According to Wikipedia, Labor Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers.
So then what exactly are we celebrating? Is it just another day off? Just another day away from the dreaded workplace?
Seth Godin weighed in on Labor Day today and said:
Whatever happened to Labor?
Not Labor with a capital L, as in organized labor unions. I mean labor as in skilled workers solving interesting problems. I mean craftspeople that use their hands, their backs, and their heads to do important work.
Labor was the key part of the manufacturing revolution. Industrialists needed smart, dedicated, trained laborers to solve interesting problems. Putting things together took more than pressing a few buttons, it took initiative and skill and care. Labor improvised.
It took thirteen years to build the Brooklyn Bridge and more than twenty-five laborers died during its construction. There was no systematic manual to follow. The people who built it largely figured it out as they went.
The Singer sewing machine, one of the most complex devices of its century, had each piece fitted by hand by skilled laborers.
Sometime after this, once Henry Ford ironed out that whole assembly line thing, and things changed. Factories got far more complex and there was less room for improvisation as things changed scale.
The boss said, “Do what I say. Exactly what I say.”
Amazingly, labor said something similar. They said to the boss, “Tell us exactly what to do.” In many cases, work rules were instituted, flexibility went away and labor insisted on doing exactly what they had agreed to do, no more, no less. At the time, this probably felt like power. Now we know what a mistake it was.
In a world where labor does exactly what it’s told to do, it will be devalued. Obedience is easily replaced, and thus one worker is as good as another. And devalued labor will be replaced by machines or cheaper alternatives. We say we want insightful and brilliant teachers, but then we insist they do their labor precisely according to a manual invented by a committee…
Companies that race to the bottom in terms of the skill or cost of their labor end up with nothing but low margins. The few companies that are able to race to the top, that can challenge workers to bring their whole selves–their human selves–to work, on the other hand, can earn stability and growth and margins. Improvisation still matter, if you set out to solve interesting problems.
The future of labor isn’t with less education, less OSHA and more power to the boss. The future of labor belongs to enlightened, passionate people on both sides of the plant; people who want to do work that matters.
That’s what Labor Day is about, not the end of a summer on the beach.
Seth’s right. The world of labor has changed. The future of labor has changed. Seth say’s the future belongs to the enlightened, passionate people, doing work that matters.
I found one of those people.
I received this email a few weeks back from Bill Henniger, the owner of Rogue Fitness. Rogue Fitness sells products designed and manufactured in the USA. Bill Henniger is creating jobs, lots of jobs (about 260 American Jobs). Bill Henniger is a Linchpin. But Bill is also frustrated. He’s tried of hearing excuses, and he’s willing to say it.
There was a time when we made things in the United States and we were damn proud of them. We designed, cast, forged, machined and polished steel. When I started this business, I couldn’t understand why we could not cast American Made Kettlebells, how is this possible? Well apparently it is possible because the fine people in Rhode Island are making them by the hundreds for us.
It is high time for all of us to begin building and inventing again, time to make things with your hands. I am tired of the excuses. Look at the talented people around you and figure out how to make things happen. It is time for a second Industrial Revolution. Is there a factory in your home town that used to make something? Where did all those skilled folks go? These people can sew shoes or build skyscrapers, but for now, they are doing nothing.
Time to be entrepreneurial and make something. Go find a journeyman.
Bill has a reason to celebrate today.
So here’s my take on it.
This is Labor Day. It’s a day to celebrate the social and economic achievements of workers. I like to consider Labor Day a fresh start.
Next year at this time, celebrate your achievements as a worker. Really celebrate your achievements.
To do that, you’re going to have to invest yourself into labor. It’s going to have to be a labor of love. Do whatever it takes to do work that matters. Do whatever it takes to do work that’s meaningful; work that’s built on on a foundation of both compassion and passion.
Do that and next year by this time, truly celebrate Labor Day. You’ll have earned that day at the beach.