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Posts Tagged ‘labor

“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution”*…

 

What can a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war– the robots are coming!– in the job market?

Clive Thompson, an author and journalist at the New York Times Magazine and Wired, revisited Luddite’s history in an article for The Smithsonian to see what it could teach us. As machine learning and robotics consume manufacturing and white-collar jobs alike, the 200-year-old rebellion’s implications for automation are more relevant than ever, says Thompson:

“The lesson you get from the end of the Luddites is: Do the people that are profiting off automation today want to participate in distributing their profits more widely around the population, or are they going to fight just as hard as they did back then?”

That economic and political question is hanging over western democracies coping with a wave of populism seemingly tracking a widening gap between stagnant wages and ballooning wealth at the top. While automation eventually tends to create new jobs even after it destroys old ones, that’s little consolation for millions of workers whose skills and experience are obsolete…

More on this all-too-relevant history in a interview with Thompson: “Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right.”

And do read Thompson’s original article: “When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites.”

Then, check out “Robots don’t have to take over jobs in order to be a problem for workers.”

* Stephen Hawking

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As we heft our hammers, we might we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to José Ortega y Gasset; he was born on this date in 1883.  A philosopher and essayist, he is perhaps best known for The Revolt of the Masses, which characterized 20th-century society as dominated by masses of mediocre & indistinguishable individuals– a conception tha converged with other “mass society” theorists like Karl Mannheim, Erich Fromm, and Hannah Arendt.  (Lest his view be seen as too grim and judgmental, he is memorialized in what has become known as “the Ortega hypothesis,” based on a quote in The Revolt of the Masses, that states that average or mediocre scientists contribute substantially to the advancement of science.)

In exile during the Spanish Revolution, he refused to support either side or to hold academic office under Franco.

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Written by LW

May 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread”*…

 

We stand at the precipice if we don’t re-evaluate our understanding of poverty and inequality. The narrative in the neo-liberal west is that if you work hard, things work out. If things don’t work out, we have the tendency to blame the victim, leaving them without any choices. Brexit, Le Pen, and the defeat of Hillary Clinton are examples of the cracks that result from inequality and poverty, symptoms of my childhood experience writ large. The Piketty pitchforks are out, and the march to global disorder can only be arrested by adopting measures that begin to price in the stacked deck that I and anyone else born into deep poverty sees, and resents.

I believe we will see the Italian Five Star Movement submit a referendum to leave the EU this year, and that Marine Le Pen has better than even odds of winning the French election. The EU is in danger of buckling under a globalist defeat and may exist in name only two years from now.

These trends are being accelerated by the blind belief that the poor have failed to seize the opportunities that the market or globalization has created. This myth deserves to be taken off life support—and the emerging, empirical, and carefully observed science of poverty can help us do so if we pay it the attention it deserves…

A powerful plea for a fundamental re-understanding of the economic inequality that vexes our society, and of the myth of meritocracy that has helped sustain it: “Why Poverty Is Like a Disease.”

* Mahatma Gandhi

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As we agree with FDR that “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little,” we might recall that this date in 1907 was “Bloody Tuesday.”  The San Francisco streetcar strike, which had begun two days earlier, erupted into violence when armed strikebreakers fired into an angry crowd of strike supporters.  Soon armed strike sympathizers returned fire.  2 died; 20 were injured.

Armed strike breaker, left, shoots into the crowd on Bloody Tuesday, May 7, 1907. The original caption in The San Francisco Examiner said that “Photographer Coleman” took the picture “the moment before the man running beside him was fatally shot.”

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Written by LW

May 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“You have to be insanely well prepared”*…

 

The service industry always has job openings. The rising number of chefs who are working on a freelance basis is becoming a great challenge for restaurant owners who are trying to keep their businesses going. Twenty-eight-year-old Dennis de Haan of De Haan restaurant, located in the Dutch city of Groningen, doesn’t have this problem. His restaurant seats sixteen, serves five courses, and features an open kitchen and wine bar. There’s just one hook: the whole place is run De Haan himself. Five days a week, de Haan is not only the chef, but also the server and the dishwasher. His business is thriving…

He’s the owner, cook, waiter, busboy, dishwasher, and sommelier– and he hasn’t gone crazy yet: “This Restaurant Only Has One Employee.”

Is it a trend?  In Copenhagen, another one-employee restaurant has started up: “Meet the Man Who Does Every Single Job at ‘Denmark’s Smallest Restaurant’.”

