Tag Archives: Labour

Where have all the jobs gone?

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
March, 2017

Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Marco Verch/Flickr/Creative Commons

“Every would-be populist in American politics purports to defend the ‘middle class,'” wrote Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich recently, “although there is no agreement on what it is.

Back in 1977 the pair (then married) proposed that the American economy had created a new “professional and managerial class” (PMC) that expanded the upper-middle class from its base of successful bourgeois merchants to include doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, professors, social workers and other professionals, as well as middle and executive managers at major corporations.  PMC members’ success showed that anybody could achieve wealth through education.

The PMC grew rapidly, from an estimated one per cent of workers in 1930 to 35 per cent of workers in 2006, just before the great crash of 2008. By the 1970s, professionals had education, confidence and enough wealth to start questioning some social effects of the capitalist economic structure.

That’s when the “capitalist class” started pushing back, cutting business workforces and pouring resources into union busting. As capitalists cut the workforce, they also cut the management class, the PMC.

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 What’s more, capitalists reached across borders and moved their businesses to cheaper labour pools in other countries, which also had weaker labour and environmental protections. That, along with the Internet,  brought near-total collapse of the PMC as well as the blue-collar job markets.

Ah, but in the 1980s and 90s, economists forecast a coming “Information Economy,” where knowledge itself would generate revenue. Just as industrialization’s much more efficient tools supplanted the cottage industries, they promised, so too would digitization produce useful goods.

Maybe all that will happen in a generation or two. To date, mostly what we’re doing is eating our own young.

Industry after industry has fallen to technical disruption. On February 7 in Canada, Dominic Blanc, who chairs Justin Trudeau’s economic advisory council, told a university conference that automation will take 40 percent of existing jobs within the next decade. 

An Investopedia article names 20 industries “threatened” by technical changes, (I’ve added a few too)  such as:

  • travel agencies found their customers making their own bookings online;
  • tax accountants lost business to tax software programs;
  • newspapers lost their subscribers and their lucrative classified advertising market to free online services;
  • Secretaries, switchboard operators and executive assistants have lost their jobs to answering systems, online calendars and tailored software;
  • bookstores have closed everywhere as people order their books online;
  • employment agencies have had to compete with online listings and networks like Linked-in;
  • postal workers have much less mail to sort or deliver;
  • the whole film manufacturing and developing industry has folded with the advent of digital cameras;
  • ATMs and online banking are replacing bank counter clerks;
  • most corporations have flattened their structures, trimming middle management;
  • self-serve check-outs are replacing cashiers;
  • pre-recorded playlists (like Clear Channel in the US) have replaced most radio DJs;
  • hotels and motels are challenged by AirBnB and HomeAway;
  • taxis and couriers are challenged by Uber and Lyft;
  • driverless cars may do away with driving jobs altogether, although right now truck driving is the second-largest occupation in North America;
  • Napster crashed the U.S. music and movie industry business model; and of course,
  • as U.S. student debts top $1.3 trillion, universities have to compete with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Udemy, Coursera and the Khan Academy, which make higher education available even to students who can’t afford university tuition.

Hold on, because that’s just the beginning of the list. The Paris Agreement calls on fossil fuel industries to restrict current activities, let alone explore for more resources.  Banks and financial industries already compete with online services. On the horizon is “blockchain” software that promises security for anonymous financial dealings, such as Bitcoin. Meanwhile, a whole generation of computer experts is becoming obsolete as smartphones and tablets replace desktops and laptops.

Consumer spending drives 70 per cent of the economy, yet retail stores are folding in the face of Walmarts and online catalogues. Supermarkets may be next, as more people can order online from local warehouses that send out vans for local delivery. Amazon has said it will add groceries to its online products, with drone delivery within 30 minutes in urban areas.

So where are the new industries, the new jobs? Gigs like Uber and AirBnB seem almost regressive, stepping back from health and safety standards, and paying the worker even less than the industry does. Amazon’s monitored warehouse workers might well envy the bored department store clerk.

Sometimes it seems like there isn’t enough work to go around. Scratch that: the world is full of essential tasks that need to be done. What we lack are ways to pay people to do them. There certainly aren’t enough paid jobs.

On the other hand, maybe capitalism has just reached the earthly limits of constant growth. Maybe this is the tipping point forteold by 1950s futurists, when robots take over dirty and dangerous jobs, computers handle personal and corporate transactions, and people like you and me receive Basic Annual Incomes (plus housing if we need it) to keep the retail economy going.

We live in a time of paradoxes. Sixty-three million refugees are on the move globally, fleeing war and famine — famine in four countries simultaneously. At the same time, U.S. corporations are sitting on $1.9 trillion in their bank accounts, not invested in any active enterprises at all — despite the tax breaks they get as “job creators.” Everybody is waiting for the next innovation.

