Labor Day showcases workers' pride
August 31, 2007
“The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on Sept. 5, 1883.” — U.S. Department of Labor Web site.
Each area of the country has its own working tradition — by that I mean ways of production that it is known for.
We celebrate a ranching, railroad and agriculture tradition. The area where I grew up venerated steel, coal mining and iron making. The Northwest people think of lumbering when they honor Labor Day.
Is there a common ground?
I believe there may be.
Last spring, as part of a freshman English course I was teaching, I integrated readings from “All the Men Are Sleeping,” a short story collection set in Nova Scotia.
My freshmen were quick to pick up that, despite surface differences, there were similarities to their own lives. The stories were set on the ocean rather than the Plains; they were of fishermen rather than ranching. Beyond these surface differences, the students were able to divine a similarity — not in external culture, but in the cornerstone human issues.
Labor Day as recognition was sorely needed at the time in which it was first celebrated. The Industrial Revolution had depersonalized and dehumanized the earlier, holistic patterns by which men and women made their way on the Earth. We had moved into being a society in danger of becoming machines driven by cogs.
Today, I think we are in no less need of remembering why we celebrate the first Monday in September. It is not the dignity of work that is in jeopardy, so much as the very concept.
There have always been those who looked for an easy way to get through life, who believed that others owed it to them to take care of them. The difference seems to be that now this is deemed OK by some.
The ones who want to receive a free ride are often no longer castigated; in fact an entire subset of society holds them up as models. To get by with sloppy work, to rely on others to pay one’s bills and to find a way to make life one long retirement is not exactly the way to keep our culture strong.
Pride in one’s work — whether auto mechanic, carpenter, doctor or educator — is and should be the focus of this holiday weekend.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: