Showing posts with label automation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label automation. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Shop talk (1984)

A Short Story from the June 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the town of Inverness a talking checkout machine was recently introduced in a blaze of glory by Your Caring, Sharing Co-op, which should be more accurately described as Their Profit Making Co-op. Computer technology is zooming ahead at such a fantastic pace that it is difficult to keep abreast of all the improvements. Clive Sinclair, the current whiz-kid of the computer market, has predicted that new robots will soon be on the go performing all sorts of mental acrobatics.

After the recent case of the supermarket check-out girl who was fired for intolerably bad temper towards the customers on Monday mornings, the logical desire for any supermarket owner is a machine which replaces workers (and therefore saves wages) while at the same time is constantly pleasant to the punters whom it is relieving of their cash. However, since even the most sophisticated machine is fallible, there is a prospect of one of these devices having a brainstorm: "Good morning madam, and what little delicacies do we have here?  . . . ah, yes, cold meat 75p . . . wholemeal bread 50p, better than that adulterated white stuff . . . smarm . . . nice little table-wine at £1.99 . . . sure to impress your husband's boss when he comes to dinner. (Not to mention the refuse collector when he clocks the fancy label) . . . please pay the girl at the till. Thank you and good day . . . Krrrrrkkkk . . . fizzle.

C'mon grandma, hurry it up, we haven't got all day. Let's get these pathetic morsels tallied so we can get onto the real spenders . . . right, two ounces of spam (Yeeugh!) 20p . . . a solitary carrot 5p . . . 1 lonely onion 5p . . . 1 small loaf 25p . . . my, we're really living high on the hog aren't we? . . . 1 tin of Crappo dog food 35p . . . wait a minute, I'll bet you don't even have a dog, you're eating the bloody stuff yourself right? . . . C'mon own up. Hey, stop that snivelling woman, pay up and get out. No, not through the plate-glass door, open it first. That's right, now step out and . . . Gotcha! Security man, grab that old bag, she's got a tin of sardines that she forgot . . . er . . . didn't pay for. Good! the arm up the back, now the quick frogmarch into the manager's office to wait for the police . . . hee . . . hee . . . heeeeeerrkkkk . . . 

And the next one please. Hmm, what have we here? cornflakes 55p . . . You know, a top nutrition expert called Michael Van Straten is on record as saying that there is almost as much nutrition in the box as there is in the cornflakes. Butter 50p . . . sausage 70p . . . have you ever seen how they make sausage? almost no limit to the fat content . . . wouldn't like to see your arteries . . . Frozen chicken £2.75 . . . wonder how much water's been injected into our ex-feathered friend to boost the weight, (and the price) . . . In fact, have you ever stopped to consider why it's necessary to have prices at all? Here we are living in a world which produces food, clothing, and shelter in such abundance that everyone could have the very best instead of all this third-rate rubbish. And the beauty of it is that the amount of time actually needed to produce this wealth could be reduced to a few hours a day with all the extra available people released from non-productive jobs such as there girls operating the tills, and the manager, rushing over to pull put . . . the plug!? . . . Don't touch the . . . . . . . "

Tone

Monday, December 03, 2012

Wage slavery or liberation from toil

Overall real wages have scarcely budged in the 1990s in America, and earnings for college-educated workers actually declined by more than 6 percent. Productivity per person-hour increased by 5 percent between 2009 and 2010. 

These days, workers are expected to be on call 24/7—24 hours per day, seven days per week. Seen in this light, innovations like flexi-time or working from home are in fact strategies to bring new sorts of workers—mostly women—into the job market and to subject them to a new set of (frequently electronic) rules and controls.

Think about it. Fifteen years ago, would you have taken a job if you had to be available every day, respond to messages from your boss late at night, and maintain contact with the office while on vacation?  But today just about any job, especially the good ones, exhibit precisely this oppressive 24/7 character. At the same time technology has redefined labor into assembly-line piecework and new gadgets have allowed our less inviting piecework tasks to follow us home, filling family time, distracting our leisure time. Innovative machines bind us more tightly to our jobs while forcing us to work longer hours.

Historian Jackson Lears said in a recent interview, “Whatever the color of your collar, your job may still be ‘proletarian’ to the extent that management controls the pace, process, and output of your work.”

Corporate executives urge a drive toward efficiency—efficiency that can be best defined as low wages. Technology in the workplace holds out the promise of more time, but as we have seen, increased productivity— more output; fewer hours—benefits only the bottom lines of corporate profits wrung from the decreased cost of labor. High-tech machines enable fewer workers to do more while transforming complex artisanal tasks into piecework. Americans love to shop for bargain commodities, of course, but corporations also shop for labor, and modern technology and communication force workers to compete with lower-paid counterparts in Singapore, India, and China. Even here in the United States, an auto assembly job that pays $28 an hour in Michigan will pay half that in South Carolina. The workplace is being transformed by technologies deployed by corporations in the pursuit of efficiencies, increased productivity, and increased profit. “Productivity Hits All-Time High” may be a pleasing headline to the employing class , but Less-in/More-out is scarcely good news for workers.

Automation not only displaces jobs but change the very character of work itself. This may result in the alienated working class taking revolt but, fearful and discontented, they may also well turn toward authoritarian, simple-solution demagogue leaders expousing contempt for democracy and nationalistic xenophobia. This is already happening in the United States where state legislatures are bearing down on workers' rights and immigrants. 

Socialists have to counter with a real alternative to wage-slavery. John Ruskin wrote, “In order that people may be happy in their work, three things are needed. They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it.”

Taken from here 

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