On September 2nd, the United States celebrated its 125th Labor Day. In 1894, the U.S. federal government passed a law designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Canada designates the same day as Labour Day. In 80 countries, May 1st is International Workers’ Day. It seems that we like to take our holidays when the weather warms so that we can enjoy the sunshine.
Patrick Pizzella, the acting U.S. secretary of labor, published a Washington Examiner Labor Day editorial titled: There is Always Dignity in Work. To be transparent, Mr. Pizzella is a Republican who has spent most of his career in political or governmental positions. My blogs are not political as I strive to unite rather than divide.
Mr. Pizzella states that the U.S. is different than most countries in that “other countries celebrate workers as a separate, distinct class. We [United States], in contrast, honor work itself as a noble pursuit – as something that brings everyone in this country together.” He states that there is dignity in work: “We honor work itself as a noble pursuit. All work. Any kind of work. In hard work itself there is meaning, calling, and purpose. …There is always dignity in work, in any work.”
Theologically, Mr. Pizzella is correct when he states that “work itself is a noble pursuit.” God created humans to work and be good stewards of God’s creation. Mr. Pizzella writes about the “host of positive, non-economic outcomes” from work. This is true when workers are respected, paid a living wage, and can achieve self-actualization through their work. Americans are fortunate to have a government with a Department of Labor that enforces labor laws protecting workers from physical, mental, and discriminatory abuses. In the 19th century when Labor Day was created, workers’ protection did not always happen. The labor movements fought for workers’ rights that were being abused by powerful capitalists who viewed laborers not as humans created in God’s image, but utilitarian tools to be maximized. As Pope John Paul II rightly states: “In the first place work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work.’” We have hopefully learned from this sad experience.
I disagree with Mr. Pizzella when he uses the words “always” and “in any work.” Sitting at the top of the U.S. Department of Labor, he is not seeing the landscape past the United States. Millions of international workers still work in sweat shops doing mind-numbing tasks in hazardous conditions making products that are sold to Americans at low prices. The reason these goods are made outside of the United States is that labor is less expensive without the protective regulatory oversight. The 19th century U.S. labor issues have been exported to countries outside the United States.
Mr. Pizzella then takes aim at selected college majors: “we don’t need more humanities majors. We need more plumbers than poets; more journeymen than journalists. That’s not to knock poetry or journalism, it’s just that neither of these noble pursuits require specialized training or the college degree so many young people go into debt to obtain.” I am an engineer and businessman through my college training. However, I would never state that poets or journalists didn’t need a college degree to achieve competency. I celebrate the educated person who strives to reach self-actualization with their God-given gifts. Today, more than ever, we need highly educated, competent journalists to report on our complex world.
Christians follow the Spirit through many diverse labors. It is not for me to decide how the Spirit calls other workers. On Labor Day, we celebrate all who labor. We celebrate by giving many laborers the gift of rest. Christians and Jews celebrate the Sabbath rest to honor the Creator. Americans celebrate their labor with a holiday rest that honors work. There is dignity in work and there is shalom in rest. Both are a gifts from our Creator.