LABOR Day represents a fundamental measuring point in the internal clock of most Americans. It marks summer's end, the beginning of ``fall'' - in advance of autumn's technical start later in September. It means the start of a new school year. And it is the last major seasonal holiday until Thanksgiving. Yet, Labor Day, in its historical connotation, marks a far more important divide. It recalls the break between periods in US and global history when workers were seen as mere instruments of an impersonal industrial and agricultural setting, and that time - roughly towards the end of the last century - when workers were increasingly valued for their individual contributions. Labor Day continues to do the latter - honor all persons who labor, whether on an assembly line, the farm, or in a modern office.
The state of the economy, whatever its problems, also deserves a word of appreciation at this time of year. Over 13 million new jobs have been created in the US during the last decade. The unemployment rate has declined to 6 percent. Millions of women have joined the workforce. Urban centers continue to absorb workers relocating from the countryside - an adjustment that has been going on for generations.
Despite talk about their declining productivity and competitiveness, Americans remain highly motivated and work-oriented. Consider the tradespeople that most of us have met at one time or other - the plumber who is a quiet perfectionist; the dressmaker or tailor who, pin in mouth, insists on getting the cut of the cloth ``just right''; the assembly line worker who turns out a car with as much pride as in Detroit's early years.
Still, the workforce must squarely meet certain challenges:
The union movement needs modernizing - booting the rascals out, where necessary, and adding more democratic election processes. Organized labor now represents less than 18 percent of the workforce. Yet in a society of megabuck corporations and electronic assembly lines, the need grows greater for voices that speak for the individual worker.
Americans should become better versed in foreign cultures and languages, as noted in the editorial above, to better understand global business practices and to advance in the changing world marketplace.
The millions of persons left on the sidelines of prosperity cannot be ignored. A rich society can find the means and motivation to help its less prosperous members.
Labor Day is a moment to honor those who labor and toil - and to remember those who would like to work but have been left waiting for a job.