We Presbyterians believe that God’s image is reflected in us, including our ability to be co-creators and co-laborers in the world. There is something fulfilling and even holy in doing your best work. Our cooperative work allows us to do things we cannot do individually. Through our sense of vocation we connect to the web of labor relationships as we seek to build a more just society. For this Labor Day, we affirm the church’s stance on labor and offer up examples of our work in pursuit of dignified work, better conditions, and fair wages.
For many who read this message, children are already back to school and many of us are back at full-paced work. Yet for too many in the United States and abroad, there is no work or the work available does not provide a “living wage.” The phrase, “living wage,” comes from the 1908 “Social Creed of the Churches,” a statement that was updated on its centennial by our 218th General Assembly (2008) (Minutes, 2008, Part I, p. 924 of the electronic version) as well as other Orthodox and Protestant communions. Our churches were united in wanting each person to be able to work at a “family-sustaining” wage, without discrimination on any pretext, and with the full social protections of a developed society.
Our church is rooted in communities all over the U.S. Through our daily engagement in neighborhood ministries, food banks, and public schools, we know that the majority of those living in poverty in the U.S. are working full-time, or are children or the elderly. A “living wage” for work would change the lives in families plagued by poverty. Even though political deadlocks have blocked action by our national government, a growing number of cities and states have increased their minimum wages, a clear sign of respect for the dignity of all labor.
Our church joins many of you in supporting the work of groups addressing these concerns. Among many others, these include the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who are changing farm labor wages and conditions; the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which addresses wage theft and workers’ rights throughout the chain including retail and restaurants; Interfaith Worker Justice; and the South Asian Workers Center, who assist working immigrants exercise their rights. We recognize in the U.S. that persistent racial inequality is reflected in poverty and unemployment figures. The economic response to “Black Lives Matter” is to shift public investment away from the “prison-industrial complex” to better provision of education and employment opportunities. We hope many congregations get involved with the “Educate a Child” initiative that can change the pipeline-to-prison reality in our country.
In supporting public investment and more progressive taxation, based on the clear biblical message of justice and concern for the society as a whole, the broader struggle in many countries is against austerity policies that is currently most visible in Southern Europe, particularly in Greece, where there seems little prospect of economic stimulus or growth. Our church continues to be engaged with church partners in South America, Africa, and southern Asia who are impacted daily by these policies. Together we, along with many of you, work with groups like the Jubilee USA Network who are able to influence policies at a global level that impact daily lives of working people throughout the world.
Obviously we are not alone in noting that globalization demands our attention to relationships all over the world. Pope Francis is being welcomed to the U.S. Congress for his forthright calls for economic and environmental justice. (www.pcusa.org/blogs/eco-journey/2015/6/23/pcusa-welcomes-papal-encyclical)
For all who wish to honor those who work during their worship services, resources can be found at www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/fairfood/labor-day-weekend-resources and www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/acswp/social-creed, which includes bulletin inserts in English, Korean, and Spanish.
We close with Jesus’ words of comfort to those who may not benefit even if the wisest policies and practices were adopted: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28, NRSV).
May Labor Day, the day off that many of us enjoy, point to that deeper sharing of burdens that our faith offers to all.
Recent General Assembly Actions:
The 220th General Assembly (2012) called for proactive public investment to provide more good jobs, to modernize our infrastructure, and to do so in a way that makes for a “green” transition. (See: www.pcusa.org/resource/world-hurt-word-life).
The 221st General Assembly (2014) lifted up the need for a fairer distribution of wealth and productivity gains in our society in Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a Second Gilded Age, responding to the dangers of inequality as well as poverty (www.pcusa.org/resource/tax-justice-christian-response-second-gilded-age).