* Thomas Pamperin, the Danish solo operator

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As we sharpen our knives, we might recall that it was on this date in 2012 that the movie “The Hunger Games” premiered across the U.S.

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Written by LW

March 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”*…

 

Justine Kurland, Rebuilt Engine, 2013

The second floor of Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery currently greets patrons with an empty conveyor belt moving through, and back around, a giant mirror.

“Contemporary capitalism trades in nonexistence,” Agnieszka Kurant, the artist behind the piece, told ArtForum in 2013. “Seventy percent of money in this world is phantom—it exists virtually, on computers—but still produces physical consequences.” Much the same tone is at play in Kurant’s contribution to Overtime: The Art of Work, a new collection of artwork that examines the struggles of laborers across nations and eras.

From paintings of child workers in 18th century England to 3-D printed limbs of contract workers in 21st century America, the show is relentlessly engaging…

Learn more about– and see more of– the exhibit at “Art That Understands What It’s Like to Work.”

* John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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As we whistle, we might send radically provocative birthday greetings to Kathy Acker; she was born on this date in 1947.  An experimental novelist, punk poet, playwright, performance artist, essayist, postmodernist, and feminist writer, she was a prolific creator who was formative influence on dozens of younger writers, and on Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Kim Gordon, co-founder of Sonic Youth.

In 1996, Acker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy.  The surgery was unsuccessful, and following year, she undertook a series of alternative therapies.  She died, in November of 1997, in an alternative cancer clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. She died in Room 101, to which her friend Alan Moore quipped, “There’s nothing that woman can’t turn into a literary reference.”

Reason is always in the service of the political and economic masters. It is here that literature strikes, at this base, where the concepts and actings of order impose themselves. Literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified.

Kathy Acker, Empire of the Senseless (1988)

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Written by LW

April 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

Thou Shalt Not…

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.  In the one thousand two hundred twenty-ninth year from the incarnation of our Lord, Peter, of all monks the least significant, gave this book to the [Benedictine monastery of the] most blessed martyr, St. Quentin.  If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgment the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Beinecke MS 214, Yale University Library

The MPAA continues to issue take-down notices, the RIAA continues to sue civilians, and the Justice Department enlists the Department of State secretly to negotiate a new– and closed– global intellectual property  regime (the ACTA Treaty), but piracy of CDs, DVDs, and books continues, the industry insists, to be a problem.  The problem.

So the media companies who are animating all of this frantic action have taken the extra step of admonishing its customers with “FBI Warnings” at the head of DVDs, on CD jewel cases, and the like…

But, as Carl Pyrdum, a Yale medievalist, writes in Got Medieval, history is discouraging:

Sometimes people come to me and ask, “How did medieval filmmakers protect their DVDs from piracy?” And I tell them that since so few households had DVD players during the thousand or so years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance that it really never became much of an issue.

But this is not to say that the medievals didn’t face problems safeguarding their intellectual property. Indeed, book owners were so worried about theft and damage to their property that they often included what is known as a “book curse” on the inside cover or on the last leaf of their manuscripts [like the one illustrated above], warning away anyone who might do the book some harm. And in this, I submit, they were a lot like modern day Hollywood. For a book curse is essentially the same as that little FBI warning that pops up whenever you try to watch a movie: a toothless text charm included by the media’s maker meant to frighten the foolish. The charm only works if you believe that words are special, potent magic.

Perhaps the example illustrated above could be a model; perhaps the industry could move to something like…

As we update our copies of Handbrake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), later renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), was formed. The UFWOC was established when two smaller organizations, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), both in the middle of strikes against certain California grape growers, merged and moved under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.

Before the rise of the UFW, farmworkers made, on average, about ninety cents per hour plus ten cents for each basket of produce they picked– work that many did without such basic necessities such as clean drinking water or portable toilets.  Even then, unfair hiring practices, especially demands for kickbacks, were rampant.   And there was little rest at the end of the day: their living quarters were seldom equipped with indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.

Under the founding leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW brought these issues to the public’s attention.  It won many important benefits for agricultural workers, bringing comprehensive health benefits for farmworkers and their families, rest periods, clean drinking water, and sanitary facilities.

The UFW also has pioneered the fight to protect farmworkers against harmful pesticides– an effort that continues, as California proposes to allow neurotoxin methyl iodide as a pesticide in strawberry fields.

Mexican Farm Worker at Home, Imperial Valley, CA; Dorothea Lange (source: Library of Congress)

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