Saturday, September 4, 2010

Not laboring on Labor Day

Labor Day was officially established as a federal holiday by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1984, an action which was seen as an antidote to the violent government/labor relations of that period. The original concept was to celebrate the strength of the labor unions and to honor the industrious workers of America. Over the years the holiday lost its original focus and more recently has become the “unofficial” end of summer and the start of a new academic year.

This year, for many in the United States, Labor Day will be an anachronism, a day to celebrate workers when more than 9% of them are unemployed, caught in the fallout from the just-ended recession. There will be one or two lofty speeches, generally ignored, and some political puffery, especially in an election year. But on the whole, for many of us unaffected by Hurricane Earl, it will just be a very pleasant long weekend that marks the end of a too long baseball season (if your team is out of the playoffs) and the start of the long awaited return of college and professional football, with all the optimism an unblemished record brings.

Over the years I have editorialized about the plight of the worker in this country's manufacturing industries as companies moved to more automated practices that tried the capability level of their workers, but also displaced many who were made redundant.

China, one of the world’s most vibrant manufacturing sectors, is undergoing its own wrenching labor unrest as workers are winning concessions from factory owners by demanding more equitable salaries as they see a burgeoning middle class, which they cannot join, enjoying a more prosperous way of life. Other countries are taking advantage of this labor unrest, and industry in the Asian nations is flexing its muscle to offer alternatives to manufacturing in China.

In Europe, the engine that pumps the economy, Germany, is bemoaning the loss of labor as transient workers that filled the shops have returned to their native countries, which in turn are bidding to be part of the industrial market and to compete ironically with Germany.

I can’t recall a recent Labor Day when there has been so much stress in the global workplace. I’ve been sitting on the shore of a pleasant body of water located in New Hampshire watching others enjoy the warm water that always seems more delightful in September here in New England. It’s so peaceful that it is hard to work up the energy needed to editorialize about Labor Day. So exercising my rights to a “day of rest and celebration,” I’ve decided to pass on any pontificating about happenings in manufacturing and to just enjoy the end of summer.

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