy, labor, gender, solidarity, and blackness. Let’s look back to our forebears, and look ahead to the challenges and opportunities before us.

Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement: Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and the Pursuit of Racial Justice in New York City / Sonia Song-Ha Lee

This book addresses the parallel but distinct histories of Puerto Rican and African-American civil and human rights struggles in New York City in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The author shows how both groups came to define and redefine their own identities in this process and the consequences for their victories and shortcomings.

Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times / James Tracy and Amy Sonnie

This book revisits the “Rainbow Coalition” of organizing groups of the 1960s and 1970s, from the Black Panthers to the Brown Berets, Young Lords, Young Patriots, and even the Bronx-based White Lightning. The ways in which these organizing collectives combined systems-level organizing and analysis with tangible organizing practices of mutual aid and community empowerment are particularly relevant in our current moment.

From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth / Alex Gourevitch

This book provides an in-depth analysis of the Knights of Labor and the meaning of labor and liberty. The book reminds us that economic cooperation and cooperative enterprise are fundamentally and historically about worker power and control, not the power of capital and ownership over workers.

Revolution / Evolution Excerpt & Essay on Grace and James Boggs

Grace Lee and James Boggs are some of the wisest minds on the deeper freedom and vision required for what Dr. King called “a revolution of values”. These articles are brief excerpts and reminders of their wisdom and vision individually and jointly.


Left of Karl Marx / Carole Boyce Davies

Journalist and activist Claudia Jones at the offices of The West Indian Gazette CREDIT: FPG/ARCHIVE PHOTOS

This biography of Claudia Jones follows the life of an often unrecognized Caribbean activist. Claudia Jones expanded the horizons of critical thinking on a variety of subjects in the twentieth century, offering analyses of race, class, gender, and imperialism into her work as a journalist, an organizer, and as a political prisoner. These insights continue to influence our understanding of intersectionality today.

Race Rebels / Robin D.G. Kelley

A classic work on the black working class in the US by movement scholar Robin D.G. Kelley.

Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall St / Karen Ho

Work and workers also exist at the heights of the economic hierarchy. While we often hear that “the economy” operates according to natural laws, our economic system is and has always been social. Made by people, run by people. Able to be changed by people to operate differently. Understanding dominant cultures, attitudes, and practices help us to strategize and learn how to transform systems more effectively. This anthropological study of Wall Street shows just how much culture, politics, and systems of identity operate in this supposedly “natural” system of finance and investment.

Ecofeminism (book) / Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva

At the intersection of labor, gender, and ecology is the theory and practice of ecofeminism and degrowth. The book and principles outlined here are essential foundations of an economy and society that are democratic and sustainable.

Aretha Franklin’s history of solidarity (and here as well)

As we see acts of mutual aid and solidarity proliferate around us, we are reminded of the legacy of acts of movement solidarity from those who have had the blessings of stable livelihoods and the income to be able to share with those in their moments of need. RIPower to the Queen of Soul.

The following community education case studies are now on our website. Provide us with your email for access to all of our FREE Resources:


  • Knights of Labor
  • CTU Strike
  • Ladies Auxiliary of Sleeping Car Porters
  • Lucas Plan

If these resources and our ongoing dialogue on Bronx history, Black Liberation, movement building, and economic democracy are of interest to you, please subscribe to our publication here at BRONX FUTURE and follow us on Instagram @Bronxfuture and Twitter @bcdi718

Happy International Workers’ Day!




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Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative

We are building #EconomicDemocracy: an equitable, sustainable & democratic economy with shared wealth and ownership for low-income people of color in the BX