A few thoughts on The Future of Work.

October 3, 2016

I’ve been thinking about the future of work, a policy area Labour have focussed on for some months now.
This area has received a lot of heat from union groups particularly, due to the predictions about automation resulting in the loss of whole categories of boring, minimum wage jobs. Great! Say the utopianists, they can all retrain as computer coders and analysts!

Not so fast, say the working classes themselves.
We already have a situation where female-dominated industries are lowest-paid, and where ‘women’s work’ type jobs (service, caring), while understood to be essential to society, are remunerated at starvation levels (we do these tasks for free in our homes, any woman does, thus the skills are ubiquitous and female; not skills at all, really, so why pay highly for them? – thus goes the sexist reasoning.)
Men are suddenly coming to terms with the élitism that tells them ‘some traditionally male-dominated skills and industries are not worth protecting’, that they are on the lowest rung of the employment hierarchy ladder, so please jump off now, you’re being a drag on the rest of us.
The furore, then, is driven by men suddenly being treated the way women have been, for decades – as expendable, as temporary additions to the workforce, to be laid off on a whim, to be hidden unemployed within households, and to be kept in society under sufferance, because the traditional rôle of the father in the family is sacrosanct.
That grates, right? When I call upon traditional family roles to explain why unemployed men are being denied assistance of even the most basic kind, if they have a working wife/partner.
Because those ‘gender neutral’ welfare rules were designed to maintain a reserve army of female labour, in case of need (eg: another WW2 situation, when women were called into employment to keep the country running, while the men served in uniform.)
If we have driverless cars/buses, an Internet of things running our computerised households, automated industry – where does that leave the poor, the working classes who are currently the precariate, living on random rostered hours, struggling to pay the rent, food, power and other household costs?

We have hollowed out society at our peril.
The insouciant disregard of our PM to the issue of child poverty is a symptom of the disease – an élite who are setting up systems to privilege themselves further, and destroy the ‘unnecessary’ workers in their new world order.
At a recent conference I attended in Wellington last month, a call for a Universal Basic Income was bookended around the launch of a new left wing think-tank, ESRA – Economic & Social Research Aotearoa – and the keynote speaker, Nick Srnicek, who has recently published “Inventing the Future – Postcapitalism and a World Without Work” through Verso Books. 

The book is well worth obtaining, imho, and I read it while struggling with a dose of the ‘flu, so I reckon it’s pretty accessible. I’m not going to give a potted plot, go look it up at Verso Books for yourself.


(Gratuitous pic of Srinicek from the launch. Excuse grainy image, the lights were low for the PowerPoint. )
The main takeaway from that week, for me anyway, is that employers have pushed precarity in casual roster employment to the brink of killing their workforce, have shaved worker allowances to the bone, and capitalism is still losing ground; doing away with human workers is the next step. 

Welfare systems worldwide have responded to the GFC with ‘austerity measures’, governments have cried poor, bailed out banks, and generally given licence to corporations to carry on extracting profits as usual. Ministers and CEO’s are doing ok, but the general population are now more impoverished, the indebted and insecure than they were in 2008, at the height of the Recession.
If that’s not a textbook description of the conditions for revolution (à la Paris, 1789), then I don’t know what is, anymore. There is a movement back to a neo-feudal arrangement of landed gentry (or corporations), and a mass of peasants scrabbling for a living, which can’t possibly work because the population is an order of magnitude higher now than it was in the 18thC. 

The potential for Internet surveillance, demonisation of ‘out-groups’, the criminalisation of dissent, all are factors in the mix of society today, to be considered when any form of ‘activism from below’ is being developed.
Time to #changethegovernment

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