The American Worker
Today, we are ostensibly celebrating the American Worker, but I wonder if it should be a day of mourning instead. In the United States, Labor Day is a federal holiday that is fixed on the first Monday of September. While its beginning involved a Knights of Labor Parade in 1882, it took several years before Labor Day became a recognized holiday. Today, it is generally regarded as a day of rest, but in the past it was a time for political demonstrations, some of which became violent. Of interest, President Grover Cleveland once considered making 1 May our annual day of celebration, but that would have aligned the observance with the occurrence of the infamous Haymarket Riots and associated the movement with socialists and anarchists. In part, September was selected as a means of disassociating our celebration from that of European socialist movements.
Today, as in the past, Labor Day involves such events as family and community picnics, fireworks displays, and short vacations before students returned to school. By custom, Labor Day also marks that point in the year where white is no longer worn as the principle color of clothing, which signals the approach of winter.
Americans observe Labor Day as a celebration of the contributions of working men and women in the development of a strong, vibrant economy; but it evolved through an on-going conflict between workers and business leaders, who for many years, demanded 10-14 hour working days, utilized children as a source of cheap labor, and maintained working conditions that resulted in death and serious injury of hundreds of working men and women. We should commemorate the contributions of the American worker in our present day economic success, but at the same time, we must also realize that labor unions took a turn toward our history’s dark side.
Gaining tremendous power after 1948, labor unions aligned themselves with the criminal underworld, became corrupt, cheated workers, and often encouraged labor strikes when doing so was clearly not in the best interests of their members. As unions insisted on higher wages and improved benefits for workers, American companies (whose motivation has always been profit) began looking around for alternatives to the increasing cost of American labor. This of course explains the exportation of jobs to other countries, where unskilled labor is cheap, and taxation is favorable to manufacturing. For some reason, labor unions (or their members) never quite understood the effect of increased wages and improved benefits on the cost of goods and services to themselves, as consumers.
The United States has already transitioned away from its earlier role as an Industrial power. In this post-industrial age, few goods are produced exclusively in the United States. For example, when one disassembles a brand new automobile and lays it out on a large concrete pad, we learn that only 40% of that vehicle’s parts are produced within the United States, even if the final product is assembled in foreign owned plants located here. When one stops to consider our present economy, it is startling to realize, given that wealth is based on production, Americans are producing very few goods. Rather, the largest percentage of the American economy is allocated to the so-called “service industries.” Service industries include such things as financial services, health care, real estate, transportation, retail activities, government (education), and tourism — and it is interesting to note that for the most part, none of these service sector industries lend themselves to unionization.
As the global economy continues to emerge and redefine itself, perhaps it is time to ask if our system of education is properly aligned to our future labor requirements. I have argued for quite some time that our “one size fits all” education system does not meet the needs or desires of 70% of our public high school students. For example, while most students do not want to attend college, they are not being taught any meaningful skills in high school. Instead, they are being forced to participate in pre-college curriculum; this may well explain high failure rates and disciplinary problems in America’s public high schools. While the socialist mentality prevails in American education, has anyone considered the value of a college degree when everyone has one?
In European countries, skilled workers are highly respected and well paid. Automobile mechanics in Germany are treated as well as physicians. People who are carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers, brick masons, steel workers, or who labor in manufacturing centers are a valuable and intrinsic part of the overall economy. In America, students are getting the opposite signal: such vocations are not valuable because such skills are not taught as part of our secondary curriculum. In my view, this elitist attitude among socialist educators is a slap in the face to our parents and grandparents who, without a college degree, provided a comfortable standard of living for their families. The fact is that Americans who work as mechanics, electricians, and welders earn a much high wage than do most college professors, and their contribution to the U. S. economy is greater.
As we celebrate Labor Day, think about where we are heading as a nation that has a long history of appreciation for blue-collar workers. Our admiration for the working class should extend well beyond setting one day aside each year so that we can have a picnic with our families. If we truly appreciate the working man and woman, then we should be thinking about preserving this tradition by re-examining our education system and putting an end to the socialist/elitist attitudes that governs it. If we truly admire the American worker, then let us all become the champion of vocational and technical training that will allow our children to become honorable members of society — yes, even without a college degree.
The Wide Awakes