Americans will have a long, three day holiday this weekend as the country observes Labor Day on Monday. While traditionally Labor Day weekend is seen as the official end of the summer vacation period and a time for travel, family BBQs and the like, the designation of Labor Day as a federal holiday was meant to be something much more significant than just a chance to loll around on the beach.
Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor highlighted the significance of Labor Day in a piece he wrote for the New York Times in September, 1910, when he said:
“Among all the festive days of the year, of all the days commemorative of great epochs in the world’s history, of all the days celebrated for one cause or another, there is not one which stands so conspicuously for social advancement of the common people as the first Monday in September of each recurring year—Labor Day.”
“The struggle of labor is to free man from his own weakness, from his own cupidity, from his own unfair, unjust, and unnecessarily cruel environments. The struggle is for home and fireside, for a higher life, a nobler manhood, womanhood, and childhood, which may look forward to the day of deliverance from absurd economic conditions and cruel burdens. The future will substitute the college and forum for the arsenal and jail; the home, and not the factory, for motherhood; the playground, school, and sunlight, and not the mill or workshop, for childhood.”
“At no time in the history of the world have the workers demonstrated more clearly their purpose not only to be just, but to demand justice. The earnestness of their expressions, the sincerity of their actions, the solidarity of their movements, the fraternity which they engender, all bespeak a brighter future for all who toil, for all who are dependent upon them.”
Coincidentally the portion of the Torah (The first five books of the bible) that will be read this Shabbat in synagogues worldwide opens with the line “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue,” the words of admonition uttered by Moses as he prepared the children of Israel for their entry into the land of Israel after 40 years wandering in the desert.
So the concept of justice that Samuel Gompers closed with in his remarks over 100 years ago on the occasion of Labor Day 1910 had, as its roots, the words of Moses delivered on the east bank of the Jordan River 3,500 years earlier. And, of course, they ring no less true today.
Humanity worldwide continues to cry out for justice, for fair treatment of people everywhere and for the realization of, in the words of the US’ Declaration of Independence “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Let’s hope that in the midst of the BBQs, the shopping at Walmart for Labor Day specials, and the time spent on the beach, that thought it also given to the real reason Labor Day was designated a national holiday in the US, and the realization that even so many years later, large segments of the world’s population continue to struggle for freedom and justice.