For many of us, Labor Day is the symbolic end of summer—a day for barbecues and relaxing with family and friends. These things are good, but, it is also a day when some reflection on its deeper significance might strengthen our awareness.
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. It was a result of the labor movement and was meant to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers. Yet now, many American workers are caught in situations that take more than they give. One in four earn wages too low to lift their families from poverty. Forty million get no paid leave and workers with job-based health and retirement benefits declined between 1979 and 2010. (Huffington Post). Across America, workers are demanding the right to economic opportunity and security based on their labor. We may consider economic issues from a political or cultural perspective, but, the basic norm we need to assess them against is the dignity of the human person.
In their pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, The USCCB offered six moral principles relevant to today’s economic times:
- People have dignity
- Human dignity can be realized only in community
- People should have the opportunity to shape their own destiny
- We are responsible to protect the poor
- Human rights are the minimum condition for life in community
- Government has a role to enhance human dignity and protect human rights.
Our faith calls us to measure our economic system not only by production, but also by how the means of production and its practices affect the dignity of the human person. The concentration of privilege based in institutional relationships that distribute power and wealth inequitably does not meet our moral norms. People of faith should recall the original struggles of labor to overcome unjust systems in order to achieve its basic needs and consider what has happened since. As Christians and citizens we are called to look at Labor Day not from the viewpoint of politics and party but from the demands of basic justice.
Let us pray for all who long for just employment and those who work to defend the rights and needs of workers everywhere.
Reflect on how your decisions to buy serve human dignity and the common good. Consider your political views and decisions in terms of your commitment to gospel justice.
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
For the Scripture says, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
1 Timothy 5:18
We cannot separate what we believe from how we act in the marketplace and the broader community, for this is where we make our primary contribution to the pursuit of economic justice.
USCCB, Economic Justice for All
Central to the biblical presentation of justice is that the justice of a community is measured by its treatment of the powerless in society, most often described as the widow, the orphan, the poor and the stranger in the land…What these people have in common is their vulnerability and lack of power.
USCCB, Economic Justice for All
The important role of union organizations must be admitted: their object is the representation of the various categories of workers, their lawful collaboration in the economic advance of society, and the development of the sense of their responsibility for the realization of the common good.
Pope Paul VI
The experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.
John Paul II (re labor unions)
It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
Martin Luther King Jr.
I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
John D. Rockefeller
Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.
Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.
John F. Kennedy