What is hard labor?
For some people—it’s mostly kids and slobs I’m thinking about here—hard labor is simply picking up your socks.
A long time ago, though, hard labor was the work of a prisoner sentenced to years of turning big boulders into tiny gravel in the hot sun all day long with a 16-pound sledge hammer—even harder than picking up socks, right?
Right! Almost anything that looks and feels like work is called Labor. Hard or easy, some things just have to get done. That’s why when things go right, there’s a reward for your labor.
President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt put it like this:
“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.”
So, if we get better things by our labor, no wonder we celebrate Labor Day. Maybe the words “Sentenced to hard labor” should be replaced by “Blessed with hard labor.”
For those of our readers who look to the ancient scriptures for inspiration, they will be pleased to share these words with everyone and hear few objections. The Creator said, “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” That is a song of high praise for labor (Psalm 128:2).
And for those of us moderns who speak the language of the 21st Century, “it shall be well with you” often means money, income, capital. Labor and capital are inseparably mingled in today’s world as always.
So, to celebrate Labor Day 2020 is to also celebrate capital, the value and the wealth created in the United States by American laborers, building the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. But that is not a new idea.
Abraham Lincoln, a president who understood the value of labor and laborers, once said, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
That is why this week your Jamestown Gazette is inviting all of our readers to join us in the celebrating Labor Day by celebrating all of us who have been blessed, surely not sentenced, to hard labor.
That is also why Samuel Gompers, a man who started as a humble cigar-maker more than 140 years ago, founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL). He once said, “Labor Day is devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation. The day is for everybody who works.”
The first Labor Day celebration was held publicly in 1882 as a parade planned by the Central Labor Union in New York, though the state of Oregon was the first to pass a law that made it a legal holiday in 1887. We now celebrate it on the first Monday every September in the United States, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, and the Virgin Islands. Canada also celebrates Labour Day (that’s how they spell it!) on the same day.
Unfortunately, in this year of worldwide pandemic, labor has been hard to keep, but—though slowly at first—it will become easier to find again.
So this year, go celebrate yourself! Happy Labor Day.
And because it is never hard labor with a Jamestown Gazette in your hands, enjoy the read.