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Tribune Editorial: Laborers help make this country great

hile the date and place is known, the person who first came up with the idea of Labor Day is still uncertain.

It was either a McGuire or a Maguire.

For a long time, Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, got the credit, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Web page on the history of the holiday.

He was supposed to have suggested a celebration of the working man's contribution to society after attending the Canadian version.

But research indicates that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., came up with the idea.

Whoever thought of it, the first U.S. Labor Day was held Sept. 5, 1882, in New York.

In the years that followed, more cities observed the day, then states and, on June 28, 1894, Congress pass a law making the first Monday in September Labor Day in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Parades, picnics and speeches are the order of the day in cities throughout the country.

But for many -- including plenty of working folks -- Labor Day marks the end of summer and one last chance to enjoy the weather, family and, maybe, a barbecue.

There's not much to celebrate for a lot of workers this year as the recession has driven unemployment to within striking distance of 10 percent. Those losing their jobs come from the full range of skills and professions, but, because laborers make up most of the work force, they're experiencing the most losses.

Millions more workers have had their hours cut or have been asked to take unpaid furloughs.

There are signs, however, that portions of the economy are improving.

Thousands of workers have taken their job losses as indications that it's time for them to retrain and retool.

One sign of the resilience of the American worker is the rush on community colleges throughout the country.

Those who have lost jobs and even some who are still working are preparing for their next jobs.

And that's what Labor Day celebrates: the strength, adaptability and resilience of the workers who helped make this country great.