Labor in Labor Day 2016


Labor Day Is Coming – Why You Should Care

Ah, Labor Day! The last blowout of summer. Another chance to light up the grill and gather with friends and neighbors. The beginning of school for children. The startup of football as a new way of passing the time. And most importantly, a day off! Who doesn’t love a three-day weekend?
I’m sure that the aforementioned motives are the reason we often revel in the thought of Labor Day, but for me there is a pretty significant irony to uncover. I’m used to news campaigns that bemoan putting “Christ” back into Christmas and I might even throw a fit once in a while that Halloween has become a festival about costumes and candy rather than what the name implies. (“All Hallow’s Eve” (Hallwoween) is an ancient English voicing of “All Saint’s Eve” – the night before All Saints Day which is the more imperative celebration for Catholics). But I don’t often hear month-long campaigns beseeching us to “Put ‘Labor’ back in Labor Day.”

Maybe there should be.

A number of issues face our city and our country right now that effect workers – – laborers (and if I hadn’t implicitly made the connection yet, Labor Day is a day that honors the work of “Labor,” stemming from the 19th century labor union movements when the holiday was actually started.) Today, while grateful that the unemployment rate has dropped to 4.9%, there are strong concerns that wages are stagnant and millions of people who want jobs aren’t even looking because of disappointment. Pension systems are in crisis for thousands of workers who had a contract with society for their work. Women are paid only 79% of wages in the workplace that men are paid. Children are left wanting during newborn development because our economy has increased the need for both partners to work, while not providing for appropriate time for family leave. Millions of workers do not have a living wage, while we debate whether a minimum wage should be $15 per hour or less… or should it be more?

And most of the reason these conditions persist is because there are decisions made by good-meaning people who tip the balance in favor of one singular goal – profit. But like a prophet standing on the street corner, the Church stands up and cries out “Enough! This has to change!”
I’ll admit that when the Church does this, it is easy to think that the Church is just interfering with politics. Some say the Church should just sit in the corner and pray and not concern itself with the decisions about the remuneration of nurses, janitors, police officers, and teachers nor the philosophies of lawmakers who enable or disable policies that effect worker’s lives.

But by praying in the corner and reading the Bible, especially the words of Jesus Christ, the Church has realized that it cannot stay silent. For 1891 years, the Church was steadfast in its instruction for good moral behavior within society – do charity. However, in the mid to late 1800s something shifted. The Industrial Revolution changed society which thereby prompted a change in moral response. The means of production, the dominant engine of economic health, became the human person now labeled “Labor” – the worker. Starting in 1891, and repeated ever since, Pope Leo XIII courageously instructed the world in his landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum that charity was not enough, we must also concentrate to alleviate the injustice caused by the new societal order. We must seek justice – social justice.

And we can start that work in the week ahead by bringing to our consciousness the important role of Labor.
Sure! Plan the BBQ! Have some fun! Enjoy the weekend! But don’t forget the men and women who have enabled us to celebrate this day through their labor and the rights that should be afforded to them. Put “Labor” back in Labor Day by our collective mindfulness of Labor’s importance and our collective actions, decisions, discussion, and votes on their behalf in the weeks and months ahead.

For more information about Catholic teaching in regard to social inequality, labor, and social justice, I recommend doing a Google Search for “USCCB Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching.” The search will lead you to articles sponsored by the United States Bishops about the Dignity of Work and other important themes.–

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

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