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Thoughts for recognizing workers on Labor/Labour Day

from Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructive Theology, Perkins School of Theology, SMU

When asked about the most important commandment Jesus replied: “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” … and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (The Gospel of Mark 12:30-31).

Labor day reminds us of the love for our neighbors. God does not merely call us to love ourselves and our immediate families and friends. God calls us to love all of our neighbors. This love for neighbors includes the love for the millions of workers in our own country and in the world. Let us not forget that most of us work for a living as well because work is optional only for the wealthiest one percent. Small and mid-size business owners are working people too.

We owe much to workers in the global economy. Without the work of billions of people life would be very different. Our clothes would be homemade, the food on our tables would be monotonous and scarce, we would not be driving in cars, and our houses would be limited to what we can build with our own hands. Services would be non-existent. Workers improve the lives of us all. They are part of us, we are part of them. We love our neighbors not just because we are told to do so but because they are a part of ourselves.

As people of faith, we sense that our love for our neighbors is somehow related to our love for God. Jesus mentions the love of God and the love of neighbor in the same breath. The two cannot be separated. The first letter of John also reminds us of this connection: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). The struggles of workers remind us, furthermore, that love and justice go together: there is no love without justice.

Labor Day requires that we give an account: How have we demonstrated our love for the workers in our globalizing economy? How have we worked for justice? How can we do a better job embodying our love for workers so that justice is served? And what are we learning about God in the process?

There is a big task ahead of us: While workers contribute to making all of our lives better, we have not always contributed to making their lives better. The minimum wage is too low to survive on; for many years it has not even been adjusted for the normal rate of inflation. Worse yet, working people are not merely being ignored, they are enduring constant attacks.

Wage theft is rampant, as millions of workers are not paid for the work they do. Even when wages are not stolen, the salaries of most working people today are under pressure. This is true even for middle class jobs. Benefits are frozen or even slashed. On top of all that, workers are discouraged from organizing themselves and workers who try to organize themselves are often fired. Common economic principles state that the interests of the workers are less important than the interests of the stockholders.

How are we showing our love for our brothers and sisters and how are we standing up for justice in this hostile climate? What does this say about our love for God? As we renew our love for the workers in the global economy and as we work for justice, we might be renewing our love for God too.

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