Labour Day – Endings and Beginnings
Labour Day in the era of the great pandemic! The year 2020 continues to teach us so much about work – who is essential, who is really essential, and who can best help by lounging on the sofa. We are being shown things about who deserves extra pay and about what it means to work from home and which configurations of the office make most sense.
How do we navigate elevators in office buildings? Do we shorten the workday or do we stagger working hours? How do we protect workers, especially those who deal on a daily basis with the public? And, most importantly of all, what mask is most appropriate for today?
It’s bound to be a major year in the shifting understanding of what work means in the 21st century. I’m a regular reader of The Economist and always look forward to their analysis of the new world. I realize that it deals mostly with the kind of labour mostly carried out at desks, but there is also plenty out there for all of us, regardless of how we make our living.
I suspect that most of us associate Labour Day with endings and beginnings. We see this as the unofficial end of summer, the last long weekend before there is a lasting chill in the air. Summer is winding down, so this weekend provides us with the chance for that last barefoot beach walk. It’s also about beginnings. So many calendars and program schedules start after Labour Day.
This is even true of most television shows and symphony orchestra seasons. This cycle is deeply imbedded in us from our childhood days of heading back to school. Like many others, I remember being filled with the excitement of getting new school supplies, new clothing, the opportunity to see classroom friends from the previous school year, and the chance to make new friends.
Of course, some of us likely approach that first day of school with dread. Think of those who have a difficult time in the classroom, those who faced bullying the year before, or those who have trouble making friends. Further afield, we can think of children in war torn parts of the world where there is no school to attend, or, if there is one, the trek to get there means risking one’s health or even life.
And this year, the thought of a return to fall and scahool and regularity is fraught with questions about safety and masks and distancing. This new world continues to challenge us to new ways of thinking and acting.
Let’s not forget the official reason for this long weekend. Labour Day has been an official holiday in Canada since 1894, though its origins are 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.
In 2020 we take for granted safe and reasonable working conditions in this country, but that only happened because 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 are in an odd situation of imbalance today. Many people work far too much, partly because of their own choice, while others cannot find meaningful work.
As we enjoy that gin and tonic or that cold beer, let’s acknowledge the fact that it is only because of the labour of so many that the many layers of our culture work smoothly.
Our country is certainly prospering! Let us keep in mind those many people who lack meaningful and fulfilling labour.
Let’s be especially mindful of the young men and women throughout our world who lack activities that give them a sense of dignity. This new year gives us an opportunity to labour for excellence.