Today is Labor Day in America in the year 2013. There is a metallic taste in my coffee this morning. I think it’s irony.
According to the US Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
There is some doubt as to who first proposed the idea of a celebration of the American worker, but the consensus is that it was either a carpenter or a machinist. It pleases me that it might have been a carpenter or a machinist, because I have been both.
The carpenter, Peter J. McGuire, proposed a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.
This celebration is rooted in a noble thing. Yet all I can think of are the ancient kings and modern plutocrats and their monuments and tombs and the bones of countless unknown workers upon which they rest. I see the bones of lambs piled high in history in the bloody wake of the banquets of restless wolves, no longer pure and wild but instead become corrupt, and civilized.
This American celebration of honest labor has degenerated into an occasion for parties and picnics and empty platitudes preached by politicians from pulpits dripping in blood.
There is a story in the Christian bible of Jesus selecting and sending out seventy laborers to carry the message of a noble path. They were instructed to stay where they were received and accept what they were given in return for their labors because every laborer deserves to be paid. They were further instructed to leave the places where they were not welcomed or succored, and shake the very dust of those places from their feet.
In America these laborers have always carried a powerful message of a noble path. They have labored for livelihood and the rewards of honest, humble work. The message of livelihood earned rather than luxury sought is a good thing to receive and reward. Yet the message has not been received by those who need it most.
The message of honesty and humility embraced, rather than treachery and pride applied, is a good thing to receive and reward. Yet this message, too, is rarely received or rewarded by those who could benefit most from it.
Instead, these laborers find their message forsaken and the rewards of their labors stolen and their simple needs are an occasion for the outrage of American Pharisees and Pharaohs.
It was good advice to those laborers who went unheard and unrewarded for their labors, that instruction to shake the dust of such places from their feet and move on. It was the principle action upon which the American Labor movement was founded.
Perhaps I should stop here with that noble, well-greased sentiment which can be swallowed easily and slide into the American gullet without being choked upon. But I can not.
There are literally millions of American laborers today who have been defrauded of their honestly earned rewards by human weasels and wolves. These laborers were paid in scrip issued by paymasters which those masters later refused to honor. The fruits of those labors instead were delivered to the tables of the few. The laborers became transients banned from orchards of plenty in case they might deplete the bushel baskets of the rich by the sum of a peach for a child, or deprive the log-filled fireplace in the grand mansion of a twig of wood for heat in the cold night.
Either you know this, or you don’t. Or can’t afford to. Or just plain won’t.
Perhaps you are among those other millions of Americans who by luck or placement in the great machineries of America were not used up and thrown away in the Great Recession of 2008. You have held on to the promised dispensations of your labors and enjoy, if not a banquet, a secured providence of food and shelter and a measure of disposable income sufficient to your appetites. The poor knuckle their foreheads to your luck, sir and madam, but in the hovel your apathy is known, your miserliness suffered, and your ways and means pitied and mixed with a measure of bitterness.
In this life I am one being existing simultaneously as two. One of those beings stands for some things and against others.
Down the long halls of history from humanity’s beginning to its end I pray that the howl against greed and gluttony and fear and the sloth that causes us to forsake one another howls forever in wrath. And I pray that all our sins, my own wrath included, are not forgiven, but instead healed, and that we ourselves are the instrument of that healing.