Labor Day – the (un)official end of Summer
Labor Day – the (un)official end of Summer, the last day you can fashionably wear white and the final weekend before many schools start. It is a day for cookouts, festivals and even closed restaurants! But what is the history of Labor Day?
The History Channel has a great little summary of Labor Day history here. It began with a labor union march on the first Monday in September in New York in 1882. They marched from City Hall to Union Square where they had picnic, music and speeches calling for an 8 hour workday. The date was chosen because of there were no holidays for workers between July 4 and Thanksgiving. In 1894, after a particularly brutal attempt to break up the railroad workers union, Grover Cleveland, in an attempt to appease laborers declared Labor Day a national holiday. It is proclaimed each year to honor those who labor for the good of the Nation and “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” (Dept of Labor – History of Labor Day).
So why do I take your time to talk about a national holiday? Because God is concerned with work, workers and employers. From the beginning, the work that humans did with their hands was a thing of honor. When God put the man and woman in the garden, God gave them the task of taking care of it. The Proverbs call the righteous person to be diligent, and Paul tells servants “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Recently, Pope Francis said, “We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work. Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts.”
But employers also are called to be responsible. Jeremiah in a poetic proclamation said,
Doom to him who builds palaces but bullies people,
who makes a fine house but destroys lives,
Who cheats his workers
and won’t pay them for their work,
Who says, ‘I’ll build me an elaborate mansion
with spacious rooms and fancy windows. . . .
You’re blind and brainless.
All you think about is yourself,
Taking advantage of the weak,
bulldozing your way, bullying victims.”
Throughout the prophets, employers are called to deal justly with their employees. Employers, Paul wrote to you as well and said, Treat your servants with respect. “You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them.”
So I guess, Labor Day is God’s idea. As you picnic and vacation this weekend, think about the dignity of work, of the privilege of work and the responsibilities we have toward one another.