By Robert Murphy
Celebrate human rights and dignity when you celebrate Labor Day.
Labor Day is the day in September when people in Canada and in the United States honor working people. In many countries, the workers’ holiday is May Day, which had its origins in the United States. The Labor Day weekend provides opportunities to educate community and religious groups about the importance of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia. It was part of the struggle for union representation that continues to the present. Coal miners and others are concerned about their future. What better time to ask religious leaders in your area to work for working people and their families?
Each religious tradition calls for social justice in its own way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights can serve to start multifaith discussions about moral behavior. It's a helpful resource for religious socialists who want to bring people together. In the human rights discussion, it doesn't matter what cultural or religious group you belong to because the Declaration affirms that all people, in all places, have the right to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work. And everyone has the right to form and join trade unions.
Millions of workers are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the impact of climate change. Many families have lost their homes. Refugees flee toward safety and many are abused when they cross borders and enter the “gray” economy. The gray economy is that hazy area in which economic activities are unrecorded and unregulated. The workforce in the gray economy includes citizens and undocumented immigrants. Workers are easily oppressed in the gray economy. Employees can be kicked aside when they complain about wage theft or if they ask for safe working conditions or need medical care.
If your religious group is looking for a speaker for the Labor Day weekend, ask your local DSA chapter for assistance. And if you’re a DSA member, offer someone from your group. Many chapters are working with labor organizers and most have information about state, local, and national campaigns for economic justice. If you're a DSA representative and you're asked to speak to a religious group, you'll probably find support on the website of the national body of the group that asked you or of its peace or social justice wing. A partial list of useful resources is listed below.
Labor Day history is important but don't get lost in the past. Religious socialists can bring Labor Day celebrations into the present moment by discussing Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, the PRO Act, and the need to overcome injustice in the workplace. Discuss LGBTQ rights, college debts, the digital divide, support for caregivers, and other concerns that are shaping the new agenda for organized labor. Encourage religious groups to look at the experiences of working people in today's world. The Labor Day weekend is a good moment for a fresh start.
To paraphrase a great labor organizer, “Don’t just picnic, organize!”
Robert Murphy is a Unitarian Universalist minister who serves congregations and communities in Florida. He is a member of the Pinellas DSA and is active in the Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community (UUJEC.) In 2021, the General Assembly for the national Unitarian Universalist Association endorsed Medicare for All and the PRO Act. The General Assembly presented a video about religion and democratic socialism that will be available to the public after Labor Day. Information is available at the UUJEC website.
Labor Day edition of Interventions and free webinar from the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt Divinity School: https://www.religionandjustice.org/interventions-forum-labor-day-2021
Events Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain: www.blair100.com/events
Resources for Labor Day congregation services and activities: http://www.iwj.org/resources/plan-labor-day-service
Interreligious Network for Worker Solidarity, www.in4ws.org
Image: Wikimedia Commons