Tomorrow (Monday, September 2) is Labour Day here in Canada (and in the U.S.; several other countries celebrate Labour Day and/or International Workers’ Day on different days during the year). For Canadians, Labour Day is not only a national holiday, but the last long weekend (holiday) of the summer season (students traditionally return to school on the Tuesday following Labour Day).
Here in Canada, Labour Day originated as a result of the labour union movement. In April of 1872, 2,000 members of the 27 unions that comprised the Toronto Trades Assembly (TTA) – as well as 8,000 non-unionized workers in various professions, or fully 10% of the City of Toronto’s population at the time – marched to City Hall to show their support for the striking workers of the Toronto Typographical Union (TTU) – newspaper workers (all men) who were applying pressure on their employers (the wealthy and powerful newspaper magnates of the time) to reduce their working hours to a ‘modest’ 54 per week (six 9-hour days – down from the 11 to 12 hours a day they typically were required to work. Can you even IMAGINE anyone working ‘only’ 54 hours a week nowadays?!?!?)
The day after this ‘labour parade’, twenty-four of the TTU leaders were arrested, charged with ‘criminal conspiracy to disrupt trade’, and thrown in jail. The TTA wasn’t about to give up, however – shortly afterwards, seven of their unions marched on Ottawa (our country’s capital city) and were successful in getting the Prime Minister to agree to repeal the outdated anti-union laws. The rest, as they say, is history. (NOTES: (1) the U.S. labour movement was partially driven forward by the success of Canada’s union leaders in instituting legal rights for their workers; (2) while Labour Day was originally celebrated in the spring [the Trade Unions Act – making unions legal in Canada – was passed in June], it was officially declared a national holiday in 1894 and moved to the first Monday in September.)
Labour Day is traditionally celebrated with parades and picnics organized by trade unions, although many non-unionized companies also host events that recognize the value of their workers. It has also been suggested by some that women should be given particular ‘thanks’ on Labour Day for all the work they do ‘maintaining a home and raising children’ (an article on the front page of our local paper yesterday posed the question: “Is Labour Day still every day for women at home?”, wherein the writer questioned whether or not the division of household labour has changed since “men left all the chores to women while they brought home the bacon and conquered nations.”)
I’ve never participated in any kind of union celebration on Labour Day (although, as a College professor, I was a union member) and I don’t quite buy into the idea of honouring your ‘workers’ on one particular day of the year (shouldn’t they feel worthy EVERY day?!?!?) Still, I’ve always felt I should do SOMETHING to mark the passing of another summer and the beginning of another school year – a final beach day or a picnic or a long walk in the woods. And Labour Day is (obviously) the time to do that – it offers us a ‘day off’ to say a proper ‘farewell’ to summer. But how?
I’d been pondering just that question this morning when I came across this quote from Maya Angelou’s 1993 book of essays, “Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now”:
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future … A day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.”
And in those words, I found my answer. Why not celebrate Labour Day by doing no labour at all? No matter what pressing work ‘needs’ to be done, take a day away. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Sidestep your problems, free yourself from seeking solutions. Do ‘nothing’. Ignore the laundry, avoid the vacuum cleaner, leave the eaves-troughs full of leaves, let the weeds have their way in the garden. Send out for pizza, make sandwiches (and have a totally ‘unplanned’ picnic on the lawn or the back deck), or – better yet – tell everyone in your house to make their own meals out of whatever they can find in the pantry or fridge (and clean up after themselves when they’re done). Lie in a hammock and stare up at the sky, read a good book, watch a movie, paint your toenails, go for a walk. Take a ‘day away’ from whatever your ‘work’ is and simply ‘be’ in the present moment.
Because sooner or later, you’ll have more Labour Days behind you than ahead of you; you’ll be on … the other side of 55.