A salute to the working stiffs

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September 6 is Labor Day, and a time to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

Those ever-lasting words belong to Peter J. McGuire [1852-1906], general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Some records credit him with being the first one to suggest a day off for working Americans, which Congress legislated into a federal holiday on June 28, 1894 — two months after the May Day Riots in Cleveland, Ohio, when the disenchanted, unemployed masses brawled against city leaders, condemning their apathy during the economic depression known as the Panic of 1893.

Others place as its brainchild Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey, who recommended the observance in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.

Whoever its father, Labor Day remains a wonderful holiday, and one which should be re-introduced to new generations. They might be hard-pressed to know of its long-standing and courageous history.

The first observance was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882 in,not surprisingly, New York City. Two years later, the first Monday in September was designated as Labor Day and, at the urging of the Central Labor Union, similar groups began celebrating a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date.

In between the barbecues and the bargains, let us take a moment to celebrate America’s working men and women, whose contributions have enhanced the stability, abundance and health of this nation, and without whom all that we value and hold dear would cease to exist, or even matter.

They are the unsung rank-and-file, the extraordinary and resilient backbone of our daily lives. They are the cleaner, the bus driver, the computer worker, the short-order cook, the mail lady, the freelancer, the sanitation man, the educator, the Finest and Bravest, the baby sitter, the shoemaker, the subway employee, the reporter, the health worker, the shopkeeper, the beekeeper, the social worker, the entrepreneur. And all the other taxpayers who work for a living — each day, year and decade.

This critical wave of labor has helped make the United States the undisputed leader of the Free World. It has catapulted our standard of living onto new plateaux, engineered the best production system known to man and made the American Dream possible for everyone.

On Monday, we congratulate the person responsible for the United States’ economic, political and social successes — the American worker.

Updated 2:55 pm, October 19, 2011
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