Archive for August, 2014

Labor Day

Labor Day is upon us once again. Unfortunately, it has come to mean mostly the end of summer and the start of school. It was originally to provide recognition for the men and women who operated our enormous industrial machine. Rallies were held in Pittsburg, Detroit, Chicago and other cities that were the center of so much unionized livelihood for American workers. Mayors, governors and presidents came to these events and mingled and spoke. Today, the massive steel mills along the Ohio around Pittsburg, the automobile manufacturing plants in Detroit, the shoe manufacturing plants and cloth milling plants in New England are simply some of the production facilities that are shuttered. In some cases they have also been torn down. Many of the corporations that operated these production facilities have not only transferred their production overseas, but they are in the process of transferring their headquarters with their finances also.

So, Labor Day really means little beyond the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. It strongly resembles Presidents’ Day which was once two separate holidays celebrating the birthdays of presidents Washington and Lincoln and now is one day with all presidents lumped in. Somehow I don’t feel like getting up for a collection that includes Harding and Nixon.

Whereas Labor Day is the result of pressure from organized labor to recognize the work of ordinary Americans, President’s Day is the result of pressure from commercial organizations to provide them with a single day on which they could focus their sales advertising.

With so much work being transferred out of this country to take advantage of cheap labor and the diversification of “new” work opportunities, will Labor Day ever recapture its focus on the American Worker?

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What’s In The Future?

This question provides a snappy title to an article that can provide no real answers. In my lifetime we have gone from vast unemployment in a depression to great economic development and concomitant employment following a massive war in which great damage was inflicted on the rest of the developed world. Manufacturing and its associated employment grew in this country radically until we began to realize that improvements in how things were made required fewer workers at the same time we could make more than we could sell. Then began the move of manufacturing overseas for cheaper labor. More things, cheaper prices, fewer workers. This is a familiar story.

Beginning in the 90s, authors began to take notice of what this change was doing to our economy and society and where these changes, broken down, might lead us. A number of scholars got the recession right, if not its timing. Since the recession, the reading market has been flooded with books and articles on the whys and wherefores of this reaction to economic changes.

The best book I have read, I am by no means familiar with all, is The Lights In The Tunnel (2009) by Martin Ford. After five years, his assessment seems to me to be still on track. He describes the problems pretty much as others have done. It is when he moves to the part about what will happen (and can happen) next that he deviates from others I have read.

After working his way through two chapters on working our way through human labor to increasing use of machines, he moves to a long explanation of using computers in production, consolidation of economic activity and increasing activity to find more ways to reduce costs and increase profits. While this is not new, the information is well organized and well written. I had a pretty good understanding of the complex interaction of factors. He then moves on to transition in which more machines and less (to none) human labor will be needed in most of the economic process. Finally, he comes to what will happen to work for people around the world. His ideas are innovative and thought provoking. Time will tell about how much of his thinking will/can work out, but where Congress is in the mix the answers probably won’t be what he had in mind

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Death

Death is something that happens to someone else, and you are sorry, which you are, you say so, ask if there is anything you can do and find out where the funeral will be. Unless it happens to your family, then you don’t walk away. If it is sudden, which ours was, you find that closing up a life means dealing with a lot of people and activities that you had never had to be concerned with. Moving the body, dealing with the government, filling out forms, arranging the funeral, leaning on the church for help, notifying people and things we haven’t thought of yet. How do you spread the word? How do you deal with friends? How do you fit into the family organization that is trying to turn death into a funeral and then into a future life minus one? This is just the beginning of the list.

While you are involved in the mechanics, your emotions keep pushing their way into the way of your detached, rational approach to coping with the problem. Today we attended the funeral of a friend and emotions completely overwhelmed my composure. I am sure it will be worse at our service.

How do you deal with shared stories from people who knew your son in earlier days. One story began by saying he had lost an older brother and knew what we were going through. He went on to describe how our son had influenced him when he was a beginner on our pool swimming team. He saw him as bigger than life and doing all sorts of fascinating things; someone he wanted to be like.

How do you deal with “absence” emotions. You have seen your son for bits and pieces of time for all of his adult life. You talked weekly and kept up with family, job changes, big events; the stuff of life. You don’t do this in person, so you have a feeling of distance while still being connected. Then comes death and you find a lifetime of memories and emotions gripping your soul. Death is not to be understood.

Rest in peace Robert

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