Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The First Parade

Nearly 10,000 laborers gathered in New York City and walked in the first Labor Day parade on 05 September 1882. They celebrated the social and economic achievements of American workers. Today, Labor Day unofficially signals the beginning of new academic years of work and study, the beginning of election campaigns in the U.S. as well as the end of the lazy days of summer. Yesterday's holiday was more than a calendar signal. It was for all of us.

The founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, noted:

”Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day…is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, or nation."

Labor for so many of us is an activity unlike that of earlier laborers. They were the ones, "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold" (Peter J. McGuire). Today as then some people exploited labor and laborers, treating labor more as a commidity and laborers as machines. Genuine labor--including but not only mere toil--is for laborers a pathway to meaning. Yesterday's annual holiday is devoted to humans everywhere, a pause in whose rest we might better appreciate our God-given meaning and discover ways to reach it.

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