West Virginia had 125,699 miners in 1948 -- but only about 15,000 remain today, and decline of Appalachian Basin coal threatens still more job loss. The Kanawha Valley had 12,800 chemical workers in 1980, but plant automation cut the number to perhaps 1,000.
Work keeps changing as the high-tech "information age" evolves. The former smokestack era, with blue-collar armies, is succumbing to high-rise office towers, fax machines, email, fiber optics, cellphones, teleconferencing, computerized operations, digital data -- and college-educated workers. Mind labor is paramount today; muscle labor is being eliminated by ever-better machines.
The transition to individualized, thinking jobs has eroded labor unions. Under 10 percent of private sector workers are organized now. Union growth is limited mostly to government and hospital employees.
Still, the need to work and support a family never changes. It's inescapable for adults, no matter how the economy shifts. Therefore, Labor Day always has meaning. As usual, we reprint some thoughts for this weekend:
"Men suffer terribly from the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, or some other personal tragedy. But what brings them to the point of immobilization most often is the loss of their job." -- Myron Brenton, The American Male
"Most people like hard work. Particularly when they are paying for it." -- Franklin P. Jones
"To love what you do and feel that it matters -- how could anything be more fun?" -- <I>Washington Post<P> owner Katharine Graham, in Ms. magazine, October 1974
"I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being." -- Theodore Roosevelt, speech, Chattanooga, Tenn., Sept. 8, 1902
"The sleep of a laboring man is sweet." -- Ecclesiastes 4:12