Labor Day Thoughts

This article originally ran in 2017.  This year another Hurricane Dorian threatens our country.  


My ancestors migrated here, including my Native American relatives, and in their own way they have contributed positively to the development of the county. They have been soldiers, teachers, preachers, farmers, bankers, builders and the list goes on. Our nation was formed out of the fires of Revolution –that cost lives, possessions, and even a way of life. America was built on the backs of immigrants, including those forced by slavery to come to our shores.

Labor Day has many meanings, but one meaning is that we must recognize the incredible effort it took to build this great country. We must remember those men and women who came before us and sacrificed for all of us on this day.

President Barack Obama said in his first inaugural address about our settlers: “It has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.”

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it is true that there no longer seems to be a consensus about what it should mean. Our evolution from the margins of society to the forefront of political change is all the more remarkable when we realize we are a melting pot of cultures. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display not only in our urban communities, but increasingly in our rural communities as well.

Today, our country is divided politically. We see conflicts, in our streets and in the media. We see the “us versus them” attitude that prevents us from collectively working to improve our communities, our state, and our nation. Rather than compromise, we choose to not collaborate on hard issues and pass along our problems to our future generations. Lack of leadership, whether at the local, state or federal level, means our problems only grow larger. Anytime a voice is silenced, it eventually finds a place where it can be heard. Unfortunately, too many voices drown out those who offer attainable solutions to real problems.

However, it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize that despite those differences, we have more in common than we can imagine. Nothing brings us closer together as a nation than we face adversity, whether it is a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. “What unites us is far greater than what divides us,” as John F. Kennedy said. Our great strength as a nation comes in our unity, which is the critical component of America’s perseverance.

While we watched Hurricane Harvey batter Texas, Louisiana and other parts of our country, residents continue to struggle with rain, flooding, and destruction. The damage is still not fully comprehensible, and another Hurricane, Irma, is also threatening.

We can see that many American’s have already lost everything – their homes, cherished items and some their very lives. However, the amazing efforts of volunteers have been an incredible sight to witness. We notice the generosity of the American people to give and share with their neighbors. The way we respond to these tragedies is what makes our nation great.

We will work to repair those areas impacted by natural disaster. The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey will take years to restore. It is a quintessential American trait that our citizens are dedicated to ensuring those impacted by natural disasters have the support they need to rebuild. History teaches us we will come back stronger than before, as long as America’s men and women today have the same courageous vision, the same audacity and indomitable spirit that made us a great nation in the beginning.

The majority of Americans still want what those first Americans wanted: a better life for themselves and their children. We must commit ourselves individually, and as a nation, to pass the baton of liberty to the next generation in this melting pot of cultures we call the United States of America. This Labor Day, I am reminded of the true value of freedom, the unique heritage of our nation and the effort so many people who came before us put forth so that we could enjoy the fruits of our labors. Happy Labor Day.

– – –
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Thanking Those Who Built America

robbie webb
Robbie Webb, my great-great grandfather.  Monroe County, TN  1861-1932

Labor Day is a day we set aside for American workers.  It also marks the unofficial end to our Summer.  Labor Day has many meanings, but one meaning is that we must recognize the incredible effort and work it took to build this great country.  It is worth recalling our own history and leadership of President Calvin Coolidge.  A man renown for his silence and wit.

Coolidge acknowledged the importance of workers and Labor Day when he stated that “this high tribute is paid in recognition of the worth and dignity of the men and women who toil.” Coolidge actually valued American labor and the spirit of work and his policies led to job creation and economic expansion in America. Coolidge added:

“I cannot think of anything that represents the American people as a whole so adequately as honest work. We perform different tasks, but the spirit is the same. We are proud of work and ashamed of idleness. With us there is no task which is menial, no service which is degrading. All work is ennobling and all workers are ennobled.”

It seems in this age we may have lost that respect for the worker.  Some of that may be connected to public sector unionism.   Coolidge won national recognition for his handling of the Boston Police Strike, when he intervened and famously stated that “there is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”  Many union leaders, not necessarily the union members themselves, continue to embrace political activism over members themselves.  These unions support candidates and causes opposed by many of the workers that union bosses claim to speak for. It is why union membership is in decline across the nation.

Does the end justify the means?  Perhaps the best answer to that question is from the controversial and radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who wrote: “The meanness and inhumanity of the means make you mean and inhuman and make the end unattainable.”  When the means justify the ends, ethical consideration focuses on what you do, not the consequences of what you have done.   Results-based ethics means that no type of act is morally wrong.  This is a harmful position, for an individual, a business or a nation.  As a nation, we understand that there are consequences for our actions.  We have an individual responsibility to work to the best of our abilities and we must expect fair wages.

Martin Luther King, Jr., also insisted not just on the ends, but the means.  Mahatma Gandhi, like King, understood that for the rational people to survive in revolutionary times that his focus must remain on the means, just as much extremists do by their “do anything” philosophy.  Machiavelli who is credited with phrase: “The end justifies the means,” actually wrote, “Si guarda al fine.”   This phrase may be better translated as “Pay attention to the result.”  As President, Calvin Coolidge created a period of economic expansion and prosperity through his administration’s economic policies, that was a result of focusing on both the ends and the means.  It was a period of individual prosperity and economic growth.

Robert Ferrell, in his book The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge, states the results of Coolidge’s philosophy: “Real wages for industrial workers were 8 percent above the base year (1914= 100) in 1921, 13 percent above in 1922, and 19 percent above in 1923. For the next two years, the figure remained at this level and then increased, reaching 32 percent in 1928. The workweek declined from 47.4 hours in 1920 to 44.2 in 1929. This meant a five-and-a-half-day week…All the while unemployment was a low 3.7 percent between 1923 and 1929. This compared with 6.1 between 1911 and 1917, a fairly prosperous time for workers.” Certainly, there is a correlation between a prosperous economy, increasing wages and worker happiness.  This is a lesson we should bear in mind.

Coolidge recognized that a thriving economy and higher wages built the middle class.  It also depended on following common sense on fiscal matters.   Garland S. Tucker wrote that he never lost sight of his belief in a strong work ethic and the spirit of America, as Coolidge declared:

“We do not need to import any foreign economic ideas or any foreign government. We had better stick to the American brand of government, the American brand of equality, and the American brand of wages. America had better stay American.”

This Labor Day we must reminded ourselves of the unique heritage of our nation and the effort so many people who came before us put forth so that we their heirs could enjoy the fruits of our own labors. In a presidential speech, President Coolidge reasoned that he could not “think of any American man or woman preeminent in the history of the nation who did not reach their place through toil.” I am not so sure Calvin Coolidge was as silent as he is portrayed in our history books.  It is a good lesson for all generations.


JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.