Happy Monday, Friends! You will be reading this reflection either on or the day after Labor Day and the sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism is particularly applicable for the occasion: “We believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free world.” Much like other days which afford us a three-day weekend, the meaning of Labor Day has largely been forgotten behind time off work, late summer cookouts, and the last day to wear white and seersucker. If the last one seems a bit archaic, I will have you know that the last day to wear seersucker is a day of lament and significant drinking in some parts of the South. I’m sure a handful of politicians, particularly with the midterm elections looming, will appear on their news outlets of choice or put out ads extolling the virtues of the American worker and how we need to keep jobs in America. Most of us, though, will enjoy our day off and return to work on Tuesday, confused about our schedules which have now been thrown off.
Labor Day is not “Laborer’s Day,” and it was never intended to be a celebration of the American worker and was not meant to celebrate the achievements of American industry. Labor Day is a celebration of organized labor. The first national Labor Day was held in the United States in 1894 following growing pressure from labor organizations to designate a date to celebrate labor. In a distinctly American way, the celebration of labor in September was set to distance it from the largely socialist-backed International Workers’ Day celebrated on May 1 in Europe.
Recently, those of us in Ohio witnessed the more than 4,000-person strong Columbus Education Association (a teachers’ union) go on strike for four days to protest class size, shortages of full-time art and music teachers, and working/learning conditions for themselves and their students. This was their first strike since 1975. Some people deride organized labor as benefitting union bosses only; others acknowledge that unions help some people but wonder why they have to join a union in order to hold a particular job; still others are eager to join union shops because of the legacy of union victories for workers and the general public. Like your five-day work week? Union victory. What about your eight-hour workday? Union victory.
Unions and organized labor, in general, remind us about the power of collective action. “Never underestimate,” Margaret Mead said, “the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” When we come together as partners, collaborators, and friends, we can do so much more than we can do separately. Speaking to the earliest days of Christianity, the Acts of the Apostles tells us: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44-47). The nascent church was bolstered by being in community with each other, and in many ways, when the church is lived right today, we continue to share our life and our work with each other.
How are you supported by partners, collaborators, and friends? How does your work and ministry benefit when you help others?
Let us pray: God, you made us to work with each other. Empower our advocacy to be in community. Grant us the grace to overcome conflict and see the diversity of thought and perspective in groups. In the fullness of time, let us see your heavenly kin-dom where everyone belongs, and everyone serves each other. Amen.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.