-Martin Luther King Jr.
This week offers a juxtaposition of seemingly disparate celebrations. Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of King’s March on Washington, which culminated in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. On Monday the country will celebrate Labor Day, the yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. King’s anniversary is mostly viewed as a watershed civil rights moment, while Labor Day is commonly seen as a way to celebrate the achievements gained by American workers over the past 150 years. But when the two are looked at from a perspective of social justice, there are more similarities than many may assume. Both the labor movements that began after the Civil War and the civil rights movement that swept through the country a century later stemmed in large part from the inequalities that were inherent in our economic and political systems. The labor movement grew out of the beginnings of the industrial age, when industrialists and capitalists threatened to make a mockery of American democracy by controlling most of the country’s wealth and power, and the politicians who ran the country. The civil rights movement also came about due to an enormous unbalance of wealth and power, albeit between the entrenched white establishment and minorities who suffered discrimination in virtually all corners of the country. So perhaps it is right that we celebrate both the March on Washington and Labor Day in the same thought. Both represent, in many ways, the rise of the have-nots against the haves, the oppressed against the oppressor. Taking it a step further, the 1963 march was formally called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” In fact, it was more than just about civil rights, even if that is how history has mostly remembered it. While contemplating equality, it is important to realize that there is much left to be done, both in terms of labor and civil rights. Today, while many consider the United States to be the richest and most powerful nation in the world, we have growing poverty. It seems incredible that some of our greatest thinkers can develop gadgets that can fit in our pocket and deliver information to our fingertips, but we can’t develop an economic system that is fair for all and reduces the great disparities of wealth in the world. At the same time, we also can’t seem to fully bridge the political divide, as evidenced by new voting laws cropping up across the country that are thinly-veiled attempts to exclude certain groups from having the right to vote. As President Obama said Wednesday in a speech recalling the day 50 years ago, there is still much work to be done. We echo that idea, and as the country takes pause on Labor Day, we need to recharge and refocus on what is left undone, in terms of social and economic justice. That, as King said, would be the labor that can uplift humanity.