Labor Day always brings to mind my grandfather, Vernon Cane, affectionately known as Gramps.
In the late 1940’s he worked very hard to unionize his fellow workers at the factory where he was employed. He had witnessed several accidents due to unsafe working conditions. This bothered him so much that he felt he needed to do what he could to bring about a safe working environment for those employed at the factory.
I doubt that Gramps ever heard of Catholic Social Doctrine, the well-developed teaching of his Church regarding social justice (including the implications for the economy and the worker). I know he never read the Encyclicals of the Popes addressing issues such as a living wage, the dignity of each person, the dignity of work, the worker as more than a means of production, and the right of workers to unionize. Yet that is what he was committed to bringing about in his small corner of the world.
Gramps and his fellow workers did unionize and were able to collaborate with management to bring about a work environment where their dignity and the dignity of their work was recognized through safe working conditions, a living wage, and a voice at the bargaining table.
Gramps remained so committed to the cause of justice for his fellow workers that he continued as the Union Steward at his factory until his retirement.
His commitment to the rights and dignity of workers, expressed through meaningful action, has deeply shaped my own values and commitment to the inherent value and dignity of all people.
Labor Day honors the contributions of the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made and continue to make. We, as employees past and present, owe a deep sense of gratitude to those who paved the way for safer, healthier, and more equitable working conditions than our forbearers. Let’s honor them by putting our faith in action by doing what we can to assure that the level of dignity and justice they worked so hard to achieve continues.
This Labor Day let us remember with gratitude those who worked so hard to bring about the working conditions that we inherited. Holidays, the weekend, guaranteed safe working conditions, as well as unemployment insurance and overtime pay are all things that had to be fought for.