I always associate Labor Day with BBQs and family gatherings. I never before knew its origins. When I wrote the blog on Holistic Moms and UNITE HERE (see below), I ordered From the Folks Who Brought You the Wekend: A Short Illustrated History of Labor in United States. According to the book, 18,000 US strikes were held between 1881 and 1897 for higher wages, the eight-hour day, and union recognition, among other goals.
In September 1882, the Central Labor Union in New York City, one of the national craft unions affiliated with the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), held a parade. Instead of going to work, 30,000 men and women marched for labor’s rights. In the years following, Labor Day parades became annual events in New York City, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Lynn, MA and other cities, where marchers held placards and banners with the slogan, “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Sleep, Eight Hours for What We Will.” The eight hour work day became the rallying cry of the labor movement. At the FOCLU convention in 1886, it was resolved that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” In 1894, Labor Day was declared a federal holiday.
In recent times, those of use involved in the childbirth reform movement have come to associate Labor Day with the labor of birth because of the work of Karen Brody and her play Birth on Labor Day (BOLD). Every year on Labor Day performances of BOLD are held all over the country and this year Karen celebrates the 5th anniversary of BOLD at the Museum of Motherhood in New York City with guests Ina May Gaskin, Ricki Lake, Abby Epstein and with Debra Pascali-Bonaro. The play will also be webcast around the world 11 times in September.
The labor of hard work and the labor of birth have in common their demand for honest communication both with ourselves and with others. Labor Day reminds me of a poem I wrote in May of 1982, six weeks before my fourth child was born. When my third child was born with a birth defect, I worried about having another child.
Birthing After Bram
Time is knocking on my mind now.
It is time now, the echo calls.
Time to think about my real life fears.
How will I handle it if I can’t handle it?
How will I handle the silent stillness of my soul, alone again?
For on the path of birth, at some point
a woman steps off the world
and is totally alone.
Alone with her special strengths.
Alone with her private fears.
Alone with her personal sorrows.
Alone with all that she brings to that one moment of birth,
the moment that precedes all other moments of life
with the new one.
I focus on the birth because it is imminent.
But what I really fear,
what I struggle to illuminate,
is how it will be after the birth.
What will happen after that moment to my life?
What will happen to my soul?
What will happen to my dreams?
What will happen to my heart,
If it must break again?