We need Labor Day because we need to remember where we came from and how we got here. In an era of quarterly reports and a steadfast focus on shareholder value, it's easy to forget the unseen laborers, but it was labor that broke into the stony ground at Jamestown and built tobacco into the strongest economy of its time. And from that point on, labor has forged our cultural and economic identity in America, so much that we routinely celebrate the heroics of the laborer in our songs, folk tales, and films.
From John Henry to Henry Ford; from laying down railroad track to hoisting up skyscrapers into the sky; from the factories that ended the Holocaust to the ones that prepare food aid - it is labor that propels us forward. So, why do we need Labor Day?
Because it's too easy to forget the sweat that propels our economy forward when that sweat occurs in the shadows of our economy. That isn't to say that labor is less the foundation and more like the fringe of our modern economy. It's just that labor is not celebrated by our media as much as "savvy CEOs" are exalted, always on the backs of others, but frequently lauded as the individual successor.
We need to take today and remember that people are important, that what goes on in the background of capitalism should be at the forefront of our minds. We failed to appreciate labor at many points in our rise to power here in the United States and paid the price time after time. No greater example exists than our failure to free ourselves from slave labor until blood was shed in the Civil War.
I bring this example up to illustrate a point: the farther consumers get from labor, the more tenuous our overall economic success becomes and the faster the fabrics of our society fray. For the price of weak labor is our peace. Henry Ford's belief that his laborers should be paid enough to be his customers might sound like a platitude now because it's been the mantra of pro-labor arguments to encourage more equitably-minded CEOs, but it's still true. Very few people can own the company, so we must support a vibrant labor force or our customer base disappears.
Unions are getting a bad rap these days as cities and states continue to face budget shortfalls. But we can't let our temporary shortfalls gut the equalizing voice of labor. If we let today's crisis weaken the strength of tomorrow's labor force, then we are limiting our own potential and trading corporate success for our humanity.
This Labor Day, let's become more conscious of what we buy and who we buy it from. Let's become more attentive to the hyperbole of politicians searching out scapegoats and remember: we need strong unions to ensure strong futures and stronger communities. Corporations CAN succeed with strong unions. It's been proven in the past and we need to remember that beyond this Labor Day.
I know I will remember that a sustainable economy is a balanced economy, where corporate profits are recognized as the products of ingenuity and a strong labor force. Together, we are stronger and move forward faster.