Returning to our posts after Labor Day, one always carries a better appreciation for working men and women.
And as with all holiday glows, it will probably be short-lived.
It shouldn’t be. While Labor Day is a once-a-year reminder of the contributions of workers, questions about the proper relationship between employers and employees go back millenniums.
All the major religions and faith traditions have grappled with such concerns. And for this past Sunday, Missouri Jobs with Justice, a coalition of community, labor, student and religious groups prepared a collection of prayers, proverbs, sermons, and psalms about labor and workers.
The effort was aimed at providing Labor Day inspiration to religious leaders. You may have such preachings at your church, synagogue, mosque or temple.
Many religious strictures emphasize the dignity of people and workers, and over the course of centuries many have been encoded in law.
You can find a religious underpinning in the current debates about economic justice, whether about income inequality, the minimum wage, wage theft, fair working conditions or the right to form unions.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, you can see the beginnings of what came to be the modern Protestant work ethic. From Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
But there’s also a lot about treating workers properly and paying a fair wage. From OpenBible.info:
Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy. (Deuteronomy 24:14)
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (James 5:4)
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. (Proverbs 22:16)
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him wages. (Jeremiah 22:13)
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)
According to onislam.net, Muslims have the right to exercise freedom of association and the right to form unions. The Quran also says workers should be paid fairly.
Your brothers are your responsibility. Allah has made them under your hands. So whosoever has a brother under his hand, let him give food as he eats and dress as he dresses. Do not give them work that will overburden them and if you give them such tasks then provide them assistance. (Al-Bukhari)
Woe to those who deal in fraud. Those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure. But when they have to give by measure or weight to men, give less than due. Do they not think that they will be called to account? (Al-Mutaffifin 83:1-6)
When it comes to work, Buddhism stresses the concept of “right livelihood” under the Noble Eightfold Path.
In the Huffington Post, Lewis Richmond points out that the Buddha saw prosperity and financial security as a good and appropriate activity for laypeople. As he notes in a quote from the scripture Numerical Discourses: “The layperson’s objective (is to) live a long and dignified life with the wealth obtained through rightful means.”
Practitioners shouldn’t engage in trades or occupations that even indirectly could hurt other living beings. And because work and careers take up most of our lives, we must judge how work affects our minds and hearts.
Preaching is the task of your religious leader, but here’s hope on a post-Labor Day Tuesday that we appreciate the contributions of workers all year.