Labor Day Reflections

Labor unions must be recognized for their roles in society, part of which has been to point out the evil that has existed in society.

On Sunday, I heard a pastor talk on the history of Labor Day. I found it interesting that the public holiday had its roots in late 18th and early 19th century labor unrest. The unrest led to unionization. Though religious and political conservatives tend to oppose unionization, opposition arguments are generally just economic.

Our reflection must be broader and deeper. Industrial leaders during the high days of unionization were deeply influenced by both Spencer’s ideas on “Social Darwinism” and the general movement toward secularization. Social Darwinism argued that society’s leaders were the “fittest” and thus, they strengthened the social “gene-pool”. Further, it argued that, as in nature, the gene-pool was strengthened as the socially unfit died off. Social Darwinism opposed Christian social teachings. Its ideas led to management callousness at a time when society needed higher values at the time when the industrial revolution caused turmoil in people’s lives.

Similarly, secularization distanced personal religious values from the workplace. During the early 20th century, workers increasingly filled workplace roles without addressing the moral and ethical concerns they would support in their “private” lives. For example, a salesman would likely not carry his values regarding honesty into the work setting.

With this said, unionization was a force to bring some recognition of moral concerns into the workplace... Surely, many unionized workers thanked God for the better safety, working conditions, and pay that unionization brought. However, unionization presupposes that workers and management have different concerns and are relationally divided. Perhaps unionization has its place, but I believe a Christian workplace wouldn’t need unionization as a corrective force. Christian managers and workers should reflect a mutual sense of service and caring where business goals are met in a setting that values all people and seeks to build community and glorify God.

Labor Day, for me, is now about more than “the worker”, it is about failures in the Christian community to shape society.
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