A Prayer for Workers on International Workers’ Day

A Prayer for Workers on International Workers’ Day May 1, 2017

Today is May Day, which workers all over the world celebrate as International Workers’ Day (or Labour Day with a u to distinguish it from the American Labor Day).  The Second International, an alliance of socialist and communist political parties from all over the world, declared the holiday in 1889 to commemorate the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair.

The Haymarket Affair took place a few miles away from where I work in downtown Chicago.  A couple thousand workers gathered in the rain to protest in demand of an eight-hour workday, opposite a legion of police officers.  At some point, the police officers ordered the peaceful demonstration to disperse at gunpoint.  One of the demonstrators threw a homemade bomb at the police, and the police responded by opening fire, killing at least four unarmed “workingmen.”

In the ensuing trial, seven anarchists were sentenced to death.  Four were hanged and the other three given harsh prison sentences in a trial that many described as a miscarriage of justice.  Illinois governor John Altgeld would later characterize the trial as laced with“hysteria, packed juries, and a biased judge” when he pardoned the three living defendants.  Not a single one of the defendants was actually linked to the bomb thrown at police officers.

The reverberations of the Haymarket Affair are still felt today, with labor and capital locked in a war that, at times, feels like it will never end.  But if Christ teaches anything, it is that the victory of greed, wealth, and evil is never final, and that the poor, the immiserated, and the downtrodden are raised from the dead, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.



Dear lord,

On the first day of spring we celebrate working people

Of all colors, all genders, all sexual preferences,

And all levels of ability

(For work is not defined by physical labor, but by the creation of wealth).


We keep in our hearts Your promise that we shall inherit the earth,

And we remember with joy and trembling hope that come Your kingdom,

The first shall be last, and the last first.


We keep in our minds the example set by the first believers,

Who lived together in one heart and one mind,

And held all things in common.


We keep in our souls the words of your brother James,

Who cried out for the wages kept from us by deceit and treachery,

And warned the rich of the miseries that are surely still coming to them.


From the days of the prophets, when the rich made the ephah small and the shekel great,

Through the days of our lord, when they turned Your house into a den of robbers,

And to the world of today, where children are poisoned with lead for lack of profit,

The wealthy and the powerful have subjugated the lowly and the meek.


But no more.


With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our hearts, Lord, and help us first confront the hatred within ourselves

For our black and brown comrades, for our gay and lesbian and transgender comrades, for our differently-abled and neuroatypical comrades,

Help us to liberate ourselves and each other from prejudice and infighting

Help us to unite.


With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our minds, Lord, and help us to put aside the petty squabbles of theory

To cooperate, to learn and grow together, and to build a new world together in our own image,

For our image is Your image.


With your guidance, Lord, let all working people of the world unite.

Open our souls, Lord, and give us the strength to continue this struggle to the end.

Give weight to our hammers, and edge to our sickles,

And strength to our hands and our hearts.

Help us to struggle so that all may live this rich, overflowing life You have provided us.


Lord God,

In return we promise to be faithful to each other

And to fulfill the covenant between Yourself and Your people.


We will plead the case of the orphan and bring justice to the widow,

We will welcome all strangers into our lands,

We will visit those held in the “Universities of crime” maintained by the State,

And give all that we have to the poor.

We will keep your command to love each other,

We will rend the patriarchal family apart with Your sword,

And we will surely render unto Caesar all that which is his.

We will carry Your cross to the better world that you have dreamed for us.


While the chief priests and the elders pray in vain for your Kingdom to come,

We workers will build Your kingdom from the ground up, just as we have built this world.

This is the covenant we create with you.


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