Commentary: On Labor Day remember we're all in this together

Special to McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 3, 2012 

Here's a question we hear too much: Whose work is most valuable?

Here's a question we should ask a lot more often: Whose work isn't valuable?

Whether we like to admit it or not, what we're able to achieve isn't about one person or about who gets credit. Each of us depends on the work of others. Our work binds us together, and everyone's work matters. As Americans, as residents of our towns and cities who support one another, we're better together.

This Labor Day, let's take the time to reflect on how the work that others do adds to our lives and our communities.

The rough economy has a lot of folks fending for themselves and scrambling to get by. Times aren't easy and most people are making do with less. Nearly 13 million people are jobless. Lots of people are scared of losing their benefits or being laid off. And it's easy to say: "You got yours, I got mine."

But I believe we are better than that -- that we aspire to be a society that values each other.

At a time when millions of Americans struggle to find work and face cuts in health care, education and public safety, it's more important than ever to recognize that we're in this together.

We all work to provide for our families and to be able to come home, put food on the table and save something extra for our kids. But we can't do it alone.

We often go through our day oblivious to the hard work of so many that make our lives possible: The police officers who steer us through Monday morning traffic; the power line worker who makes sure we have the electricity we need to get through the day; the journalist who reports on the news in our community. If they didn't do their jobs, how could we do ours?

There are so many people whose work we rely on every single day, but we rarely recognize them for it.

Every day – but especially this Labor Day -- let's thank the people who make a difference in our community. Make it a point to recognize the hard work of the barista who starts off the day right with our favorite coffee. The plumber who always comes to the rescue. The mechanic who fixes our car in a jiffy. The person who bags our groceries so we get home more quickly to make a meal for our family.

This isn't just a feel-good exercise. Everyone's contribution truly matters. When we start talking about whose work is most important, or who deserves to make millions more, without stopping to think about why we work, and how we support one another, we lose sight of the big picture. Do we want to live in a nation where we celebrate the gold-medal winner, but none of the coaches, trainers, or teammates?

Go ahead, admit that it's okay to rely on someone else's work – it's the beauty of being part of a community and accomplishing more because we work together. Let's celebrate that this Labor Day.


Liz Shuler is the Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Reach her by email at

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