Labour. In some ways, the very word seems to have transmuted in its meaning from eras quite distant to that of our current times. For example, in the 1933 version of the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives multiple references to word origins, the noun labour, derived from Middle English, has many definitions for different points of reference to which we still associate.
One usage of singular interest from 1776 is the, “physical exertion directed to the supply of the material wants of the community.” In respect to that description, it was later in the 19th century that a workforce, (another firm sounding term that tags strongly to the word labour), which to a large degree was made up of workers who provided physical exertion or toil, organized themselves around a “labour movement”.
While this is not intended as a deep history lesson, it’s worth remembering that the labour movement goes further back, two hundred years ago in the industrial revolution with such roots as the “Eight Hour Day Movement” and Robert Owen’s 1817 formula – “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”. In spite of the Beatles 1964, we could thank our lucky stars that we have not made it to “eight days a week”. We would for sure need another new formula.
In Canada, after decades of much political wrangling, Labour Day was first declared a national holiday in 1894 as it was in the US. Around the rest of the world, May 1st, May Day, International Worker’s Day is celebrated. In North America, this national holiday has become more about a long weekend holiday escape for recreation, trying not to think about working. Yet there are those who would argue that for all our progress we need a new worker’s movement in our modern times.
For the knowledge workers of today, where it is more a case of mental exertion, labour may seem an antiquated way of expressing how we work. While we may not all identify with physical toil or labour, there are still plenty who do and that can’t be ignored. Today, we can be heard to say that we are working longer or that we are mentally stressed, or overworked. If it’s not that, then we are underemployed, unemployed or precariously employed. What kind of Labour Day parade do we build around that theme?
Caregiving – our servant role, a labour of love
Even though there is a special National Carers Day each April for this, it is worth celebrating again today, the work contributions of those who serve as caregivers in our society.
As part of the “pressure-tense” ** in today’s world, there is even more reason to build a case for acknowledging that workers serve many “working roles” outside of the official labour market framework. This adds other strata to the re-valuation of what it is to measure the supply of the human needs of the community.
Carers Canada states on their facts page that caregivers, one in four Canadians, contribute $25 billion in unpaid labour to our health system. In addition, we must recognize that these are servant roles in the purest, kindest sense of the word, and there are those who also serve as Power of Attorney, a huge responsibility that sometimes overlays with other caregiving work, often over an extended period.
Before the memory of this Labour Day 2017 slips away, we should likewise remember those who are paid to do work as caregivers, as we outsource our caregiving needs to offset our own time at work. Praise goes to people such as personal care workers in institutional settings, home support and respite workers and all others in this occupational category. For these workers and all unpaid family caregivers, is theirs not a labour of love?
** “Today as being lived in the pressure tense (present + future) –
two tenses in parallel.”
The Visionary’s Handbook, Watts Wacker & Jim Taylor