The new labor frontiers

Thursday 13 June 2013

All the versions of this article: [English] [Español]

Authorship: Laura Balbo.

Editorial and Canal: Latin American Information Agency (Agencia Latinoamericana de Información) (ALAI).

Type of document: Article.

Language: Spanish.

Theme: Labor.

Keywords: Labor rights, Economic remittances, Technologies.

Countries and Regions: Latin America and Europe.

It is no longer possible to create new jobs using the productive framework of the past. In many sectors for a growing number of jobs there will no longer be needed employees. Not only in our country, but also in a lot of European countries – as well as all over the world- the context in which we are living is characterized by the problem of “creating jobs”. In the political debate in particular special care is given to the youth, but the issue should be articulated as well taking into consideration the demographic trend (active aging) and the different components of the world of the youth: no longer we are hearing talking about “equal opportunities”, no longer “young migrants” are mentioned, many of them were born here: if we notice the volume of them attending school and those who will be in future years; all this will represent a considerable proportion of the “youth” in our labor market.

I avail myself of this opportunity to – thanks to the recent published text in La Repubblica– mention an aspect which is not used in our debate. The title, “LA LEGGE DELLA ROBOTICA”, will not lead you to think necessarily in the issue of the “jobs”. But I think this is a rather useful contribution to place labor, while keeping distance from the prevailing readings that I consider vague and even dangerous. We are talking about an interview to the American journalist and essay writer, Chris Anderson, formed director of Wired and author of several publications who, expanding on the immaterial aspect of the coming into being of the era of free things and even the recent twist in the return of industry, has created and reinforced his fame as the Internet “guru”.

In the center of his analysis and his activity there is a project that intends to foresee radical changes in world agriculture. Anderson says “we are living at present in a robotized society” … even though when a robot is functioning we no longer call it a robot… the washing machine is a robot… also the navigator in your car indicating. Then the word “robot” is no longer alien in our world, in our daily life. I can also think about other situations, forming part of our normal life, that we could add to this list. In postal jobs, in banking, in travel agencies, there are less clients than in the past and also the amount of employees has been reduced: tickets and several operations are done via Internet. The amount of people working before in this and other environments has decreased. For a growing number of “jobs” in many sectors there will no longer be needed “employees” for certain tasks that before were to be developed. Quite obvious, we do not think that Internet and robots are part of the same “world”, but we should take into consideration the words by Chris Anderson. And again, continues explaining Anderson: in this scenario we are designing “labor for a non specific time within the manufacturing sector is doomed to disappear”.

Later on he goes into talking about his project and proposes a scenario to which, up to now, we have not granted much attention. The word is “drone”, which we have come to know through war operations where, instead of human beings, robots are used. This new fact is of importance under risk situations. But regarding drones, Anderson present us with a totally different picture. His idea is the introduction in agriculture, at world level, of technological solutions not thought about until now: “a small air model that over flying a field i sable to control production and allows us to know if there are sick plants, water infiltration and the situation in general. Solving these problems entail a considerable improvement in recollection”. Let’s stop for a minute to think on what this could mean regarding the amount (and even the conditions) of people working in different tasks in agriculture. If we were to use drones as workers we will be decreasing the amount of people in those jobs.

I am referring to this interview since we really need to pay attention to the ongoing processes and to the “future” with proper knowledge and categories. They continue referring – and undoubtedly it is impossible not to do it – of policies and “scenarios” representing an important stage in the history of many countries: we have gone through decades in which economic and social conditions have improved for many; we thought it was possible to move forward, even improving in the future. Nevertheless, the purpose is to focus our attention on the processes –partially ongoing – for the time being not thought about by most of us. It is not possible – and I think this is already taking place – “to create jobs reproducing the same framework existing a few decades ago”.

Speaking on that key will only add uncertainty, demands without safe answers, sense of insecurity to present concerns. But this is needed. It is a serious risk to present false solutions, inadequate answers. And above all, there are analysis and proposals for a possible “looking ahead”. Still not too much is said about possible alternatives, about new solutions that should be experimented; about changes in modalities, in times, even in the definition of “labor”. We wish that the media and the institutions will open our eyes to look on the ongoing processes and its possible solutions.

- Laura Balbo is an Italian sociologist, specialized in the fields of family economy, racism, immigration and social state. Member of Parliament for the left wing, she was Minister for Equal Opportunities during the administration of D’Alema. She is holding the honorary chairmanship of the Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (Union of atheist and rational agnostics) and of Italia-Razzismo.

The original text is published in Sbilanciamosci. Spanish translation was done by Tito Ferino and the Spanish publication appeared on the sister blog Metiendo bulla.

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