As we advance deeper into the technological age, one thing becomes increasingly clear: modern man is caught in a labor quandary, and he cannot—or will not—program himself out of it.

In their annual Labor Day messages this year, agencies of both the National Council of Churches and the U. S. Catholic Conference single out equal-employment opportunity as “a matter of urgent concern.” But the church statements, while underscoring an issue important in the current racial context, ignore a far more serious condition: a virtual crisis in work at bedrock level, where our social underpinnings are being chipped away. A paper by the Synagogue Council of America comes closer, yet fails to probe deep enough, when it cites pride and concern as “two values missing from American life on this Labor Day; and without them, our foundations will never be securely set.”

There is no shortage of component parts to the overall question: inflationary wage-price spirals, effects of computerized automation on the job market, controversial labor-management practices. The basic problem, however, involves not economics, skills, or employment rates but the current philosophy of work. Work (which Webster defines as “the exertion of strength or faculties to accomplish something”) is interlocked with the very meaning of life, and modern man is unsure of that meaning.

It is an indisputable fact that millions of persons—rich and poor, black and white—are unhappy in their work. They blame their dissatisfaction on a host of conditions that range from “menial jobs” to “mean bosses.” They tend to live only for pay days and leisure-saturated weekends, to view the interim as barren wasteland redeemed by an occasional after-five oasis, which may be little more than ...

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