This Labor Day, remember: Work connects us all

By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

She makes my morning coffee.  He teaches her kid math.  You fix his car.  And I fight the fire at your neighbor’s house, stopping it before your house is damaged.

We’ve never met before, but through the work we all do we are closely connected.

It’s been five years since the recession began.  A year and a half later it was officially declared over, and since then we’ve been trying to find ways to create good jobs so that the rest of us see some of the economic growth that we’ve been hearing about since June 2009.

It would be easy to approach this year’s Labor Day by creating an enemy — someone not on the side of working people — to rally against.  Given the pitiful economic growth we’ve seen, and the many excuses given for not creating jobs, it would be easy to find one. Identifying an “us” and a “them” gives us a purpose and a goal.

But, instead, I hope that union members across Oregon use Labor Day to remember how important your work is, how important your neighbor’s work is, and to remember the value of the work that all Oregonians do.

When small businesses owners remember that labor fought for the health care coverage they can now afford for their kids; when doctors remember that small business owners pay their wages; when road crew workers remember that doctors are paid to keep their kids healthy; and when lawyers remember that the road crews get them to work safely; we’ll all be able to work together for changes that are good for working people.

Work is the one thing that the vast majority of us have in common.  More than we share any demographic figures, hobbies, or location, we all get up and go to work most days of the week.  And if it weren’t for the work done by other Oregonians we wouldn’t be able to.

You may have seen ads on TV last winter showcasing workers and the ways in which they depend on each other.  That ad was part of a broader campaign to remind Oregonians — union members and our nonunion neighbors alike — of the value of our work.  Too many people don’t value the work they do, and too many more overlook the important work that they depend on.

When we all value hard work — no matter who does it, no matter what the job title is — we won’t need to identify an enemy. Instead, we’ll be united enough and powerful enough, to fight the people who don’t value work.

This Labor Day, I hope you’ll add to the reminder of the value of work.

When you thank the gas station attendant, remind that person that his or her work is important to you.  When you pick up last minute supplies for your picnic, thank the cashier for working — especially on Labor Day. You can find postcards on our website to print out and leave with service workers, thanking them, if you’d rather not start the conversation. And you can also get ideas for ways to put the “labor” back in Labor Day this year.

People who work for a living are all on the same side, no matter how much else we have (or don’t have) in common.  And that should be enough to bind us together against anyone who doesn’t value the hard work that we each put in to our 40 hours a week.

For postcards and ideas to put “labor” back in your Labor Day, go to www.thanksforyourwork.org.

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