BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Most every Oklahoman is familiar with the state’s motto, Labor Omnia Vincit, and many are able to translate the Latin to English, Labor Conquers All. Few however know the significance of those words and how the state came to claim that motto.
The phrase can be traced to the Roman poet Virgil, who first used a similar phrase in 29 B.C. to promote Caesar Augustus’ encouragement for laborers to “return to the land.” Through the centuries, the phrase has been used to recognize the virtue, pride and power of reaping the rewards of one’s own labor.
In 1893, Frank Greer, a civic-minded Guthrie newspaperman, undertook to promote a Grand Seal for the newly-formed Oklahoma Territory. His design was described in the Second Territorial Legislature’s HB 66, as recounted by a 1957 article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma.
On March 10, 1893, the seal became official and Oklahoma Territory proudly proclaimed the value of labor. A 1907 State Seal Committee, commissioned by the Constitutional Convention and headed up by Native American Gabe Parker, combined the Grand Seal of Oklahoma Territory with the Official Seal of the proposed State of Sequoyah and thus the Great Seal of the State of Oklahoma’s proudly proclaimed that LABOR CONQUERS ALL.
The Oklahoma Constitution’s preamble provided a similar theme in that the state’s premier law would be to “promote our general welfare.” In fact, recognizing the dangers and pitfalls of forces that are hostile to labor, Article 2, Section 32 of the Oklahoma Constitution was included to make it clear that, “Perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free government, and shall never be allowed.”
For more than 90 years, Oklahoma and the people of Oklahoma emphasized the importance of labor. Oklahoma’s labor statutes, Title 40, came to include a couple of statutes clearly outlining the importance of Oklahoma’s employees.
Section 197.1 says that, “The welfare of the State of Oklahoma demands that the working people of Oklahoma be protected from conditions of labor which have a pernicious effect on their health or morals. The State of Oklahoma, therefore, exercising herein its police and sovereign power, declares that inadequate wages and insanitary conditions of labor exert such pernicious effect.”
Section 197.2 provides, “It shall be unlawful to employ workers in any industry or occupation within the State of Oklahoma under conditions of labor detrimental to their health or morals and it shall be unlawful to employ workers in any industry within the State of Oklahoma at wages which are not adequate for their maintenance.”
So where along the way did Oklahoma lose its emphasis on the value of labor? Why are Oklahomans no longer concerned about the “pernicious effect” that inadequate wages have on the health and morals of Oklahoma’s families?
A number of things have changed to shift the power from employees to “perpetuities and monopolies” and the effect is devastating. The sole policy goal of the state Legislature over the past decade has been to make Oklahoma more “business friendly.”
Gov. Mary Fallin’s June 22 press release touted Oklahoma’s continued efforts to “position itself well for business.” It cited a Chief Executive magazine article where Oklahoma had moved from 18th to 17th as the “Best State for Business.” What Gov. Fallin did not tout was the finding by the magazine that all is not well in Oklahoma and as a state is one of the most depressed visited.
Perhaps a return to our roots would improve our state. A goal of making Oklahoma better for its citizens would be welcomed. Maybe doing anything for its citizens would be welcomed.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House