The Irony Of Labor Day

honor laborIt has always seemed ironic to me that we celebrate Labor Day by not working.

I’m not saying we should work on Labor Day–I enjoy a day off as much as the next person–I’m just saying it’s ironic.

Of course Labor Day is not a celebration of work but a holiday established to recognize the contribution of the working man to American society, at least that’s what we are told.

If you’re not an American, I should probably explain that the phrase “working man” does not include all workers. Although it most certainly includes women, in its traditional sense it does not include those in management. Confused yet?

The reason the word does not include management is because managers don’t really work, they just tell others to work; at least that was the perception of workers who, when they got fed up with being told what to do for too little pay, formed unions to negotiate with those who told them what to do but didn’t pay them enough. If you are still confused, hang in there because I am going somewhere.

The history of the Labor Movement in the United States is really an apologetic for the Gospel. Employers abused their authority and the rights of their workers by working them unreasonable hours, under unreasonable conditions for unreasonably low pay. The workers didn’t have enough bargaining power to improve their lot so they began to organize into groups of workers (unions), who collectively had the power to effectively shut down their employer’s business or cause them serious economic harm.

People can and do debate whether unions now have too much power, but that illustrates the point: the tension between management and labor, at its root, is a sin problem. Humans, by their sin-corrupted nature, abuse authority and power. Management abused its authority, which created the need for labor unions, but in response labor unions abused their newfound power, which drove some companies into bankruptcy, costing others their jobs.

The solution to this tension is the Gospel. As the kingdom of God spreads and transforms the hearts of men and women, employers will treat their employees better and employees will respond in kind. As employers adopt the Christian ethic that people are more important than profit, they will compensate their employees better. As employees adopt the Christian ethic that work is ordained by God and its value is not defined by a paycheck, they will do better work and be content with their wages.

So, on this ironic day when we celebrate the contribution of non-managerial workers to American society by not working, remember, by the power of Jesus and His transforming work in the hearts of people, things will be better in the future. And that is something to celebrate. GS


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