What meaneth Labor Day?
Singer Ernie Ford said it all in his long ago hit song about working in the coal mines: “Ya load 16 tons, and whaddya get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” Those men, and others like them, knew what labor was all about – as do so many workers do today.
Did you know that Labor Day as a holiday originated because of a bloody labor strike of workers that occurred over a hundred years ago? The event was the 1894 Pullman railroad strike that resulted in 30 people being killed and millions of dollars in damage. The widespread strike that started in the Eastern United States had to be put down by federal troops and marked a turning point in U.S. labor relations and U.S labor law.
Within days of the settlement of the strike, U.S. President Grover Cleveland honored honest labor by pronouncing a national holiday now typically celebrated as the unofficial end-of-summer and a day for family and recreational activities.
A father once asked his son if he knew that most people don’t have to work on Labor Day, and the son said, “If no one is working, shouldn’t it be called “No Labor Day?” …. Smart kid.
Certainly, on this one day out of 365, we honor what is typically defined as “services performed for wages” or in other words: WORK. On the first Monday of September, everyone, where possible, is pleased to have a day off work, not really giving much thought about what the day is meant to celebrate – which is basically the necessity and the dignity of honest labor.
In our own family, raising five sons on a two-acre piece of land with 17 almond trees in Northern California involved plenty of work, both indoors and outdoors. Many years later, after all the boys were grown, each of them has often said in various ways, “Thanks for teaching us how to work.” They did not always like the work they had to do, but they learned the vital lesson that the blessings and the fun come after the work is done. AND they all earned their way to Scout camp each year by selling the almonds.
It was surprising for us to learn that the word WORK is found in the Bible 891 times! The very first story in Genesis, of course, deals with God telling Adam that “by the sweat of his face (or brow) he would eat his bread all the days of his life,” (Genesis 3:10) and Moses later brought forth the strongly stated fourth commandment of the Ten: “Six days shalt thou labor and rest on the Sabbath.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
In Ecclesiastes 12:14 we read that “God shall bring every work into judgment.” And in the New Testament, Jesus counseled:” Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Nephi in the Book of Mormon reminds us: “Do not spend your money on that which is of no worth nor your labor on that which cannot satisfy.” (2 Nephi 9:51). And Alma (34:32) cautioned that “This life is the day for men to … perform their labors.”
Interestingly, it was the Apostle Paul who counseled the Philippians (2:12) to “…work out your own salvation….” And he said to all the able bodied: “He who does not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This aphorism was used by John Smith in Jamestown, Virginia and by Lenin in the Russian Revolution Certainly, something to think about in today’s world.
In all our sometimes-overwhelming labors, it is the dear Savior who gives us comfort by saying, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
And shortly before his death Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven saying, “I have finished the work thou gavest me.” (John 17:4)
As we celebrate the day set aside to honor labor this year, let’s remember how much labor is tied to spirituality. The scriptures tell us that we are to …” believe in Christ and be reconciled to God, for we know that it is by grace we are saved after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23). Therefore, how important the work is that each of us performs in this life – such, we hope, that the Savior might one day say to each of us: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
Dean & Nancy Hoch are local public affairs representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. firstname.lastname@example.org.