Labor Day, 2005: One America, Two Views

By September 5, 2005General

It’s hard to imagine a worse Labor Day for the AFL-CIO than Labor Day 2005. We’ve lived through many Labor Days with them but this year is especially bad. For this year, their usual non-celebration of declining numbers is eclipsed by the non-celebration of their split, months shy of their 50th Anniversary. For those still in the AFL-CIO, they are now on a ship that is not only sinking but rudderless. For those unions who fled, launched in their lifeboat (to continue the analogy), they have not yet convinced anyone that they will survive and thus far are showing signs only of cannibalism. In the place of real good news, the AFL offers fake good news, i.e., polling numbers that show they ought to be growing. What the heck — in the absence of real growth, it’s the next best thing. A positive outlook in the face of data that supports it is optimism. A positive outlook in the face of data to the contrary is delusion. Their Labor Day message once again is borrowed from Upton Sinclair. It’s is a message of despair, of the declining hopes and fortunes of workers and of the continuing struggle between labor and management. How quaint, how sad.

For our part, the NAM Labor Day Report told a different tale, one of an economy with an unemployment rate of 4.9%. All is not rosey, as we have lost some 3 million manufacturing jobs in this country over the past few years. We appear to have leveled off, but leveling off is not a battle cry. We want to, expect to grow. We’ve added a few manufacturing jobs of late, but we have far to go. And as we said in our Labor Day Report, the way is clear. We need to emphasize math and science education, reform visa and immigration policies to attract those trained in math and science and increase federal support for basic research. The innovation deficiency is the real problem, not the competition with low-wage countries, a battle as old as the hills, and one we’ve always won.

The way to prosperity is clear if we are willing to put the pieces in place to get us there. There is a direct correlation between education and earnings. The more education, the more training, the more people will make. As we are reminded watching the population of New Orleans displaced by the hurricane, the best way out of poverty is a good job and that begins with skills.

Finally, there is one more thing to celebrate this Labor Day. Watching the aftermath of the hurricane unfold, the outpouring of charity from America’s workforce has been heartening. As thousands of workers have been displaced, many millions of workers have stepped up to the plate, dug deep and contributed to ease the burden of their fellow man. Companies like Toyota are matching all their employees’ contributions to relief efforts and they have poured in. We have only begun, have far to go, but what a fantastic start.

On Labor Day we celebrate work and the prosperity it brings. This Labor Day we pause to reflect on the bounty our work has brought us and to ponder the work that lies ahead.