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Wilkinson: The dignity of all labor
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dignity is a word and a "sense," important to most people. Webster's describes dignity this way: "1. The state of being esteemed or honored. 2. Poise or formal reserve in appearance and demeanor. 3. A high rank or office."

All three definitions have to do with a "second person" evaluation.

However, not mentioned in the dictionary, but maybe the most important definition of dignity is this: the quiet knowledge of self-worth that lies within the human heart.

I have known and worked with folks who labored physically. They came to work clean but returned to their homes tired, with soiled clothes and hands. They held no official position, had no title and were not part of a privileged class. But most of them had a sense of dignity.

Many working people, though not all, struggle with their own self-worth. Perhaps they are underpaid and treated in the work place as if they are of no importance. Or perhaps they have been taught that a life of labor is undignified and not a desirable way to earn an income. I know many who feel this way.

Feelings and attitudes about labor vary greatly within nations, states, cities and even within families. There are those who greatly benefit by persuading working people that their position in life and in the workplace is unworthy of dignity or esteem, and therefore not worthy of a living wage.

I plead with working people, no matter what your position, not to accept this evaluation. All work, no matter what the duty, is of great importance to an organization.

Every politician who puts on his fine suit and shoes each morning should thank the tailor for the skill it took to make his clothing; thank the sheep man for the wool; thank the cotton farmer and the field hand; thank the truck driver for transporting the materials to market; thank the maintenance people who clean the building where the manufacturing took place and the machinist for the necessary machines.

No building was ever constructed without the skill, hands and hearts of construction people. The list of working people who contributed to the production of the businessman's suit is very long, and each working person is valuable to production of the end product.

There are occasions when a businessman threatens a working person with: "You can easily be replaced." He is right. As an individual, you can be replaced.

But that is when dignity can be maintained through unity. Alone, we may be at the mercy of an unjust tyrant, but together, working people can demand the respect they so well deserve. Yes, you, the person who prepares fast food, or who stocks the shelves on the night shift at the big-box store. You, who empties the trash and sweeps the floor.

You are invaluable to that organization and are a valuable part of our society. Let no one try to persuade you otherwise. You, laborers, are worthy of a living wage, health care, shelter from the storm and whatever else is necessary to live a life with dignity.

But you can only accomplish this through unity.

Charles Wilkinson is a retiree of Teamsters Local 222. He lives in Provo.

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