Today is Labor Day, a federal holiday since 1894, which sadly long ago joined most of our other national holidays in losing much of its original civic significance to become just another "holiday weekend" – an opportunity for shopping and other diversions. Even when I was a child and the American labor movement was still strong, Labor Day was already becoming more about the end of summer vacation, the last day for women to wear their white shoes and men their straw hats, and the imminent return to school and normal activities - and so less of a serious civic celebration of American workers (and the affluence their astounding productivity had helped to produce).
That great post-World War II quarter century or so of unprecedented, nation-wide, across-the-board prosperity and a strong labor movement seems such a distant memory now in the present era of increasing economic inequality. Solving our society’s economic problems has been made even more problematic by the globalization of economic activity, which, while undoubtedly beneficial in certain significant respects, has not benefitted everyone and has in the process rendered obsolete so much that used to be taken for granted. That challenge, however, only makes it that much more urgent to recover an authentic understanding of human nature and human solidarity – and of fulfilling human labor as an essential component of a productive economy and a good society. As the United States Bishops’ reminded us a year ago, work can be a place of great sanctity, giving expression to the deep yearnings of the human person; where people are permitted to—and, indeed, do—embrace work as a cooperation with God's creative power, the mundane can become transcendent.
In a particular way, Labor Day celebrates the essential role of labor unions in making possible a more just and equitable society. As far back as 1986, in their Pastoral letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops were warning against the already increasing efforts to undermine labor unions” No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing [Economic Justice for All, 104].
For this year's Labor Statement from the Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the USCCB, go to: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/labor-employment/labor-day-statement-2018.cfm
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