Monday, September 05, 2005

Perceptions about Labor 

Today is Labor Day in the US -- the last official day of summer vacation. Tomorrow, it is back to work and to school for children who have not returned already.

Labor Day is an ironic holiday on which many work. All stores are open, as well as fast food outlets and gas stations, etc. In other words, the people for whom the holiday was meant are the ones who can't take time off. But, it is the perception that we honor labor that counts. So often in the US, perception means more than fact.

As a public relations person, it is important to distinguish as much as possible the differences and to highlight facts. It is fact that importance of labor does not equate with pay. The most important jobs of all -- mother and father -- are unpaid. There is no money that can compensate parents for what they do well. Among the least important jobs are overpaid -- finance and investing -- where money is made by handling money and not by producing anything. Workers in textiles and food have historically, and even now, been underpaid yet where would we be without clothes and food?

There are some signs that pay inequity in America is changing. Among the most disturbing for those of us who have degrees is that the pay for college graduates has dropped five years in a row in the US. Postgraduates have apparently been able to maintain their standard of living but one wonders how long it will be before that changes too. (What can one do with a masters degree in English literature? I have one, and I have never figured it out.) It is also a fact that labor in manufacturing has declined in America and will never recover because in order to remain competitive, surviving manufacturers have had to replace people with machines. (This is true worldwide except in developing countries like China and India.)

I have worried for some time about what people will do in a post-industrial, wired society. People are working but it looks artificial to have millions laboring in low-paid retail to sell to others serving in equally low-paid fast food jobs. That is why discount stores have done so well and why American society looks again like a society divided between wealthy and working poor with a middle class shrinking in between. Of course, my perceptions may well be wrong, but there is one fact that isn't. The internet has created a global economy that everyone senses, but few understand. America is not yet competitive in that economy, and there is no guarantee it ever will be. Government can encourage change, but it can not force people to act differently. The economy itself has to find a path out of the conundrum in the form of millions of entrepreneurs, managers and laborers who adjust day by day to what they sense is happening around them. Labor Day should be celebrating this change and not the last day at the beach.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?