01 September 2014

Labor and Rest

Happy Labor Day! I love a holiday. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that I get jubilant for Thanksgiving, giddy over Halloween, ebullient about Valentine's Day. I love a theme and celebrating - I am truly my mother's daughter. So, I want to celebrate Labor Day. I suppose in order to celebrate it, I have to figure out what we're celebrating.

Labor day originated in Canada, of all places. The Industrial Revolution made twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks a commonplace reality for workers. In Canada, labor unions were illegal, so the workers had no collective bargaining power to make any changes to this unsustainable and unfair system. In 1872, thousands of Ottawans marched to the house of the Canadian Prime Minister to protest and later that year, the anti-union law was repealed. That day became a sort of annual Canadian labor celebration. In 1882, an American union leader visited Toronto's worker's parade. He thought it was such a good idea, that he proposed a similar celebration in New York City on September 5 (to fill the holiday gap between July 4th and Thanksgiving). The first Labor Day march took place in 1882 and focused on rallying for an eight-hour workday. A few years later, the march was moved to the first Monday in September and the celebrations began to spread to cities across the country. However, since it was not yet a recognized holiday, workers often had to lose wages to go to the parades. Oregon was the first state to legalize the holiday in 1887. It wasn't recognized nationally, though, until President Cleveland's harsh and bloody response to the rail worker strike in Pullman Illinois made recognizing Labor Day as a national holiday a political necessity. 

So, I guess what all that means is that today we celebrate unions and workers. I just wrote that and I don't even really know what it means. I guess to celebrate labor unions, it would be helpful to have an idea of what they've accomplished. The first thing that comes to mind for me, is the eight hour workday and five day workweek. 

Like I mentioned earlier, the Industrial Revolution brought on twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks. And, unlike farming, the work wasn't seasonal so there was no chance for a real respite. Some companies allowed for Sunday's off so their workers could go to church, but many jobs had few days off during the year. Even with the strength of labor unions in the late nineteenth century, the first five day workweek didn't come until 1908 and that was only at one New England cotton mill to allow for Jewish workers to observe the Sabbath on Saturday. But it still wasn't until 1926, when Henry Ford instated a five day workweek at all his factories that the idea really gained strength. And yet it was not adopted nationally until 1940 when a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect that called for an eight hour workday and five day workweek. This act was lobbied for heavily by the labor unions. Without them, it can be argued that we still would not have this necessary respite from the workweek. 

On this particular Labor Day, I appreciate this respite even more than usual. I simply cannot imagine not having two days dedicated to a break from work. Everything needs a time to rest. The fields are left to lay fallow every couple years so they can recuperate. All bodies require some sort of sleep cycle. Even God took time to rest on the seventh day. Rest is an ordained part of living. But too often days off from work are viewed as days to do work at home. I know I'm guilty of it. But I want to try and keep my sabbath holy. To take these respite days and really use them to take a break from work and live in the stillness of being enough.

So this Labor Day I am celebrating weekends. The God ordained and nationally recognized need for rest. I hope you have a restful Labor Day.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
~Genesis 2:2-3

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