Monday 21 November 2016

Promise Or Threat? How Is Labour’s Future Of Work Exercise Likely To Be Received?

Tireless Workers: Innovation, automation, relocation, globalisation – the driving forces of change are undeniably real, and their impact on the working lives of working people are visible everywhere. The better jobs and the more fulfilling lives that the fourth industrial revolution is supposed to usher in are much harder to see.
LABOUR’S ‘FUTURE OF WORK’ EXERCISE  has received considerable praise from political commentators and economists. The party has been commended for looking over the usual three-year time horizon of the professional New Zealand politician. The journalistic consensus appears to be that even if the Future of Work (FoW) exercise doesn’t glean Labour a swag of much needed extra votes – it should.
Unfortunately, that’s not how politics works. Worthy and future-focused though it may be, FoW is unlikely to exert a positive influence over the voting behaviour of working-class New Zealanders. There have been far too many reports about what ordinary working people must do to make themselves employable in the labour markets of the future. Far too many experts have pronounced upon the revolutionary impact of technological innovation and how it will force workers to adapt – or be left behind. Working people have been hearing this sort of talk since the Rogernomics “revolution” in the mid-1980s, and all it has left them is behind.
Innovation, automation, relocation, globalisation – the driving forces of change are undeniably real, and their impact on the working lives of working people are visible everywhere. The better jobs and the more fulfilling lives that the fourth industrial revolution is supposed to usher in are much harder to see.
When “inevitable” change arrived in small regional centres like Patea, Hastings and Timaru it left far more empty factories and unemployed workers in its wake than it did new, better-paid and more exciting forms of employment. The new jobs did arrive, eventually, but they generally paid lower wages than the old ones and offered workers much less security.
Some effort was made to prepare workers for the brave new world of adaptation and transformation that was rushing at them. The Fourth Labour Government established what were known as Regional Employment and Access Councils (REACs). These were comprised of representatives from the employers, the trade unions and the “community” (whatever that was!) and were empowered to fund employment and training programmes for those without work.
These programmes were a great success. Not because they imparted new and marketable skills to the luckless unemployed and redundant workers funnelled into them by the Department of Labour, but because they created hundreds of state-subsidised jobs for the middle-class professionals who set up the programmes and ran them. (These social entrepreneurs even got to keep the state-funded tools, office equipment and furniture when their contracts with the REACs expired!)
It was a pattern repeated endlessly during the years that followed. As globalisation hollowed out the manufacturing and processing sectors, driving thousands of jobless workers into the new, low-paying service sector, thousands of well-educated middle classes professionals found themselves designing, resourcing and managing the radical re-organisation of New Zealanders’ working lives that the new neoliberal order demanded.
Which is why, when the conversation turns to the jobs and workplaces of the future, what you hear depends on where you are positioned in the labour market. If you’re a young, highly-educated middle-class professional; or a person skilled in the design and application of new technologies; then the future beckons you forward with a smile. But if you’re a truck driver, or a store-person, then the prospect of driverless vehicles, or robot-operated warehouses, fills you with dread. Young workers have grown up watching their parents being forced to accept lower and lower positions in the occupational hierarchy. Soon, they fear, it will be their turn.
For the working-class voters Labour so desperately needs to return to its electoral fold, the “promises” of its FoW exercise are much more likely to be read as threats.
Bill and Hillary Clinton excelled at extolling the virtues of innovation, automation, relocation and globalisation. Helen Clark was fond of invoking the received economic wisdom that a rising tide lifts all boats. The response of their working-class followers in the years since has been to recite the childhood chant: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
If you want to know what that means in electoral terms, just ask Donald Trump – or Winston Peters.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 20 November 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"or a person skilled in the design and application of new technologies;"
I don't know. My son educated himself in the new technologies, and has ended up in a dead end job. Hopefully once he has had a foot on the ladder he can spare the time to look around for something better, but I overheard one of the lecturers at his place of learning say to someone "you know, next year half of these guys won't have a job." I met someone with a degree in psychology are the other day working in retail. What I'm hoping for is that some software app will replace lawyers. Then we might actually get some action. :) I think Bruce Jessen headed on the head. This place is a hotbed of cronyism. New Zealand has always been a place where it's who you know rather than what you know that gets you a job. But it's getting worse.

greywarbler said...

If I hear again the already familiar paean to peons about how the new robots will relieve them of their dull, dirty, boring work I'll give a very human belch or fart.

The progression of innovation and technology always seems to result in less opportunity for people to get better lives that they live. Now people are just letting their minds be filled with tv and other propaganda about the good life, consumer style, and their bodies are activated by trendy ideas like mountain biking while simple physical tasks are eschewed.

Disruption is the new black. As so much of the new thinking involves finding new ways of splitting hairs, and paring us away from our comfortable certainties, Forbes explains it like this.
nnovation and disruption are similar in that they are both makers and builders. Disruption takes a left turn by literally uprooting and changing how we think, behave, do business, learn and go about our day-to-day. Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru Clayton Christensen says that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.

For the first time, FORBES has compiled a list of the Most Disruptive Names In Business. Looking at the world with the eyes of our disruptors, no one company is so essential that it can’t be replaced and no single business model or sector are off-limits to a raw burst of change. This is a snapshot of today’s most influential upstarts (the Davids, if you will) who are shaking up the Goliaths of a dozen of different industries, ranging from social media and computing to retail, tobacco and health care.

See Full List Of Disruptors Here
This inaugural list features 16 people who founded or run 12 companies: two publicly traded enterprises with $1.5 billion in 2012 revenues and 10 entrepreneurial types backed by $320 million in VC funding. Our disruptors share a common purpose: create businesses, products and services that are better — less expensive and more creative, useful and impactful — and scalable.

