Posts Tagged ‘working conditions’

Robotic jobs, robots and the future of work

September 9, 2019

A lot of corporate managers, especially in Silicon Valley, have a goal of replacing workers with automated machines.  The path to that goal is to make work as machine-like and automatic as possible..

I always used to feel sorry for telephone operators 25 years ago because very minute of their workday was monitored so that they always gave a specific automatic response.  Now this has become a pattern.

 Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs recently wrote about how this is becoming the new normal.

[A] feature in the Wall Street Journal … shows how new technologies are enabling employers to spy on a fictitious employee named Chet.

Chet’s boss knows what time he wakes up, because his phone detects changes in his physical activity.  

Chet’s whereabouts are tracked at all times, and his employer can watch him stop for coffee before work, and even knows what part of the building he is in and whether he has strayed into any “unauthorized areas.”

Image via Fast Company

The precise time he arrives at work will be logged, all of his emails will be read, and Chet’s work computer snaps a screenshot every 30 seconds so that the employer can verify that he is staying on task.  

His “phone conversations can be recorded, transcribed and monitored for rate of speech and tone,” his interactions with other employees are recorded and analyzed, and his company even tracks his fitness and can use it to adjust his benefits.

An accompanying Wall Street Journal article indicates that these kinds of employer surveillance techniques are increasingly common, and “there’s almost nothing you can do about it.”

And there are even more invasive possible techniques—I recently read an MIT Technology Review article called “This company embeds microchips in its employees, and they love it,” which I liked because nowhere in the body of the article itself is there any quote indicating that the employees do, indeed, “love it.”  

One of them says that you get used to it after a time, which I do not doubt.

Importantly, though, under the philosophy that Free Markets are fair, there is no actual language with which we can object to these things.  

Unless the employees are being kidnapped and enslaved, this is just “freedom of contract.”

If they didn’t want their employer screenshotting their workspace, or taking pictures of their penis in the company bathroom, they shouldn’t have signed a contract that allowed said employer “all possible latitude to do as they see fit to further the interests of the company.”  Sucks for you, Chet.

In the innocent-seeming paragraph about freedom above, then, we can see the seeds of something perverse and disturbing.

The belief that the state shouldn’t “interfere” in “voluntary transactions” actually means that your boss should get to do whatever they want, and there should be “nothing you can do about it.”  

We can see here exactly how workers can be talked into forging their own chains: A well-funded operation convinces them of the Philosophy Of Freedom, and then they find out too late that this just means they have no recourse when horrible invasive things are done to them at work, and every moment of their life is monitored by a powerful entity that does not care whether they live or die.

(more…)

Why are Americans leaving the work force?

August 3, 2015

150714171144-chart-labor-force-participation-780x439

Another example of American exceptionalism.

A report by CNN Money indicates that, since the year 2000, the American labor force participation rate—the proportion of working-age Americans with jobs or looking for work—has fallen, while the rate has been increasing in other industrial countries.

I don’t think CNN’s theory—that other countries make it easier for women to work—is the whole story.

Hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have been falling in the USA since the late 1970s.  For a long time Americans maintained their material standard of living by working longer hours, sending more families into the work force and borrowing money.

Now this has collapsed.   The good jobs are no longer available.  In many cases it makes more sense to cut back on spending than to get a job where low wages are offset by the costs of transportation, child care and the like.

I think—although I don’t claim to be able to prove—that the other countries on the CNN chart are following the same path as the United States, but are not so far along.

One straw in the wind is the increasing number of Europeans who are working “extreme” working hours—50 hours a week or more.   This is pretty much the trend in the USA during the 1990s.

I think the best explanation for what is going on is the Marxist one.   In all the rich countries, there is an increasing flow of income to holders of financial assets and to people in executive positions and a decreasing flow to the middle class, working people and the poor.

LINKS

Why America’s workforce is shrinking and Europe’s isn’t by CNN Money.

Extreme working hours have radically increased in many western European countries since the start of the 1990s by Anna S. Burger of the London School of Economics.

Conversations Starbucks won’t have

April 2, 2015

Starbucks.conversation161Background: What ‘Race Together’ Means for Starbucks Partners and Customers.