Why Should we care about Labor Day?
Reclaiming Labor Day to point to God
What is Labor Day?
Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.
Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view.
So how do we reclaim this holiday?
First, we need to remind ourselves that we were made to work. In Genesis 2:15, before the fall of man, “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it”, God gave Adam the gift of work and purpose.
But then Adam and Eve rebelled. And when we don’t obey, there is consequences. Adam’s consequence was that work would be harder than it was in the Garden of Eden.
But God didn’t just create work to keep us busy, he created it as a way to be in a relationship with him.
Colossians 3:23 says, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not for men.”
To reclaim this holiday, we can be reminded of what ‘labor’ is why it is hard. Discuss the industrial revolution and how work wasn’t just hard in that time period, it wasn’t safe. That we celebrate what people did to place value on people rather than products and money.
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