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Labor Day 2011

Labor Day, the symbolic end of summer, has too quickly pushed its way towards us as we wave goodbye to summer and make ready for the wonderful array of colors already beginning to paint our landscapes.

As you know, Labor Day is the occasion traditionally marked as a time to honor the American worker.  I wasn’t very old and I don’t remember many of the particulars, but my father’s labor union was on strike.  He was president of one of the larger unions in the area and, for several weeks, no union workers showed up to work. 
I remember the union leaders making up a schedule so that the pickets were manned all the time by those out on strike. I recall, too, that this was the first time I heard phrases such as “fringe benefits,” “strikebreakers,” and “just wages for an honest day’s work.” As did the other union families, my father (the only breadwinner) and my mother would manage to feed our family of eight from the meager monies collected from the union strike fund and from whatever savings that they had accrued. For my father and his coworkers, the issue was justice in the workplace.  At that time, the unemployment rate hovered around 4-4.5%.

Times have changed.  Labor Day 2011 sees that rate more than doubled, not counting those who have become so frustrated in their job search that they have given up looking.  This unemployment figure, as you know, does not take into consideration the many individuals who are working at jobs that don’t tap into their capabilities and qualifications, earning minimum wages so as to stay out of the unemployment line and, hopefully, have some health insurance coverage.  The latest statistics, also, indicate that forty eight percent of the public is now on food stamps.

There is a whole lot of partisan bickering and finger pointing as public officials try to tackle these and other economic woes that we all face today.  Our global economy is very complex and there are no easy solutions. 
Particularly since the turn of the twentieth century with the promulgation of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, the Church has taught about the inherent dignity and rights of all workers (union and non-union).  
In the midst of the current economic difficulties, the Church continues to insist upon this teaching.  In his encyclical, Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the human person is “the source, the form and the aim of all economic and social life.” (2009, 25)  Further, in that same document, the Holy Father describes the centrality of work to the whole human experience and the right to decent work as part of the Church’s traditional teaching on the value of the human person and the dignity of each of us.  Human solidarity and mutual respect are prerequisites for real human progress.  Greed has no place at the table.

This Labor Day let us renew our prayers for all those who earn a living by the sweat of their brow and for all whose labors contribute to the good of our society.  May they receive just and sufficient support for their families. 

We ask God’s special favor for all those who are unable to find jobs; for those who don’t find meaning in their work; for those who are harassed or discriminated upon in the workplace; and for those whose jobs don’t provide for a decent livelihood for them or their loved ones.

May the carpenter’s Son bring his peace to all who are searching for employment or who are anxious and worried about their jobs. 

Let us persevere in hope-filled prayer for each other as we seek to follow Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. 

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