Labor Day is here. Like many of our National Holidays, we have forgotten the meaning of the day. Is Memorial Day a time to reflect upon those who sacrificed so we would be free, or a time to grill burgers on the barbecue? Same with the Fourth of July. Martin Luther King Day is just a day off for many of us. If greater participation and reflection on MLK is the objective, then why would this day be on a Monday when most of the country is at work? Even Christmas, a holiday season that I enjoy but do not celebrate, has shed its deep religious significance having become a commercial enterprise. This reality, I suspect, must sadden and disturb many believing Christians.
Labor Day, when many of us will be laboring over charcoal-broiled ribs and chicken, was created to remember and honor this country’s labor unions.
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 1911
While I am hostile the politics of unions today, I readily acknowledge that they were a necessary response to egregious abuse by management. The percent of workers who are organized today, and their influence, has been steadily declining. Right-to-work support has risen as workers and the rest of us resist practices such as non-union workers being compelled to pay fees to the union. I do not believe that an individual should be forced to join a union or to pay them fees. Such coercion violates the free choice that a worker is entitled to, in my view. Yes, I know the argument that union protections extend to non-union workers who should not receive a free ride by enjoying benefits that they do not pay for. I simply believe that the right-to-work argument is more persuasive.
I am not against unions, but I do not support forcing people to pay them who do not wish to join. If participation in a union will deliver greater benefits to workers, then these workers will want to join on their own free will. If you have to force someone to do something, then I wonder if the ‘benefit’ is real.
Years ago, while attending the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, I remember listening to professional storyteller Gay Ducey tell a few thousand of us her rendition of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, a disaster where nearly 150 workers perished, when they could not escape from a burning building as the doors and exits were locked by management. I was spellbound during her hour long recitation, and I have never forgotten it.
Let’s give a nod to all those who go to work every day, supporting their families, and bringing goods and services to all of us.
I support a Right-to-Read principle. I can’t compel anyone to read and meditate on my weekly homilies. You have to want to come here. And, I hope that you will.