I find it hard to truly celebrate Labor Day. It was (originally) a “creation of the labor movement and was dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers - a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” But I think the meaning was lost a while ago. Now it’s a day off…a long holiday weekend at the beginning of the school year...picnics, races, and Labor Day sales.
According to Catholic Social Teaching on the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, “the economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”
The focus has become simply making a living. Over 33% of the people in Macon, GA live below the poverty line. Individuals who come to my ministry may have a job, but a full time job at minimum wage doesn’t always cover the rent, utilities, food and other BASIC needs, let alone school supplies, Christmas gifts, and other special (but not outrageous) things throughot the year.
Some of my clients rely on 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. Not only can this break the spirit of the worker, so much time away can weaken the bond of the whole family. My ministry works to help families move ahead, but how can they in such a culture of poverty? Prosperity and well-being are not what is celebrated here…getting by is. This is not a true celebration of Labor Day.
Some people I serve are unemployed, and out of frustration find it easier to rely on charity – as undignified as that is to accept sometimes- as long as basic needs are met. There are no social and economic achievements here. This is not a true celebration of Labor Day.
Too many people experience injustices in labor- slave labor, unjust wages, harassment, discrimination, and other poor labor practices. Basic rights of workers are not always respected. This is not a true celebration of Labor Day.
Consider that labor (work) really should be a life-giving and nurturing act-a participation in God’s creation. Labor gives the worker the opportunity to use the God-given gifts, skills, strength, and knowledge for the community at large. We see several examples of labor mentioned in scripture- carpenter, fishermen, farmers, weavers, shepherds, tax collectors, scholars and scribes to name a few. And God uses all of us for HIS work- skilled or not.
These are the Labor Days I celebrate:
When families who struggle to make ends meet always make time for family-not just man-made holidays, but in the God-given everydays.
When those who are unemployed continue to reflect upon their God-given talents, acquired skills, deep desire for work, and pray for the opportunity to be a productive member of society.
When someone finally experiences dignity and respect…and grows in self-esteem…and brings those values home in addition to their paycheck.
Bless the work of our hands, Lord…bless the work of our hands.