Tuesday, August 27, 2013
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Made In the USA - Again!
I first noticed the trend around this year's Memorial Day holiday. It was time to replace our faded, tattered flag.
The outrage reached its peak last year around this time. U.S. citizens wanting to display national pride found nothing but foreign-made flags on the shelves of their local retailer. To find something made in the U.S.A., you had to shop online and search site after site in hopes the merchant posted the product's origin on their home page.
This fell in the wake of learning the U.S. Olympic team uniforms were made in China. And the ongoing recall of pet products imported from the same country.
Most every product you picked up off the store shelf was labeled Made in (somewhere other than America). Clothing comes from Pakistan or Taiwan. Electronics come from Thailand or China. Despite the popularity of Florida produce in other parts of the country, in the southern part where I live it comes from Ecuador or Costa Rica.
Is nothing made in America any longer?
The manufacturing decline was a key component in the unemployment crisis. Displaced workers found no available jobs for someone with their skill set.
The high unemployment rate indicates this fact has not yet changed. Yet, for the first time in several years, there is a glimmer of hope that it just may improve.
Basic economics led manufacturing companies to import products they used to make here at home. Labor was cheap. Real estate cheap. Construction materials cheap. Components cheap. Less regulation meant lower cost in compliance.
They could sell their product for the same price and collect a higher profit margin. Or undercut the competition's price, sell more units and still collect a higher profit margin.
Cheaper components equals lower quality. But at those prices it didn't matter much. If you got a couple uses out of the item, you got your money's worth. We became a disposable society.
And then our economy collapsed. We couldn't justify spending what little we had left on something undependable.
Quality matters again. The affect trickles through our entire economy. We talked a little bit about this in Congratulations Mom and Pop!.
Weak food safety standards and use of agricultural chemicals raised safety concerns in food items imported from China. More than 500 dogs and one cat died after eating chicken jerky treats made in China. A reported 2,674 dogs were sickened by them.
The public stopped buying them, preferring those labeled Made in America. If you don't see those words on the packaging, don't trust the product's safety. Some manufacturers instead use ambiguous wording that could refer to the location of the parent company rather than country of product origin. Don't be misled.
I walked into our local Home Depot just before Memorial Day to buy our flag, expecting to see the typical Made in China. To my delight, every flag on their display rack proudly boasted Made in America in huge, bold lettering.
At the grocery store, Beggin' Strips clearly stated Made in America With American Ingredients. No wonder the dog in the commercial is so happy. Mine is, too.
Walmart announced a new Made in America campaign in April by promising to buy $50 billion more U.S. made goods over the next decade. The same mega-retailer who led the Chinese goods revolution is now changing course.
Perhaps they realized that an unemployed citizen can't spend money in their stores. And that they may have played a small role in their circumstances.
Or perhaps the American public got wise to the fact that they were throwing away their money along with their disposable goods and just stopped buying their offerings.
Regardless the motivation, it all signals a return to American made goods. It's only a matter of time before the manufacturing sector sees the resulting growth.
Good times are on the horizon for the American worker.
A Labor Day Reminder
Can you believe that Labor Day is here already? I can't. Summer has come and gone and I don't even know where it went.
I'm looking forward to the nice long weekend and I'm sure you are too. In scheduling my plans for the weekend, I started thinking about Labor Day itself. Typically, when I think of Labor Day, I think of the end of summer, the start of football season, and the last chance to wear white for a while.
In other parts of the country, Labor Day marks the time to take out your felt cowboy hat and put away your straw cowboy hat until Memorial Day rolls around again.
In this day and age, the true history and meaning of Labor Day has largely been forgotten. So we thought you might enjoy a brief reminder.
Labor Day was originally organized to celebrate the strengths and contributions of labor unions to the U.S. economy and to pay tribute to the working men and women of America. Before it became a national holiday, labor unions began celebrating "Labor Day" on their own as a way for workers to show their solidarity.
There is some controversy over who first proposed this "holiday for workers." Some believe that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to suggest the holiday. Others believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist who served as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York and later became the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Patterson, NJ, proposed the holiday.
Either way, it was the Central Labor Union that adopted a Labor Day proposal and organized the first demonstration and picnic. According to their plan, the day would start with a street parade in order to show the public the strength and spirit of the trade and labor organizations, which would be followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families.
The first Labor Day event occurred in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Although workers did not get paid for the day, more than 10,000 of them joined the parade through the streets of New York City. Even more joined the celebration afterward.
On September 5th the following year, the Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday. In 1884, the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to join them in celebrating a "working men's holiday" on the first Monday in September. The holiday has been held annually on the first Monday in September ever since.
In many other countries, the first of May is a holiday to celebrate workers and labor unions. But in America, September was chosen to add a holiday in the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. Now, if we could only do something about the gap between President's Day and Memorial Day!
In the late 1800's, labor unions were growing more prominent and vocal. At this time in our nation's history, it was not unusual for the average worker to put in 12 hour days, 7 days a week, just to make ends meet. This was the height of the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing increasingly replaced agriculture as the core of American employment. Children as young as 5 or 6 often toiled in mills, mines and factories. Workers of all ages were often faced with unsafe working conditions, lacking access to fresh air and sanitary facilities.
As working conditions worsened, labor unions strengthened. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions and force employers to change their ways. Oftentimes these events turned violent. It was just such an event that prompted Congress to legalize the holiday.
On May 14, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives. As a sign of solidarity, on June 26 the American Railroad Union called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars. This crippled railroad traffic nationwide. In order to resolve the standoff and break the strike, the government sent troops to Chicago.
The result was an outbreak of riots and the death of more than thirty workers. In an attempt to repair ties with American workers, on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it soon afterward.
The form of Labor Day celebrations has changed over the years. Huge parades and mass celebrations have gradually shrunk or disappeared altogether from large urban cities. Instead of being heard at public gatherings, Labor Day speeches are heard on television or read about in newspapers or on the Internet.
One thing that has not changed, however, is the part the American worker played and continues to play in making America the strong and prosperous nation it is today. And that, my friend, is worth celebrating! So, on this Labor Day, take a moment to reflect on the history and meaning of the holiday.
Tip of the Week
Have you been crammed? If you don't get a detailed bill from your wireless provider, take the time to check it closely online. You might find unfamiliar charges. Outside companies can add charges to your phone bill you didn't agree to; hidden in app downloads, ringtones and other mobile content. Read the FTC warning and how to resolve it.
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