Labor Day. The usual associations are; a long party weekend at the end of summer, the beginning of school, and for the upper class, the last day on which it is acceptable to wear white gloves. I detest Labor Day weekend. For one thing it brings a throng of tourists to the coastal town where I live, and a nightmare of snarled traffic. But the worst thing is, in these times of economic despair, with so many people out of work and unable to afford even the most basic necessities of life, most people don’t have a clue what Labor Day was originally about.
Here’s a very brief history lesson. In 1894 there was this huge labor strike in Pullman, Illinois. In a nutshell, railroad workers walked out because the Pullman Company lowered their wages and extended their work day to 16 hours during an economic downturn. Sound familiar? During that fateful summer 125,000 workers went on strike, which pretty much brought the railroad industry to a halt. President Grover Cleveland brought the military in to break the strike and many workers died. In the aftermath of all this, Cleveland created this insipid little holiday called Labor Day as a concession to honor (read appease,) American workers.
Can you imagine 125,000 workers in any given city today, walking out over excessive hours and low pay? I don’t think so. We’ve been too well brainwashed and intimidated. It seems the American worker will now accept all sorts of mistreatment at the hands of corporate America with nary a word of protest. After all, we say, I’m lucky to still have a job.
So I’m actually protesting Labor Day by going to my office and seeing clients as usual on Monday. I refuse to accept this meaningless token of a holiday, this distraction from the real issues of classicism and corporate greed. And in honor of the real meaning of work, I offer the following from Irish writer and philosopher, John O’Donohue:
“May the light of your soul bless your work with love and warmth of heart. May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul. May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never exhaust you. May it release wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration, and excitement. May you never become lost in bland absences. May the day never burden. May dawn find hope in your heart, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled. May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected. May your soul calm, console, and renew you.”
(From “To Bless the Space Between Us,” by John O’Donohue)