Note: "that a disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile."
So any moment some smart-arse may come along and tell you what you are doing is not worthwhile according to the judgment of someone who has power to dispense with you.

And the trouble is that the young are infected with this reality-tv approach. And in reality that applies to we people. A very perverse sort of intelligence rules today, turning us into lemmings. Is this the last cycle of human advancement - slime, to something bigger, to monkey, to human in a Great Leap Forward. When did we cross the high jump barrier and start falling? Was it the early 1800s?

I am conditioned at present by reading Ellis Peters Cadfael series which tell stories of wars and the odd murder and injury but all ends up happily for the young characters in the stories set in the 1100s. Nothing there about holocausts, atom bombs and the advanced technology that is supposed to be only for our betterment leading us towards the cliff and final jump. Artificial intelligence could run NZ better than the present indumbents. But would we agree with it and would it agree with us and if not which way would we run?

Olwyn said...

This is a policy I would like to see Labour commit to - rebuilding manufacturing in NZ to a level that would see us through a disaster or severe international downturn. According to Australian relatives of mine, this move is currently being discussed in Australia. Given Donald Trump's initial assurances (which admittedly may be unreliable)that he will look after US interests without seeking to impose on allies, we at least have the conceptual space for defending such a move. It is a window that should be open for a short while, even if it later closes. Moreover, the ability to have what you need to get through a bad patch exposes the difference between an ally and a vassal state - it is not something a genuine ally should be denied. This idea is more concrete and easily understood than the more complex and abstract Future of Work. Achieving it would involve the population as a whole and would hopefully end up giving us a bit more bargaining power as a country. I admit it would not be easily achieved, since it would mean expensively produced local stuff competing against cheap imports. But where there's a will there's a way.

Jens Meder said...

If national income increasing through more capital investment in robotics and automation results in a diminishing demand for labour participation -

then would not "the tide that lifts all incomes" be in getting all citizens to participate directly in personal wealth (capital) ownership creation, which all-inclusively is easily initiated through the taxation system, and leads to achieving the vision of the "Ownership Society" concept eventually ?

David Stone said...

Hi Chris

I think that the prospect of jobs disappearing because of automation was part of social credit's argument for UBI ( a synonym for " social credit ") way back in the 30s. No one then envisioned the jobs that have materialised in the interim.

It may well be though, that the day of reckoning has come to pass at last ,and technology will outpace diversity , even in the finance industry , in the world as a whole. But what has that to do with employment in New Zealand in 2016?

If we are under employed why are we importing workers like there was no tomorrow? Why are we closing down railway workshops, factories left right and centre ? Why do we import so much that we could just as well be making here; and not destroying the environment by shipping stuff pointlessly back and forth in the process?

If innovation is reducing the need for work globally , it is irrelevant in New Zealand in the foreseeable future. What is relevant is government policy. To talk about a need to adjust for employment destroying technology is a deceitful diversion.

Cheers David J S

Polly. said...

First of all I am not 100% sure what it all means, you can Google and there is endless stated opinion mostly from University boffins, who seem to be talking a little less than straight.
You may warn employees as it looks like another system promoting efficiencies to production and greater security for the Company and its employees.
I accept that I may be wrong but my limited research gives that impression.
If I am right this mean less jobs but the lucky people who retain employment will get better pay.

Most of Labours MPs have never had a hourly paid job in their lives or indeed a job in the private sector.
I would not trust this Labour caucus with my future.
I do not have any answers but perhaps another Henry Ford, building disposable housing on government land then new and easily replaceble models of housing every few years.
Henry Ford manufactured a car by assembly methods to a point of affordability whereby most people could afford one.
His methods were copied by every industrial country in the world and this created countless millions of jobs, he also created obsolescence of the product.
Why cannot this be done with housing?.

BlisteringAttack said...

I recall working for a particularly nasty Neo Liberal Crown Entity called Careers NZ that was full of nasty anti-unionist Neo Liberal types.

In a meeting, discussing our work with WINZ clients, a Career Consultant blurted: 'Why should OUR taxes pay for THEIR benefits!'

In a nutshell that's the calibre of individual I had to endure...

jh said...

And while we look at a robotic economy the goodie - goodie globalists rave about xenophobia and bigotry when people wonder why Ship New Zealand requires a larger crew?

pat said...

@ jh

to buy more crap and keep the illusion going

Nick J said...

Fortunately for employment if not for our economic wellbeing the cheap energy age is coming to a close. With this change that which we take for granted such as cheap goods mass produced and transported thousands of kms will recede. Skilled hands will demand a premium. All hands will be required. Even if the cheap energy remained we should not use the without wrecking our climate. I dont like saying this but reality is sometimes hard to swallow. Our only choice is to decide how to leave the horses saddle without breaking a leg. Investing in skilled manual work might be a good start.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I would have thought that the cheap energy ages just about to begin? Particularly solar. But if you are talking about coal and oil coming to an end, technology seems to have delayed that somewhat.

greywarbler said...

I saw this by Rod Oram in the Business section of Sunday Star Times of 20/11/16 page D12. Rod with something worthwhile to say as usual.

Technology transforming -
...imperfect progress is causing facts to vanish, realities to distort, co-operation to evaporate, commonsense to disappear, politics to polarise and society to fracture.

These are happening and most of the readers of this post will be affected by at least one of the above negative consequences every day. Our common experiences inform us and it does not require a longitudinal survey covering 1,000 people for 1,000 days to confirm we are being jerked around by technology. If viewed objectively, we would probably find that it is never benign, with each apparent advantage having unforeseen negative outcomes. We need to be careful of welcoming new things like a fascinated baby with a brightly coloured rattle, perhaps presented as an early learning tool in the shape of the planet Mars for instance.