Labor Day: We've got work to do.

09/07/2010 04:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The slow recovery continues to press, and depress, America. In my world of the human-owned business, far from Wall Street, labor (organized and not) and management are suffering alike. The announcement of 67,000 new private sector jobs -- coming, as they always do, mostly from human-owned companies -- is a small encouragement as the Labor Day weekend begins.

Of the major national holidays Labor Day gets the prize for muddled meaning. Maybe our wistful good-byes to summer get in the way, but not many folks will pause to consider why we have a national day-off to celebrate labor. Too many of the few that do think about it will fall into two camps that generally despise each other.

The U.S. Department of Labor tells us that Labor Day "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 DOL doesn't tell us that Labor Day was rushed through Congress by President Grover Cleveland to appease America's labor movement a mere six days after his controversial use of federal troops forcibly ended the bloody Pullman strike that paralyzed rail traffic, and thus the country, during the summer of 1894.

Cleveland's gesture didn't work for him -- his Democratic party was slaughtered in the 1894 midterm election -- or help the labor movement that much either. Many needed reforms, such as reasonable working hours and safe working conditions, now taken for granted would not be enacted for decades--decades that would include the infamous Triangle Factory fire and Colorado's own Ludlow Massacre.

So maybe a lesson in working for change is among Labor Day's messages to modern America. Change is slow and uneven, so take a long view. We seem to need a crisis, or even crises, to move change along, so don't waste an opportunity when it presents itself. Change is ongoing process, so don't be disheartened when it takes us awhile before we get it right.

There's not much the average American worker or average American business owner can do to change the macro economy. Those of us fortunate enough to have jobs can, however, do much at a micro level, in our own businesses, that cumulatively will change our nation's circumstances. We can improve our companies to the point where each can add one, ten or even fifty new hires. That's how those 67,000 jobs were created from in August.

There are about 30 million small businesses in our country. If only five percent of us (that 5% includes you and me, right?) committed to improving our companies so that by New Year's Eve we can hire at least one person, that's 1,500,000 new jobs. If we do that, then maybe the other 95% and the Wall Street types will drop the bunker mentality and join us.

So I hope everyone enjoyed the day off; we've got work to do.