Today is Labor Day. End of the recognized summer, though most kids are already back in school and for us adults summer doesn’t carry the same weight as it used to. Labor Day is about celebrating the social and economic achievements of workers. First proposed and promoted by the labor unions of the late 1800s, it became a celebrated official holiday under President Cleveland and in its infancy was organized with parades, speeches and picnics.
It became a day of mall sales and general retail bargains sometime later I suppose. While I can’t see James Cash Penny, founder of JC Penny eager to take a day off, the day off for everyone else would be a chance for him to work harder so perhaps he was okay with it.
“I do not believe in excuses. I believe in hard work as the prime solvent of life's problems.”
The late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of explosive growth in the US (even with a depression in 1983). Men like JC Penny, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Nathan Straus and many more were building businesses and empires, America was buying and settling more land than at any point since Jamestown and as a nation we were making the sorts of gains not seen by many nations still in their infancy. This was a time when American Exceptionalism and hard work were hand in hand. Now, there isn’t a name mentioned free of controversy. Men like Andrew Carnegie have been demonized by some and since history is largely written by those with the greatest stake in its telling, we sometimes view the past through the lens of today. Hindsight gives us the opportunity to judge without having to experience. Is empire a bad word? Should one be demonized for being the best at what they did? Is success in business not measured by assets and profits? Labor Day, in my mind, is exemplified by men like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt before them.
“I have always served the public to the best of my ability. Why? Because, like every other man, it is to my interest to do so.”
Empires are built by the worker, guided by the managers and envisioned by the owners. Not a single length of track could have been laid without the worker. Not a single spike driven in without the hammer. Not a single locomotive driven across the country without men like Dr. Thomas Durant and Charles Crocker. Labor Day is indeed about the worker; but it’s not just about the wage earning worker, it’s acreate the work that we identify as celebrating. Without the minds of the inventor, there is no industry. Without the work of the owner, there is no organization, no opportunity and no Labor Day to celebrate.
We have grown so large, so comfortable as a nation that the demonizing of profit has become engrained in our collective conscience. Those men and women running empires today are demonized (sometimes rightly so) as only being interested in profits…as if businesses are started with the sole intention being failure? By my mind, my will and my work, I create a product, an idea or a process. I will provide either a good, or a service. This creates a job. My product has a price; that price is a reflection not only of the material cost but also of the worth of my time and energy. The customer exchanges their money, which is a direct representation of the worth of their time and energy for that product. We both profit. If enough people come to me for that which I sell, I may hire employees. This is how every business, every empire and every demonized company begins.
Worth for worth.
Hard work used to be admired, and I understand in a way it still is; however these days it seems that the more social the work the more it is admired; the more industrial the more it is shunned. Someone will be amazed by the steel worker’s bravery and resolve in the photographs by Lewis Hine as the Empire State Building came to life, yet look down on the construction worker of today, the garbage man, the van of painters, the truck of grounds keepers. We don’t look at hard work the same way anymore, not as a nation.
Well, I still celebrate the worker, just as much as I celebrate the creator, the owner and the man rich from the profits of his worth. In my industry I guess they are often one in the same. I think about the ingenuity of companies like Magpul, Two Vets Arms, Unity Tactical, CMC Triggers and High Speed Gear; the work and customer service of Noveske, 556 Tactical, Glock and Jones Tactical. As a business owner I am impressed by the work of Austin Weiss, Rob Tran, Kerry Davis, Willie Robertson, Dustin Ellerman, Ebbs at Haus of Guns, Steve Aryan at Grey Fox Industries, Ben at Ar15news.com and Zeke and Marty from Talking Lead. As an Instructor I wouldn’t be where I am without the hard work and contributions of men like Dr. James Williams, Ken Good, Larry Vickers, Clint Smith, Benjamin Samuel Bloom and Dan Gray.
As an industry, we still recognize personal relationships and putting in our worth; that’s what Labor Day is about. At least, that’s what it is about for me.
Happy Labor Day. Go create something.