Labor Day

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Do you know why we celebrate Labor Day? How it got started? I didn’t. Not that it matters. Much like President’s Day, it’s become more about selling mattresses and a three day weekend, but…

According to the U. S. Department of Labor:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country…

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

Now that I’ve educated myself as to the origins of Labor Day, I’m wondering if this day should continue to be a national holiday. Seth Godin has a thought provoking article on his blog today. In Back to (the wrong) school he writes:

Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence–it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child labor wages for longer-term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was never about teaching kids or creating scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?

Nobel-prize winning economist Michael Spence makes this really clear: there are tradable jobs (making things that could be made somewhere else, like building cars, designing chairs and answering the phone) and non-tradable jobs (like mowing the lawn or cooking burgers). Is there any question that the first kind of job is worth keeping in our economy?

Alas, Spence reports that from 1990 to 2008, the US economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

Do you see the disconnect here? Every year, we churn out millions of of workers who are trained to do 1925 labor.

I would encourage you to follow the link and read the rest of the article, especially if you have children in public (or even private) schools. Mr. Godin makes a short but compelling argument against the status quo.

With national unemployment over 9% and actual unemployment numbers much worse, the idea of celebrating the working man and woman by taking a day off of work just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Especially when millions of Americans would much rather be working today if they only had a job to go to.

Happy Labor Day! (insert sideways smiley face here)

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5 Responses to “Labor Day”

  1. Janet Oberholtzer September 5, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    I didn’t know how Labor Day got started – thanks for the lesson.

    I do agree that the way we educate children is stuck in years past, which is why the homeschool movement is growing. But homeschooling is freaking hard work and it doesn’t work for everyone (I did it for a time, but then burned out) but thankfully there are also more alternative schooling options available now. Like cyber and/or charter schools … where there’s more options for the child’s education, but the parent doesn’t have to do all the teaching.

  2. Jason September 5, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    I would love to be working today.

  3. floyd September 5, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Like most things in life, what started as an admirable cause, has turned into giant slush fund of political bribery. Every hour of work by one of our citizens and the unions get a kick back to purchase more politicians.

    The country that was formed my non-conformists has turned into the country of the highest percentage of conformists. The term Kindergarten literally means “child garden”.

    Hitler was quoted as saying something like, and this is a loose paraphrase, due to time constraints, because I am working today, “If I can control the schools then I can control the minds of the people.” Too much power is given by us as parents to the schools and the government to control our kids.

    One more rant, Hillary Clinton actually said, “children are property of the state.” How scary is that? Even scarier are the fools who will trade their freedom for security. In the end if a person is willing to sell their freedom for security, soon they will lose both. I think Eisenhower said something to that effect.

  4. Robin Arnold September 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    I was just thinking the same thing about Labor Day, what’s the point exactly? How does it apply to me and the workers around me, because I sure feel like it hasn’t, not this year, not in year’s past. Thanks for the post.

  5. Jake September 13, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    I wrote my thesis on a topic that’s incredibly similar to this! The eduction system doesn’t teach, it passes worldviews, opinions and everything else on by people who have the power of “passing grades” to people who “need to pass.” It’s pathetic because we really do become a bunch of lemmings in the process! Self-educated humans are going to turn out to be the ones who break the rules and do it in such a way that 1- they get rich 2- they go to jail 3- they’re just weird but POTENTIALLY happy….

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