In this transcribed excerpt from a talk recorded live on Labor Day 2011, Marianne Williamson uses the holiday as a springboard to talk about what it means to labor, and how important it is to express ourselves through whatever work we do, whether paid or not.
Today is Labor Day, obviously. The history of Labor Day is interesting in that nobody seems to know exactly how it all started, that the various states were acknowledging with a holiday the role of labor. One interesting anecdote that apparently had to do with its beginning had to do with president Grover Cleveland. There had been a protest among union workers and a few of the workers had been killed. So Grover Cleveland -- especially because he was in a bid for reelection at that time -- advocated the creation of a national holiday in honor of workers as a way to get the public’s opinion back on his side given that U.S. marshals had killed these workers. It didn’t work. He didn’t get reelected, but of course after a misuse of power like that, obviously nothing as… creating a national holiday obviously should not get one forgiven on that kind of a level.
The point is that this is a day in which the United States, whether we are thinking of it in terms of the workers and their connection to unions… and I think this is an important day particularly given what has occurred in Wisconsin and in other states. I think it is actually a good day to acknowledge the profound and profoundly important role of the unions in the history of the United States. But we also… in the United States many of us do not necessarily belong to unions. The union movement, as important as it has been and as important for many as it is today, does not define the entirety of what it means to be among those who labor in the United States. We all labor. Some of us labor for money and some of us labor in a way that does not bring financial remuneration but still has to do with the work through which we express ourselves on the planet.
One of the earliest philosophers to talk about the relationship of humans in a philosophical sense to the work that we do was Karl Marx, who before he was a political philosopher was a humanitarian philosopher and was talking about how people express themselves through their work and how important that is, and how if workers feel alienated from the work that they do, then they also feel alienated from themselves. I remember when I was in college reading a feminist writer name Shulamith Firestone, and she was talking about the fact that one of the reasons that the early feminism… well, that chapter of feminism like in 1970s… was so significant was that before the 1960s, etc., women traditionally in our country and elsewhere… because women were denied access to so many of the professions, women basically saw their children as the great creative task and how unhealthy that was. How unhealthy that was for the women, and of course how unhealthy that was for the children.