Monday, September 05, 2005

The American Worker

Posted by Mustang with the permission of Always on Watch.

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.

Cross posted:
Social Sense
The Wide Awakes


At 9/05/2005 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations"

Of the Accumulation of Capital, or of Productive and Unproductive Labour

There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed: there is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labour. Thus the labour of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master's profit. The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing. Though the manufacturer has his wages advanced to him by his master, he, in reality, costs him no expence, the value of those wages being generally restored, together with a profit, in the improved value of the subject upon which his labour is bestowed. But the maintenance of a menial servant never is restored. A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers: he grows poor by maintaining a multitude of menial servants. The labour of the latter, however, has its value, and deserves its reward as well as that of the former. But the labour of the manufacturer fixes and realizes itself in some particular subject or vendible commodity, which lasts for some time at least after that labour is past. It is, as it were, a certain quantity of labour stocked and stored up to be employed, if necessary, upon some other occasion. That subject, or what is the same thing, the price of that subject, can afterwards, if necessary, put into motion a quantity of labour equal to that which had originally produced it. The labour of the menial servant, on the contrary, does not fix or realize itself in any particular subject or vendible commodity. His services generally perish in the very instant of their performance, and seldom leave any trace or value behind them for which an equal quantity of service could afterwards be procured.

The labour of some of the most respectable orders in the society is, like that of menial servants, unproductive of any value, and does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject; or vendible commodity, which endures after that labour is past, and for which an equal quantity of labour could afterwards be procured. The sovereign, for example, with all the officers both of justice and war who serve under him, the whole army and navy, are unproductive labourers. They are the servants of the public, and are maintained by a part of the annual produce of the industry of other people. Their service, how honourable, how useful, or how necessary soever, produces nothing for which an equal quantity of service can afterwards be procured. The protection, security, and defence of the commonwealth, the effect of their labour this year will not purchase its protection, security, and defence for the year to come. In the same class must be ranked, some both of the gravest and most important, and some of the most frivolous professions: churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds; players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers, &c. The labour of the meanest of these has a certain value, regulated by the very same principles which regulate that of every other sort of labour; and that of the n oblest and most useful, 50 produces nothing which could afterwards purchase or procure an equal quantity of labour. Like the declamation of the actor, the harangue of the orator, or the tune of the musician, the work of all of them perishes in the very instant of its production.

Both productive and unproductive labourers, and those who do not labour at all, are all equally maintained by the annual produce of the land and labour of the country. This produce, how great soever, can never be infinite, but must have certain limits. According, therefore, as a smaller or greater proportion of it is in any one year employed in maintaining unproductive hands, the more in the one case and the less in the other will remain for the productive, and the next year's produce will be greater or smaller accordingly; the whole annual produce, if we except the spontaneous productions of the earth, being the effect of productive labour.


At 9/05/2005 2:03 PM, Blogger Esther said...

Mustang -- great job. Learned a lot.

At 9/05/2005 9:37 PM, Blogger NYgirl said...

What a thoughtful & well informed post. I agree that one of the greatest problems in this country is the lack of respect for work. Part of the reason that the "thug life" & dishonest means of making a living are so glorified is the denigration of blue collar work.

At 9/05/2005 10:42 PM, Anonymous Mustang said...

FJ: I have always been amazed by the insight of Adam Smith. What a genius . . . and clearly, he was writing light years ahead of his time. Mostly, I am amazed by the fact that time does little more than reinforce his intellect.

Semper Fi

At 9/05/2005 10:48 PM, Anonymous Mustang said...

Thank you Esther. I appreciate your kind words; please stop by often.

At 9/05/2005 11:03 PM, Anonymous Mustang said...

NYG: I taught high school for 14 years. Over time, I became completely disenchanted with what is going on in our public school system. While preaching such rhetoric as "every child can learn," the pathetic truth is that our public education system is leaving most kids behind. Their needs are not being met because administrators care more about their careers than they do about meaningful educational programs. In reaction to high failure rates among kids who do not wish to attend college, teachers are being "ordered" to inflate their grades. Teachers who stand up to this lunacy are simply not "renewed" for the following school year.

In many ways, this "one size fits all" education program is one of the worst forms of discrimination I can think of. When administrators cut vo-tech programs in order to fund AP/IB programs, such actions discriminate against kids (mostly from low socio-economic families)who want to learn trade crafts.

I keep wondering how much longer the parents of these kids are going to put up with it. Until they begin demanding appropriate schooling for their kids, they'll never "get it."

Thank you for stopping by.

At 9/06/2005 8:30 PM, Anonymous analyst1 said...

Has anybody noticed that the hard-core capitalists that claim that anything to do with "labor" or "labor unions" is socialism and should be eliminated from society, yet they take the holidays, accept the fringe benefits, vacations, severance pay, cash bonuses, and 40-hour workweeks that were won not by capitalists but by labor?

At 9/06/2005 9:36 PM, Anonymous Mustang said...

There is also a good argument that our public schools are encouraged to cut vo-tech programs because of the absence of strong (non-corrupt) labor unions or trade guilds. In the battle between the socialists, the socialists won.

At 9/06/2005 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anybody noticed that without capitalists, there would be no holidays, fringe benefits, vacations, severance pay, cash bonuses, and 40-hour workweeks? In fact, there would be no jobs, no food, no houses, no tv's, no cars, no "luxuries, and especially no "need" for people to work at all. Wahoo!

Just wonderin' Peace out.


At 9/08/2005 6:50 AM, Anonymous Mustang said...

FJ: I am an advocate of the conflict/cooperative model, in which social progress comes when ideas are in conflict, which then forces us to find a cooperative middle ground. We've seen this in the history of the US labor movement (as well as in other social movements). In the case of US labor, its downfall (and I belive this has been an overall detriment to American society) is directly related to its overall corruption, which for many years went completely unchecked. As a result, the trades have suffered and there is no advocate (e.g., guilds) for ensuring quality trade crafts. And of course, the public school system (which feeds on itself ideologically) has never stepped up to the plate on behalf of students who happen to have the skill sets needed for such occupations.

Thanks for stopping by; I always appreciate your commentaries.

At 9/08/2005 6:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm a firm believer in practicing the industrial arts. Better to educate ones children to be productive members of society, that idle daydreamers. That way they're...


Semper Paratus


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