Workers Memorial Day is celebrated each year on April 28, the anniversary of passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. It is an opportunity to remember and honor the people who are killed or injured in workplaces, as well as a chance for people to recommit to making workplaces safer and healthier. Our organizer, Bishop Francis Hodur, strongly supported the aspirations of Labor and the Labor movement, but always with an eye toward God’s role in man’s work and striving. The following prayer for Workers Memorial Day is composed and offered by the Interfaith Worker Justice organization.
Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; behold, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink, the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest.
Throughout history widows and orphans symbolized the fragility of life, the vulnerability of people. Widows and orphans became metaphors for the struggle for survival in the face of unjust situations. But they were also tangible and real – neighbors, friends, or family members. Everyone knew a widow and an orphan.
Grant us memory of widows and orphans.
Often women became widows, and children became orphans, because their husbands and fathers died while working in the fields of the wealthy or building the palaces of the rich.
Grant us memory of workers and their families.
As society progressed, the workplace became increasingly more dangerous – machines moving at treacherous speeds, workers scaling higher heights and digging deeper depths. Every second of every day was measured, with ever-increasing expectations. And managers began to view personal interaction between workers as “time theft.” So, in the midst of this the widows and orphans still labor and have no rest. Unjust managers deprive workers of basic human dignity and contact.
Grant us awareness of the widows and orphans.
Stress in the workplace increases animosity and alienation among co-workers. Fewer workers are expected to accomplish more work. The pace is unhealthy. Whether autoworkers or hotel workers, expectations exceed possibilities for safe completion of the work. So, in the midst of this workers are still injured and even killed in their workplaces.
Grant us awareness of these injured workers.
Our prophets continue to remind us to treat widows and orphans fairly, to take seriously their circumstances when considering how we distribute our wealth, and to watch their interests in the halls of power.
Grant us the compassion and wisdom to be advocates for the widows and orphans.
Our prophets continue to remind us that we are to be the voice of those injured in their workplaces. We are to stand with those unable to stand. We are to raise our voices to protect other workers from the same fate.
Grant us the compassion and wisdom to be advocates for our sisters and brothers in the workplace.
Our calling as God’s people is to be hope for the world.
Let us fulfill the hopes of the widows, the orphans, the workers who are injured in the workplace. Amen.
Creator God, you formed the world and its people with your hands. As we use our hands, our heads, and our hearts in co-creating the world in our many and varied vocations, we are especially aware of our vulnerability and fragility. We suffer with those injured at the workplace. We mourn with the families of the killed and injured. But our mourning will be hollow without a change in our lives. Awaken our passion for justice for those workers who come in contact with dangerous chemicals, fast-moving machines, and long hours. And grant us hope. Amen.