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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

A Short History of Labor

The way Labor fought against an excessive exploitation by capital was through strikes. The workers would organize, make demands and walk out. The capitalists would bring in scabs- desperate people who’d agree to work in exploitative conditions- to break the strike. Workers would resist. The result was an improvement of labor conditions. Everybody knows that. 

Then the capital became liquid and went global. And so did this whole process I just described. This is why unions lost power. The capital doesn’t operate locally. It started using globally produced desperate workers to break the Labor’s power.

But then there is the third stage in this process: scabs have become not human. And that spells the ultimate defeat of Labor because you can’t effectively stop technological advances. 

The problem is that everybody who is looking for a solution is stuck in the first two stages. 

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16 thoughts on “A Short History of Labor

  1. DWeird on said:

    Okay, but we didn’t have workers in the modern sense until the industrial revolution, which was all about technology. Labour is pretty dang coterminous with tech. So the concerns about machines making human workers unnecessary are literally a couple hundred years old. How is now different?

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    • Let’s ask people in the Rust Belt and all the millions who have stopped even trying to look for work what is different.

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      • DWeird on said:

        Read “How is now different?” as “why now?” and not “I don’t think what you’re talking about is really happening.”

        If you read your timeline of processes as proceeding in roughly historical order, the fact remains that the last item on the list has actually been there since the start. And no one even so much as thought about it until now?

        That’s weird.

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  2. Shakti on said:

    Machines can’t be consumers…yet.

    I’m thinking as I’m typing so this isn’t coherent:

    What’s interesting to me is that people who actually come up with the automated processes, people in IT, are almost never in favor of unions of any sort, even for themselves. And they never seem to be interested in designing processes to keep the number of people employed the same. These same people get super pissed over IT workers from other countries coming to their country. They are also supremely indifferent to a variety of people from the same country being in IT and in some cases actively hostile. A lot of the behaviors I see are people who’d like a guild but without out acknowledging that they’d want a guild or a union, because of white collar pretensions? What? I wonder how much bad code is deliberately shitty because some people don’t want to automate themselves out of a job. You can’t throw a physical wrench into a program, but you can make code that breaks all the time.

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  3. But then there is the third stage in this process: scabs have become not human. And that spells the ultimate defeat of Labor because you can’t effectively stop technological advances.

    The problem is that everybody who is looking for a solution is stuck in the first two stages.

    The only possible solution is the one you despise: A guaranteed basic income for everyone. There is no need for anyone to work who dies not want to. That way, all employees will be enthusiastic and dedicated, since no one has to be there.

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    • This solution has already been implemented. The result is an opioid epidemic and Trump.

      As Zygmunt Bauman said back in 2003, we have found a way to maintain the biological existence of surplus people but this way spells social death. Humans are social animals. The knowledge that you are permanently discarded, redundant, not needed is intolerable and people begin to self-destruct.

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      • “The knowledge that you are permanently discarded, redundant, not needed is intolerable and people begin to self-destruct.”

        This is not true for everyone. The person who cannot find a job, say, doing theoretical physics or playing a violin can work for a decade to perfect what their passion is. Then they will be able to achieve something great. It is telling that successful opera singers, for example, almost always come from wealthy families, because it takes so very much time to get started in such a career. At present, only wealthy people can afford this investment of time.

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        • David, I’ve seen such theoretical physicists, opera singers and violin players in great numbers after the USSR fell. They didn’t achieve anything great. They drank themselves into an early grave, destroyed their families, and descended into mental illness by the million, literally. This experiment has already been conducted and the results are in. Protracted exclusion from productive and remunerated labor destroys people. You are a scientist, why don’t you look at the abundant evidence?

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          • There is a bestselling work of literature in Russian that describes the writer’s marriage to precisely such a laid-off post-Soviet opera singer and the ensuing suffering of everybody involved. And N and I actually met on the basis of both of us being fans of the author’s. Not because of the laid-off opera singer but because this is a feminist writer, and we both liked that.

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            • “There is a bestselling work of literature in Russian that describes the writer’s marriage to precisely such a laid-off post-Soviet opera singer ”

              Who’s the author and what’s the book? It sounds interesting and even if it hasn’t been translated into English it might be available in Polish.

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              • It’s true, the book might well be available in Polish. It’s called I’m 40 Years Old and the author is Maria Arbatova. The writer’s real-life husband was an opera singer in the USSR.

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          • “Protracted exclusion from productive and remunerated labor destroys people.”

            This would suggest that a massive die off (perhaps a majority of humanity) is in the offing.

            Productive is a subjective judgement but There is no way for advanced countries to keep their current levels of population when there will not be nearly enough jobs to provide meaning and purpose for them (and when a large section of productive work is all about transferring productive work from humans to machines).

            The way that countries have traditionally gotten rid of excess population is through war. Do you think a major war or two is in the offing?

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            • Philip Bobbitt said back in 2003 that changing a state model is traditionally accompanied by a big war. He said that there is a way to escape this this time if we make an effort and find ways of mitigating the effects of the transformation.

              Do you see anybody make such an effort? I don’t. People are in complete denial. I can’t even get very intelligent, educated people to accept that robotization is real, the opioid epidemic is real, the suffering of the unemployed is real. If we can’t even agree on these very obvious basic facts because they are inconvenient, how will we come up with a solution?

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              • I can’t even get very intelligent, educated people to accept that robotization is real, the opioid epidemic is real, the suffering of the unemployed is real.

                There is no question that these are real. But I do not believe the thesis that there is a connection between robotization and the opioid epidemic.

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              • Are we going to start a new round of the discussion of how heroin addiction is a hobby like any other and not a coping devise in the face of intolerable reality? Because we’ve already had that debate here on the blog.

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  4. \ But then there is the third stage in this process: scabs have become not human. And that spells the ultimate defeat of Labor because you can’t effectively stop technological advances.

    Read today on this subject that:

    \ For leading US seed fund Maven Ventures, autonomous driving technology is the most transformative technology out there, possibly second to the Internet, and Israel will have a big role to play in the industry.

    Intel buys Israeli self-driving car firm for $15 billion

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/with-israeli-tech-self-driving-cars-are-becoming-a-reality/

    Normally, I am glad when Israel is acknowledged by the world as contributing to scientific and technological breakthroughs, instead of being labeled with the “apartheid” brand only.

    However, after reading your posts, I am becoming sad after reading such news. Yes, this firm was sold for $15 billion; however, except making a few hundred Israelis rich, how will it contribute to the rest of us? Many Israeli citizens will lose their jobs after self-driving cars become reality.

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