When we ponder Labor Day, our minds, appropriately, turn to those who do our society’s most punishing work and to the unions they organized to defend their interests. One word the day brings to mind is solidarity.
But the day is only rarely associated with another word, just as important to its purpose: freedom. This is, I think, because most of our discussions of freedom focus on negative liberty, “freedom from,” rather than positive liberty, “freedom to.”
Most Americans instinctively worry about coercion by government and the dangers of an overweening state. This concern can express itself differently across ideological lines, but it spans from left to right.
Yet the freedom to accomplish one’s ends is just as important, and its moral worth was recognized by our nation’s founders when they proclaimed their devotion to not only life and liberty but also “the pursuit of happiness.”
Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor and an advocate of making Labor Day a national celebration, lifted up freedom in a commentary on the holiday in 1910.
“The struggle of labor,” he declared, “is to free man from his own weakness … from his own unfair, unjust and unnecessarily cruel environments,” and to bring forward “the day of deliverance from absurd economic conditions and cruel burdens.”
Opinion by E.J. Dionne Jr.
Columnist - The Washington Post
September 3, 2021