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Opinion | Labor Day is a tribute to those who manufacture, build and grow

We observe Labor Day not to usher in football season but to honor those who labor.


When many of us were growing up, Labor Day was the traditional end of summer, and we started back to school the next day. Back in those less-hectic days, political campaigns did not begin until Labor Day. I recall President Reagan kicking off his 1980 campaign on Labor Day with the Statue of Liberty behind him and Nancy beside him. Since then, many things have changed, including a much earlier start-to-school date and year-round campaigning.

What has not changed – although it may be forgotten – is that we observe Labor Day not to usher in football season but to honor those who labor.

Labor Day is a tribute to American labor, to those who manufacture, build, and grow things that make our lives better, safer, and stronger. It is a tribute to the American factory worker, skilled craftsman, plumber, mechanic, electrician, carpenter, and farmer. It is a tribute to those who create wealth through their labor and to those who made the United States an economic, industrial, and military powerhouse through their labor and skill. In World War 2 when millions of men were on battlefields and warships around the world, millions of Rosie Riveters labored in American factories to build the airplanes, tanks, warships, and other materiel which led to the Allies’ victory and our continued freedom.

Wealth and value are created by manufacturing products, harvesting agriculture and extracting minerals. Without this original wealth creation, there would be no service industry nor multi-faceted economy. The essential value and necessity of labor is on full display today following the pandemic and recent economic changes.  Without labor, nothing gets done.

Personally, I am grateful for and take great pride in working for a manufacturing company, especially one that makes products contributing to public health through clean water, to public safety through fire protection, to economic strength through energy production, and to agriculture and mining through machinery. I am proud to be part of the American iron and steel industry and to be a part of manufacturing products that built and continue to build America and the world. Our roads, bridges, buildings, automobile and aerospace industries, agriculture, military and so much more depend on manufacturing and the labor behind it.

Indeed, the American iron and steelworkers who melt, cast, and process iron and steel are the backbone of local, domestic, and global economies. These workers make possible everything we enjoy.

There are approximately 14,900 iron and steel workers in Alabama at manufacturing facilities in every Congressional district, and another 76,388 indirect jobs in Alabama support those direct jobs. Alabama iron and steel employment is highly skilled, utilizing the latest manufacturing technology and innovation, and annual earnings are strong, even stronger than the national iron and steel average. This critical component of our economic and national security continued to produce throughout our difficult pandemic and recent challenges.

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Labor Day dates to 1887 and became a Federal holiday in 1894. It grew from the American labor movement, which is alive and well today. It is driven by those who do the work, and it has led to improvements in productivity, safety and innovation that contribute to the advancement of mankind.

While happily joining in the traditional celebrations of Labor Day, I salute the virtue of American labor and Alabama workers, and the virtue of hard work. Within Alabama’s iron and steel industry, every day is Labor Day.

Maury D. Gaston is chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama, and a director and past chairman of the state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. Gaston is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University and manager of marketing for American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham.

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