September opens with Labor Day, the first Monday of the month, in a historic celebration of U.S. workers and their struggle for just pay and working conditions, the right to organize and respect in the marketplace. The first Labor Day was a workers parade in New York City, Sept. 5, 1882, and by 1894 more than half the states had a similar observances. Today, depending on where you live, the holiday means a day not to work, a parade and an annual resurgence of bumper stickers reminding you to “thank a union member” for everything from child labor laws to lunch breaks to vacations and sick days to health care insurance and retirement pensions. These now routine features of a good employment package came from union organizing. Then and now, unions contend that workers are not marketplace beggars who best not be choosy but that workers create tangible wealth and perform essential services for society and that without them there would be no market. Workers built the table and demand a seat at it, the labor movement argues.
Today, however, unions are often denigrated. And, not surprisingly, without them, so are workers and the value of their work. In recent years, some politicians describe even teachers as overpaid “thugs” who hardly work.
However, United Methodists’ stance for the dignity of work and justice for workers has been consistent since John Wesley preached to coal miners. In 1908 The Methodist Episcopal Church’s first social creed focused on justice for workers and called for “the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society” and “a living wage in every industry.”
United Methodist Women joins other Christians and people of faith in continuing this call for justice. This issue of response features stories about United Methodist Women members and institutions doing the groundwork and advocacy necessary for people to experience the dignity of work and enjoy the fruit of their labor. As you read this issue, say a prayer of thanks for the teachers who taught you to read and for those who are today doing this for yet another generation.