I write this exactly one week before the Labor Day holiday. When most of us hear Labor Day, we have images of cookouts, beaches or pools, end of summer and new clothes/supplies for the start of the school year. However, the history of the day is much deeper than that. Like May Day in Europe, it is the day of the year in which we honor the American labor movement and the contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States. Being root in the union movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, equity of work and pay and the acknowledgement of the contributions of all who labor is at the heart of spirit of the holiday.
Some years ago, I happen to be listening to one of the last broadcasts of Bill Moyers who had a show on PBS. He was interviewing an activist of one of the Unions in America. In the course of the interview the activist quoted another activist from the 1930s who said, “We all do well, when we all do well.” No doubt that sentiment has driven many of the labor movements in our nation’s history. As we gather to celebrate Labor Day, it would serve us well to remember that notion. Not since the Gilded Age has there been such a disparity between rich and poor. The inequity that surrounds us on a daily basis has become so common place it reminds me of the old joke about two fish swimming along; The first fish says, “Water is fine today, don’t you think?” Second fish replies, “What’s water?”
As the fledgling Christian movement started one of the defining characteristics was its active pursuit of equality. As the book of Acts tells us, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)” So for Christians, seeking the equitable treatment of all who labor and contribute to the common good is very much at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Now that the unemployment stimulus is coming to an end, and businesses are doing their best to hire, this year Labor Day is more poignant that in years past. As those who have been out of work return, now would be the best time to strive toward fair wages for their labor. During your Labor Day celebration/observance I offer this prayer from The Book of Common prayer that may help enrichen the day.
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 261)
REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 757-562-4542.