The memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, this year also happens to be Labour Day, which can be traced back, in Canada, to 1872, and a parade in Toronto for ‘typographical workers’, which sounds sort of odd to our ears accustomed to smartphones and MS-Word, but refers rather to workers setting the heavy, metal ‘type’ on newspapers, before our digital age. They were seeking a ’54 hour work week’, from the gruelling hours to which they were subjected, to put things into perspective.
Labour Day was made an official holiday, the first Monday of September, in 1894, under Prime Minister John Thompson, the first Roman Catholic to hold that post, who, as Justice Minister, approved the hanging of Louis Riel as a rebel against the State. It is providential that Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on the rights of workers, Rerum Novarum, just being promulgated three years before.
It is by the labour of working men that States grow rich, wrote the Holy Father, and how right he was. We don’t have all that many ‘working men’ anymore, as Mark Steyn points out, with all too many (and often not their fault) with little to do; this plague of unemployment, leaving so much potential unfulfilled, will only grow worse under automation. Who needs a check-out clerk, or a lawyer for that matter, when a computer will do?
Peruse my article on the theology of work, if you are so inclined, summarizing the thought of John Paul II in Laborem Exercens, published 90 years after Rerum. As the Holy Father declares, the primary purpose of work is not so much to produce ‘things’, but to perfect the worker himself. We need to work to fulfill and exercise our talents, whatever they may be (and everyone has some), and so become fitting subjects of the kingdom of heaven.
Anon, food for thought as we take a little break from work on this last holiday of the summer.