By Rev. Susan Schwartz
This weekend is traditionally the last weekend of the summer and a time for barbeques, picnics, parades, and speeches. It is the Labor Day weekend.
So how did we get here?
Well, the idea first belonged to a Maquire or McGuire. Historians are not sure if it was Matthew or Peter. Peter was the founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and later a leader in the American Federation of Labor. Some say that after witnessing the annual labor festival in Toronto, Peter proposed the same for the States.
The first Labor Day holiday was planned by the Central Labor Union and celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. Matthew Maguire was secretary of the union. A year later, on September 5, 1883, the Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday. So, however you slice it, it was a Maguire/McGuire. And the celebration was to include a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.
In 1887 the State of Oregon made it a holiday and by 1894, when it became a federal holiday, 30 states officially celebrated Labor Day. That Labor Day became a national holiday is in large part due to the 1894 Pullman Strike in Pullman, IL (south of Chicago). The workers made the Pullman Palace cars used by the railroads for passenger travel.
The company had a real monopoly on the living conditions of the workers and when the company reduced wages by about 28 percent, the workers responded by striking. The American Railway Union was not initially in favor of the strike, so it was a wildcat. The Illinois National Guard and other military and enforcement agencies were called out to put a stop to the strike and in the ensuing conflict 13 workers were killed and 57 injured.
Further violence followed. President Grover Cleveland and the Congress worked toward a reconciliation and legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was signed into law just 6 days after the end of the strike. In 1909, at the American Federation of Labor convention, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.
So what does God have to do with Labor Day and work?
Plenty. God was the first worker! In Genesis we read that God made, God created. Now we don’t know how God did it or how long it took God (the focus of the Genesis story is theological, not historical), but we know that God did it. And in initiating the process God hallowed our labor, our work. Well, actually more than that. God asks us to understand life and creation as his work and invites us to join him in it! Our work is holy in that it connects us to God!
And no work is better in God’s eyes than others. The 16th century theologian Martin Luther taught that the inclination to help others and to do so to the best of our ability pleases God. It doesn’t matter if the individual is a “rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks,” all our labor is valuable in God’s sight and is honorable. Flipping hamburgers is necessary and honorable work. Collecting garbage is necessary and it is honorable. Working in the production line, teaching, healthcare work, yes, yes, yes. All work that is done well and provides for the necessities of humanity and creation are good in the sight of God!
The Genesis story tells us that when God was finished working God rested. The story tells us that God models work for us and God models rest. That is important, because sometimes we overemphasize the work piece, and forget that rest is important, too. So we need to remember that.
So, have a great Labor Day and remember to rest.
The Rev. Susan Schwartz is pastor of in and in .