We Just Come to Work Here, We Don’t Come to Die!

A Labor Day Reflection from CLN Spiritual Moderator Fr. Sinclair Oubre


“Cause if it’s always level on the floor where you’re working

and your telephone is OSHA approved

When you tell me how much you’re spending on safety,

pardon me if I’m not moved.

Ever since 1970 the law has been on my side.

And I just come to work here, I don’t come to die.”

This past June, I had the privilege of sailing with 219 future United States merchant mariners. The 2022 Texas A&M Maritime Academy Cruise began in Galveston. We sailed to Savannah to take on bunkers, and then headed to Charleston, North Carolina. After three days in Charleston, we let go the lines, and sailed for 13 days to Reykjavik, Iceland. I departed the ship in Iceland, and they sailed to New York, and then back to Galveston.

On Saturday, June 18, 2022, our course took us over latitude 41 degrees, 43.7 minutes North, and longitude 49 degrees, 56.3 West, the site the RMS Titanic disaster.

That evening, we gathered on the fantail at 11:20 P.M. to pray for the merchant mariners and passengers who died on the morning of April 15, 1912, 110 years ago. I led the Rite of Funerals Outside of Mass, which concluded at 11:37 P.M.

In preparation for the service, a short poem was written by 2nd mate Jon Allen, and signed by the 40 cadets and crewmembers. At 11:40 P.M. we passed over the wreck and the souls who lie in rest, and the boson placed the poem-in-a-bottle into the sea.

In both the movie Titanic and A Night to Remember, much attention is focused on the passengers and their struggles for survival. With only a few exceptions, the more than 900 crewmembers are faceless bodies in the background. Of these crewmembers, 688 lost their lives that night. These were not just the highly trained members of the British Merchant Navy like Commander Edward Smith and Chief Engineer Joseph Bell, but stokers, messmen, and room stewards from Southampton, and many small English towns along the coast.

None of these merchant sailors knew when they left land on April 11, 1912, that they would never return home. As ILWU longshoreman Harry Stamper wrote, “We just come to work here. We don’t come to die.”

Growing up in Port Arthur we have had many maritime tragedies and industrial disasters.

  • On April 11, 1926, the tanker Gulf of Venezuela blew up at the Gulf Oil Refinery dock in Port Arthur. Twenty-five crewmembers were killed and eleven workers were injured.
  • Some time between February 4 and February 6, 1963, the SS Marine Sulphur Queen, having sailed from the Beaumont sulphur docks disappeared with the loss of her 39 crewmembers.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1977, a major explosion occurred at the Port Arthur Texaco Refinery, seven men were killed, and 26 were injured.
  • On Wednesday, December 9, 1981, an explosion and flash fire in a catalytic cracking unit at the Gulf Oil refinery injured at 21 people.

Sadly this list can go on and on. Most recently a construction worker was killed at the Valero Refinery on February 18 of this year.

Let me paraphrase St. Paul, “The computer programmer cannot say to the janitor, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the banker to the to the plumber, ‘I do not need you.’”

All moral work is important. All moral work is essential. All moral work is a participation in God’s ongoing creation. If the work that is done was not done, our quality of life would be so much less.

The AFL-CIO stresses on Workers Memorial Day (April 28), “Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living.” As we enjoy the prosperity of our lives, we are called to work for the safety of our fellow workers, because . . .

“We just come to work here. We don’t come to die.”