RELIGION TODAY: Religions and Labor Day observations

RELIGION TODAY: Religions and Labor Day observations

Most economists agree that there is extreme income inequality in
the United States today. During the last 30 years, it has been a
case of

the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Most economists agree that there is extreme income inequality in the United States today. During the last 30 years, it has been a case of “the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.” According to a recent report on National Public Radio, “The income gap has ballooned: It’s wider than at any time since 1928, in the days before the stock market crash triggered the Great Depression.”

Top executive salaries went up 23 percent last year; the average worker’s pay went up only .5 percent. And the top .1 percent of the country’s earners take in more than 10 percent of the country’s income. Federal Reserve Board Gov. Sarah Bloom Ruskin asserts: “This inequality is destabilizing and undermines the ability of the economy to grow sustainably and efficiently.”

Average American workers, even those fortunate enough to still have jobs, are suffering during this recession. Perhaps Labor Day, Sept. 5, is an appropriate time to consider the place of labor in our society and honor those who work hard, support families and receive little recognition and only modest compensation.

Labor Day occurs on the first Monday in September; it is a creation of the organized labor movement dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. Perhaps the father of the holiday was Matthew Maguire, an official of the International Association of Machinist in Paterson, N.J., who proposed the holiday in 1882, and it was celebrated in September of that year by the Central Labor Union. By 1885, this “workingmen’s holiday” was observed in many industrial areas of the country.

Soon there was a movement to secure state recognition of the holiday. The first legislation to accomplish this was passed in Oregon in February 1887; soon Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York followed. After more states adopted this legislation, in 1894 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September each year a legal holiday.

The early celebrations of Labor Day followed a similar pattern: street parades, “festivals for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families” and speeches by prominent men and women.

In 1909, the American Federation of Labor (precursor to today’s AFL-CIO), adopted the Sunday preceding Labor Day as “Labor Sunday” and dedicated it to the spiritual and educational aspects of the organized labor movement. For 13 years the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose has observed Labor in the Pulpit on this weekend, joining faith and labor communities through the sponsorship of the Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice and the AFL-CIO South Bay Labor Council.

This year the program emphasizes “food justice-calling upon people of faith to strive for justice for all people involved in the production, selling and consumption of food: from seed to marketplace, to table: food intertwines all our bodies with those of workers in fields and stores.”

Some priests and deacons will make this message part of their own homilies or announcements, while others invite guests from the labor movement or the broader interfaith community to speak at their weekend liturgies.

A total of 34 religious institutions from many different faith communities are currently confirmed to participate. Of these, 13 are Catholic parishes, though none of them from the South County area.

In 2010, more than 50,000 people at 100 worship services focused on last year’s topic of “moral budgeting.” Some 6,000 pledges to the “Commitment to a Moral Budget” were received from participants, speaking clearly to the current economic crisis.

The Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice is an association of ecumenical religious leaders that was formed to educate and mobilize the Santa Clara County faith community to support economic and social justice through social policy. It supports issues and campaigns that improve the quality of life for low wage earners and their families by such means as improving wages, benefits and working conditions. Clergy and lay representatives on the council come from such diverse faiths as Roman Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Muslim and Buddhist. They urge local residents to consider Sept. 5 not as a day off marking the end of summer vacation, but as an occasion to pay tribute to the creator of much of the nation’s strength, freedom and leadership – the American worker.

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