Transitions – Labour Day 2018

I suspect that most of us associate Labour Day with transitions – endings and beginnings. We see this long weekend as the unofficial end of summer, the final long weekend before the academic and work year gets underway. Summer is winding down, so the Labour Day weekend provides the chance for one last barefoot walk on the beach.

This weekend is also about beginnings. Many calendars and program schedules start after the weekend. Television programs start their new seasons. So do symphony orchestra and other live performances.

This cycle of things starting with Labour Day is deeply imbedded in us. Our personal appropriation of it probably has its origins in the childhood experience of going to school. How many of us have photos of our first day heading of to school? I look at photos of my first day and immediately recall the juxtaposition of excitement and fear. New friends, new clothing, clean notebooks, and the question of how much I would miss my mother.

The day can evoke plenty of feelings and other interior movements. Going to school for the first time probably has a few new elements thrown into the mix these days. That is certainly true of the learning experience and what is offered in the contemporary world. But it is equally true of the culture in which we are living. Plenty of people have things to say about what should be taught and how much young children need to be protected from the world.

This is a weekend for celebration and for looking ahead. But let’s not forget the reason why we celebrate Labour Day. It’s similar to the reason many around the globe celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 each year.

Labour Day has been an official holiday in Canada since 1894, though its origins date from before that. Its roots are in the labour union movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. That neat threefold division is laughable in our contemporary culture with the blurring of those divisions.

Today we can take for granted safe and reasonable working conditions in this country, but that only happened because nineteenth century labourers struggled to convince Sir John A. Macdonald to promise to repeal what he called “barbarous” anti-union laws.

Parliament passed the Trade Union Act in 1873 and Labour Day became an official holiday twenty-one years later. We have an imbalance today. Many people work very hard and long hours; others, particularly young people, cannot find meaningful work. Pope Francis has spoken of a lost generation of unemployed young people.

As we enjoy that gin and tonic or cold beer, let’s acknowledge the fact that it is only because of the labour of so many that we have the life that we enjoy in this part of the world. Sophocles reminded us that, “without labour, nothing prospers.” Many in this country are certainly prospering. Let’s pray for those many others who are not sharing in the prosperity, those who hope for a better balance between the haves and have-nots.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 09:21h, 03 September Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Jenny Cafiso
    Posted at 09:40h, 04 September Reply

    Thank you Philip for putting this holiday in its historical context. Today we often forget its roots in the labour movement and the struggles for safe and dignified work, and in fact we often hear anti union sentiments while we enjoy the results of those struggles. I recently visited a free trade zone in the Dominican Republic where 10,000 people make the T-shirts we buy here for bargain prices, while they earn 80 cents a day. Labour day needs to be not only celebrated, but it should be an occasion to renew our commitment to just working conditions. Many in the Church have fought in support of workers over the ages. Let us take our inspiration from them.

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