Labor: The Fight for Worth and Dignity

We come, again, to a very holy, very secular holiday. Labor day should hold a special place for Unitarian Universalists as part of our ever-evolving faith. I believe that Labor day is fundamentally tied to our values and the Principles of the UUA.

Labor day is a day to celebrate the power of unity, of democracy, and of the people demanding recognition of their worth and dignity. Labor Day is rooted in the demand for more justice and equity. The story of the labor movement could be used as a scripture for modern Universalism. Organized Labor helped bring about most of the critical social programs of the last century.

“Every advance in this half-century-Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another-came with the support and leadership of American Labor.”
~ President Jimmy Carter, 1980

One of the principle functions of Labor and Unions is to empower workers, saying with one voice (more or less) “We are people of worth, deserving of dignity.” Like most functioning democratic apparati, it is led by a few who speak for the many, and it is guided by those who participate. Much like government itself, the people who show up to discussion, the people who hold debate, and the people who turn out to vote choose what the priorities are and how they are to be achieved. It isn’t much different from a health congregation, or sadly, an unhealthy one.

When the number of participants drops, not only does the power of the entity diminish, but it is far more likely to be swayed by personal agendas and prejudices. The more people who are involved, especially those willing to pay attention and keep their leaders honest and on task, the more effective an organization is.

So, organized labor is inherently good from the Unitarian Universalist perspective. The ills come from a failure of the workers to participate and the frustration of the organizations in the face of powerful lobbies and corporations. It is only by empowering unions and promoting active membership that we can stem both the failing power and the corruption, perceived or real, that plagues labor today. Companies know and embrace the power of trade unions and organized business lobbies; real human beings deserve no less protection or fewer rights. Our Principles call on us to support and actively promote “right of conscience and… the democratic process… in society at large”. With that in mind, we should embrace Labor Day as a spiritual commemoration of those values being given form in the world.

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