Most of us in this day and age think of Labor Day as the end of the summer season, the time when children return to school, and a time for perhaps the final summer barbecue. We really don’t learn much about the history of Labor Day, established by Congress in 1894 as an attempt to repair ties with American workers following the use of federal troops to break a strike by the American Railway Workers.
It was a time when children as young as 5 or 6 were working 12 to 14 hour days in the mills that dotted the northeast. It was a time when young boys spent 14 hours a day in coal mines under conditions that were not only unsafe but barbaric. Workers were at the mercy of employers who had little compunction to use violence to enforce their rules.
Trade unions enabled the rise of the middle class, and created a sense of not just economic prosperity but freedom. We sometimes think of freedom as “freedom from,” but just as importantly as E.J. Dionne writes, there is a freedom to. We celebrate Labor Day in the memory of the many who struggled to provide not just economic freedom but the freedom that we have in a society that recognizes the importance of justice for all.
Prayer for the Day
We know, O Redeeming God, that you call us to do justice,
So that all may have the blessings you have given us;
We know that although the struggle may be long and hard,
That you are with us as we strive for a more equal society.
Help us to transform our Nation into one of justice and peace,
So that all who live herein may enjoy the fruits of their labor.
In the name of the One we follow,
Even Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen
Thoughts for the Day
Labor Day marks a new epoch in the annals of human history. It differs essentially from some of the other holidays of the year in that it glorifies no armed conflicts or battles of man’s prowess of man over man.
Samuel Gompers, first president American Federation of Labor (1850-1924)
On this day we should think with pride of the growing place which the worker is taking in this country. In every walk of life, the man who actually does the work is gaining in influence and respect. That is as it should be in a democracy, and it is the surest way of proving that we intend to preserve democracy.
Eleanor Roosevelt, writing September 2, 1940 (1882-`1965)
Justice, justice, shall you pursue.