In the last twenty or so years it seems that Labor Day in America has become more about that last great Summer weekend bender, or the Jerry Lewis Telethon, or a Parade, or closing up the cabin, or almost anything than what it is supposed to commemorate: Labor. Not the about to have a baby kind of labor, but the working kind of labor which includes things like the labor movement, workers’ rights, the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining – you know, just about every thing the Tea Party opposes and Republican Governors like my State’s Governorfuhrer Walker is working hard to eliminate so that he can remain the favorite prostitute of the Koch brothers by bending over in front of them and taking whatever agenda they choose to thrust forward.
A cursory review of history will reveal that it was only a little over one hundred years ago, after the onset of the industrial revolution, that most human beings – both adults and children – worked in unsafe conditions for substandard wages. It was only through hard-fought battles and aided by the support of the Roman Catholic Church that the west succeeded in winning fair wages and safe working conditions from greedy employers. For a few decades all was well in our world. Then, in the 1980s, greedy employers realized they could recreate the sub-human working conditions and wages of the early industrial revolution by opening factories in the developing world. Workers in the west saw their jobs exported and their wages and benefits cut, all the while being assured by the wealthy that they didn’t need unions any more. Since the mid-term, 2010 elections, government seems to be doing all it can to ensure that they crush what is left of the labor movement, thereby returning the west to the good old days of the late 1800s and early 1900s when human beings were disposable commodities that existed only for the wealthy to use to create more wealth for themselves. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
All of this nonsense is little more than a denial of the reality that every human being has a sacred purpose, or a reason for being on this planet, that expresses itself in the work that they do. From a general laborer to a rocket scientist, there exists an occupation for everyone that fulfills their sacred purpose. You can tell this is the case. An individual fulfilling their sacred purpose does their work for the love of it. You will often hear them say they are very fortunate because they love what they do and so never feel as if they are going to work. Their work benefits humankind. Some people struggle to find their sacred purpose, moving through several career changes before finally finding their niche. Others abandon the search altogether and become greedy and cynical. We call them “politicians,” or “Koch brothers,” or “The Tea Party.” They work not to make the world a better place, but only to benefit themselves.
I mentioned the Jerry Lewis Telethon at the beginning of this post. Of course, it’s really the MDA telethon and this year is the first year Jerry Lewis is not hosting it. Maybe that’s appropriate. Maybe it signals a time for broadening the focus of Labor Day just a bit by restoring the focus on Labor through a focus on “Sacred Purpose.” We need to return to our former understanding of work as something both holy and necessary to human experience. Such an understanding would cast the immoral attacks on workers currently underway in America in their proper light – as attacks on the very dignity of humanity, a humanity that at its very heart is divine. That means that attacks on Labor are an attack on God.
We would all do well to spend some time on Labor Day contemplating what we might do to restore some perspective in America before it is too late. There is no time to lose.