I have often thought that the holiday we celebrate today is named incorrectly because it sounds like just the opposite of what the intention is. The truth is that this holiday truly was initiated to protest unfair and unsafe working conditions for adults and even young children toward the end of the 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution. There were many violent events in different cities that led to the idea of a “workingmen’s holiday” until Congress passed an act making Labor Day a law, signed by President Grover Cleveland on June 28, 1894.
Many of us have memories of history lessons in high school where names and terms like Eugene Debs, the Pullman Railway strike, or the Haymarket Riot of 1886 strike a chord. The story is often not as clear as the title, however, and the struggle for fairness practices overlooked as we eat our picnic foods and celebrate the end of the summer vacation season.
This year is different. There should be no large gatherings in parks or on beaches. We cannot celebrate in the same way because businesses are closing down and many more people find themselves unemployed by the day. The situation will not change until the virus which is ravaging the world is conquered. That will not happen until all people come to understand that we are each responsible for the health of all of us. Our “work” now is to care enough for the whole to discipline ourselves, to follow the instructions set out by health officials while waiting for a vaccine to be conceived and approved to end the pandemic.
My prayer for this day is that we will all come to recognize that this “work” is necessarily shared by all of us and it will be a united effort or we will fail. I am reminded of a song. We know it. It goes like this:
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…