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Labor Day: Changing our Attitudes

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125 years ago, the very first labor day holiday was celebrated in the state of Oregon. Seven years after that, in 1894, it became a national holiday, born on the back of the burgeoning labor movement fighting for worker's rights at an age when employers in the rapidly growing American industrial sector were somewhat less diligent about their health and safety than they are today.

Now, we face another battle. As labor day approaches, unemployment in the United States continues to hover around 8.3%. Millions have been discouraged by the job market and stopped looking, and in spite of slightly encouraging signs the economy continues to recover from the disastrous banking crisis of 2008, those unemployment numbers don't seem to be coming down.

We have two presidential candidates on the trail and neither of them seem to be talking about the real issues. What happened to all our manufacturing jobs? How do they plan to bring real, well-paying jobs back to America? Do they have a plan for helping industry and workers?

Just like the labor movement of the late 1800s united ordinary workers and citizens together to demand better treatment and conditions, so we need to band together and help each other today. Government will not act, they are too deep in the pockets of the billionaires who have exported our jobs and our long term security to Asia and elsewhere. We hold the keys to our own employment future and the economic security of this country.

It's not too late. We do have a big task ahead of us. But it's not impossible. First of all, people need to get educated about what is happening and why. Earlier on this site, I have talked about how we got into this economic mess we're in and how to get out of it. Consumers truly can affect meaningful change in the world we live in. Buying something is a vote for how it's made, where it's made, and who makes it. Choosing an alternative is a vote for that product. As millions of people change their habits, choosing one product over another, the message is clear to the manufacturers and retailers of those products - we want things that are good for America, and not ones that contribute to the destruction of our future.

Secondly, we seriously need to change our attitudes about education. We have been living in a country where the idea is that everyone should go to college and get a job in finance or whatever the job du jour has happened to be. Of course, everyone should have the chance to go to college. But not everyone is suited for those jobs.

It also leaves some of the most important positions in industry severely understaffed. I own and operate a manufacturing company and can tell you from experience that even in a time of high unemployment like we have today, it is nearly impossible to fill well-paying positions that offer good benefits such as tecnicians, machinists or mold makers because people simple do not want their kids to train for such jobs.

The situation is completely different in places like Germany, the country on the strongest economic footing in Europe today. There is no such divide between "high-class" and "low-class" jobs like we have in America. Nearly as many people there go into trade schools and technical universities and learn a technical profession or trade as there are those who proceed to universities and colleges. There is no stigma attached to those who want to bypass conventional high school and instead attend vocational school, where they can graduate with a job as soon as at age 18. These under-appreciated jobs form the backbone of the economy. The German industrial sector is as strong as ever, and provides them with a hugely functional foundation to build the rest of their economy on.

We need to change our attitudes about what kind of products we buy, and what kind of jobs are good enough for our children. We need to have a serious national discussion on the role of manufacturing and industry in creating national wealth and stability. What better time to do that than on Labor Day, when the worker comes to the fore. If we don't, who's going to be left to celebrate this holiday twenty years from now?