Labor Day: Celebrating Opportunity

“Isn’t it sad that we have a job where we spend two 2 weeks avoiding the stuff we have to do fifty week a year?” – Seth Godin, Tribes

Almost 15 years ago now, a fellow student at the German design school I was attending, purchased a run-down flat. When he wasn’t focused his design degree – he was renovating the flat. With school Monday through Friday – his core renovation days were the weekend.

Well, Saturday.

The neighbors would complain if he used power tools on Sunday.

At the time, I was also surprised by the number of unfamiliar public holidays
German shopkeepers observed. Their frequency caught me unprepared more than a couple of times. While closed can be a cultural benefit – having the option to be open for business is a competitive advantage.

Here in the States, 12.4% of the workforce – 16.1 million people – belong to a union.

Over the past 24 years as union membership has dropped by a 1/3, real compensation has risen by 1/3.

union membership vs real compensation

“The problem with unions is not all that dissimilar to that posed by entrenched management: Once they win comfortable contracts, they often become impediments to the kind of innovation and flexibility essential to success in today’s economy.” – Wall Street Journal, Opinion, Sept 29, 2007

This Labor Day – as an entire family – we headed to the mall to purchase some new school shoes for the kids. On the way home we grabbed a soup and some sandwiches. The stores were open and the shopkeepers were as eager to help as any other Monday. If I understand U.S. labor laws correctly – everyone working today did so – by choice. Their employer provided them the opportunity and they took advantage of it.

Maybe their politics don’t mesh with organized labor. Maybe they were still protesting the outcome of the Pullman Strike. Maybe they find it ironic. I suspect for the vast majority of them – the additional dollars were more valuable than non-work-related plans.

Yes, I did some client work while the kids were napping, and will continue after I finish this post and clean up the dinner dishes.

The ability for a single individual to make the decision to work on Labor Day is why the U.S. is still the land of opportunity.