Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Meaning of Labor Day

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.   

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