Mounting the Case for Blue-Collar Values


Actor John Ratzenberger Champions American Industry and Skilled Labour



The stalwarts are disappearing in the US, and we need them back. We need Americans brought up with chores and responsibilities, who have learned to fix what is broken. We need to give kids time to learn and take risks. If we do, we will be able to rebuild our workforces, strengthen US manufacturing and industry and regain the way of life that made America.

That was the message from John Ratzenberger – best known as Cliff Claven in the long-running US television series, Cheers – when he took the podium at Breakbulk Americas 2022 in Houston.

The multi-Emmy-nominated actor, producer, entrepreneur and activist put forward his case for US manufacturing, skilled labour and the return of common sense.

According to the Hollywood star, in the US today, we are doing a disservice to children by hovering, taking away opportunities to learn about carpentry and mechanics and similar skills, and by rewarding people for just showing up without learning or accomplishing anything.

He recounted growing up in a blue-collar area along the water in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he “felt the cavitation of big boats coming in” to port. He understood the fundamental importance of heavy industry at the age of six or seven.

He was surrounded by people who had trade skills and “knew how to do things”, while his mother worked as a safety inspector at Remington Arms and his father was a truck driver, jobs that should demand huge respect.

He said tools teach common sense and lamented the demise of trade skill education at schools.

His message speaks to bridging the talent gap, another hot topic at this year’s conference.

In the breakbulk and project industries, where the workforce is declining and skilled up-and-comers are few and far between, his message resonated. To fix supply chain troubles in the US may very well require a new way of educating even the youngest of children.

Ratzenberger worked as a carpenter, house framer, archery instructor and fishing boat deckhand before he became an actor. He said he could not have been prouder than when one of his children chose to become a plumber.

Bemoaning parents who are ashamed of kids that want work with their hands, he acknowledged there is nothing wrong with working in an office, as long as those people are well-rounded individuals and recognize that jobs like excavator operators and brick layers are part of the tapestry that built their culture. He said these jobs deserve dignity and respect. Ultimately, that may be the solution to many of today’s industrial and supply chain woes.

Blue collar jobs are not beneath the breakbulk and project cargo industries. They are the jobs that make the infrastructure, crew the boats, fly the planes, run everything mechanical – affecting every single thing we do. That is the “ethos of our country”, said Ratzenberger.

Check out below John's post-session interview with Breakbulk's Leslie Meredith:

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