Labor Day, a federal holiday enacted into law in 1894, will be observed this year on September 3 (the first Monday in September) as a day when we celebrate the American worker’s contribution to the economic and social vitality of our country. This year’s celebration is set against a background of a record-breaking, long-standing recession, which has been accompanied by a historically high and intractable unemployment not seen since the Great Depression.
These sober circumstances provide us also with an opportunity to reflect on the importance of innovation in the workplace, on the critical necessity to develop a technologically savvy workforce, for building and maintaining state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, improving labor-management relations and tempering unrealistic expectations about what each other should contribute and finally, for renewing our commitment and redoubling our efforts to regain world pre-eminence as exporters, not just consumers of products manufactured elsewhere.
Over the years, reckless decisions by both public- and private-sector leaders have undermined the American worker’s hard-earned economic progress, driven by greed and political expediency precipitated a financial collapse of global dimensions, created an unprecedented trade deficit, increased our foreign debt to dangerous levels and created budget deficits at all levels of government. As result, experienced workers have been laid off or have stopped looking for work, young people with freshly-minted college degrees cannot find work, and tens of millions of American families find it challenging to meet a monthly budget that covers basic expenses in transportation, utilities, food, shelter, healthcare and college. It will not be easy to correct years of accumulated errors of judgment, greed, and plain unlawful behavior, but we must start now to ensure that future generations of Americans will continue to enjoy the prosperity that our predecessor bequeathed to us.
There is another reason to celebrate Labor Day. The right to organize and bargain collectively is a fundamental American value. Through collective bargaining, workers have won important concessions, which have resulted in significant improvements in their standard of living and in greater job satisfaction and productivity in the workplace.
This year’s Labor Day should mark the beginning of our second century of political and socio-economic preeminence among nations, a privileged position that our generation inherited, and one that we must restore and preserve for the benefit of those who will follow us.