By Rabbi Rami Shapiro
The Labor Day holiday began in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in the 1870s as part of unionization efforts by Canadian workers. (Full Disclosure: I went to grad school in Hamilton, Ontario in the 1970s with the intention of working for worker’s rights, but I was 100 years late. Story of my life.) Labor Day came to the U.S. after workers were killed by U.S. Marshals and U.S. military deployed to break the Pullman Strike of 1894. Pretty radical stuff.
What troubles me about today’s Labor Day is not just the lack of focus on labor and the rights of workers, but the huge number of people who are out of work. Unemployment in Tennessee has topped 10%. Sure, that is a far cry from Depression era numbers, but that is still a lot of people out of work. And out of work often means uninsured. Very scary.
I chose to forgo full–time employment eight years ago. I decided to take the plunge and see if I could earn a living from my writing and workshops. Lucky for me, my wife works for the state and has insurance that covers the both of us. Otherwise, I too would be among the uninsured. But that was and is my choice. I don’t want a full–time job, and am grateful that I don’t have to find one. But I worry about those who want work and can’t find it. Especially when they fall under the sway of those fear mongers who actually convince them to turn against policies that might benefit them and people like them.
Yesterday, I received an email asking what advice I would give young college graduates this year. This is what I wrote, “Find a job, any job, to pay the bills, but don’t rely on others to keep you employed. While you are working at whatever you can find, figure out what it is you love to do and are good at (or can get good at), and create work for yourself that will keep you from being at the mercy of others. You can’t escape being part of the larger economy, but do your best not be a victim of it. Live as simply and as cheaply as you can. Don’t use credit or become enslaved to credit cards. Save every dollar you can. Talk to an expert about financial planning. Accept the fact that you are on your own. Nobody is going to take care of you. Take care of yourself—eat right, exercise, don’t do anything to damage your body, make friends, do what you love even if you also work a job you hate. Create small communities of friends who pledge to take care of one another in times of illness or emergency. Meditate. Borrow from and rephrase the New Hampshire motto: Live free. Die well.”
I have no idea if this is good advice or not. It just came out of me, and I was too busy to edit it. I’m curious as to what you would have said. I’m sure I will learn a lot. Happy Labor Day to you all.
Re-printed from Rami’s Blog.