Todd E. Brady on the Christian Understanding of Work

Todd Brady is vice president for university ministries and assistant professor of ministry at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

We celebrated our nation’s 243rd birthday in July, and now we celebrate those who have worked to build our nation into what it is.

While Labor Day may conjure good feelings of time off and laid back gatherings with friends and family at the end of summer, it actually is our country’s tribute to the American laborer and all that these workers have accomplished.

This federal holiday, however, was not born in ease. Nearly 140 years ago, 10,000 workers in New York marched from City Hall to Union Square, holding what some say was the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. However, in reality it wasn’t so much a parade as it was a protest. While The New York Times headline from 1882 read, “Working Men on Parade,” many in the parade risked their jobs by participating in a one-day strike to do so.

Our Labor Day holiday emerged from what was a lamentable chapter in American labor history. In the early 1800s, manufacturing workers were pounding out 70-hour work weeks on average. Later that century, hours dropped, but people were still working long 60-hour weeks. Work was often physically demanding. Jobs were low paying. Conditions were often harsh and unsafe. In farms and factories, even young children labored.

Growing out of the 19th-century organized labor movement, President Grover Cleveland signed an act in 1894 establishing the first Monday in September as a federal holiday — Labor Day.

Today, work conditions are better than they used to be. When we work 40-hour weeks (thanks to the Adamson Act of 1916), enjoy weekends off, take lunch breaks at work and spend quality time with our families on paid vacations, we can be thankful for yesterday’s workers and the U.S. labor movement.

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Source: Baptist Press