Here’s an innovative idea: let’s share! Let’s suppose two ideas about the futurel 1) Whatever you think of capitalism, the global economy is in flux, and will be volatile for quite a while.  2) Humans are much less inclined to ignite conflicts when they have their basic needs met.

We have a choice. We can step in and share necessities. Or we can throw up our hands in horror and let shortages cause tensions that develop into war, which is capitalism’s usual method for re-booting the economy.

Now is the time to kickstart a true sharing economy. The government could start by funding start-up groups dedicated to establishing national and local sustainable housing (and co-housing) programs, universal connectivity, and geothermal greenhouse farming everywhere across Canada.

Maybe an unemployed coal miner can’t become a computer programmer, but almost anybody can learn how to retrofit homes, from insulation to solar panels. Maybe we can use sustainable technology in a way that means that Indigenous people don’t have to pay $12 for a fresh tomato or travel far from home to get a high school education.

The Ehrenreichs say the Professional Managerial Class rose in the 1930s and started to fade early in the 21st century, lasting barely 100 years.  Instead, in recent decades, the educated middle class spiralled down into service jobs as wealth was sucked upwards.

Last January, Oxfam announced that eight individuals controlled as much wealth ($426 billion US) as all of the poorest 3.6 billion people on earth. Such are the wages of unfettered free markets. No wonder Bernie Sanders found that Americans are finally receptive to the phrase, “democratic socialism.”

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

Related works on F&O:

Technology, not trade, real job-killer, by Tom Regan   Column

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but those jobs U.S. President Donald Trump promised aren’t coming back. And for others, there’s a very good chance that soon more people will be out of work. It won’t happen because of production going to China or Mexico, or and an immigrant or refugee taking jobs. It will be because of technology.

From F&O’s archives, a Focus on Artificial Intelligence:

Figure-1The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez  Magazine

In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.

The Sunflower Robot is a prototype that can carry objects and provide reminders and notifications to assist people in their daily lives. It uses biologically inspired visual signals and a touch screen, located in front of its chest, to communicate and interact with users. Photo by Thomas Farnetti for Wellcome/Mosaic, Creative CommonsA one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts Magazine

I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.

Product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, gives a command to his life-size robot ''Mark 1'', modelled after a Hollywood star, in his balcony which serves as his workshop in Hong Kong, China March 31, 2016. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than HK$400,000 ($51,000) to create the humanoid robot to fulfil his childhood dream. REUTERS/Bobby Yip SEARCH "ROBOT STAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESBuilding a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip  Report

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Why, we can make them ourselves. Or at least some of us can, and do.

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo               GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE Ð SEARCH ÒBUSINESS WEEK AHEAD SEPTEMBER 12Ó FOR ALL IMAGES - RTSNAG5

A man hangs shirts out to dry in an open-air laundry in Mumbai, India August 30, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo

By Liz Mermin 
December, 2016

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Shoppers lured by a bargain-priced T-shirt but concerned about whether the item is free of slave labour could soon have the answer – from DNA forensic technology.

James Hayward, chief executive of U.S.-based Applied DNA Sciences Inc. that develops DNA-based technology to prevent counterfeiting and ensure authenticity, said his researchers have been working in the cotton industry for up to nine years.

He said this was prompted by rising concerns about the global cotton industry, that provides income for more than 250 million people, using child and slave labour in harvesting the crop and the during the production process to make clothes.

Hayward said cotton was one of the most complex supply chains he had come across because it was grown in more than 100 countries and goes through a multi-stage transformation process before emerging in “fast fashion” that is cheap and disposable.

“Often each country (is) performing a single function in the transformation of a mature cotton fibre, a single cell into a finished product like a cotton shirt .. along the way there are many opportunities for cheating,” said Hayward.

“Our primary aim is to cleanse the cotton supply chain and by that, I mean eliminating any diversion, any mislabelling, any counterfeiting that can take place throughout the cotton supply chain,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hayward said an ideal way to ascertain the true identity of a natural commodity was to use the DNA that nature gave that commodity or to mark it with a manufactured DNA.

This could allow the cotton can be traced to where it was picked before it went into the ginning process that cleans away seed and other debris for packaging into bails to ship around the world for spinning, dyeing and to make into clothes.

ORIGINS TRACED

During this process mislabelling can happen and substitute fibres added to cotton, with retailers and governments increasingly aware of this.

Hayward said a key issue is where the substitute fibres originate from as some countries have used state-sponsored slavery to collect that cotton.

Modern slavery has become a catch-all term to describe human trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage, sex trafficking, forced marriage and other slave-like exploitation.

An estimated 46 million people are living as slaves, according the 2016 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, which said Uzbekistan – the world’s fifth-largest cotton exporter – Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were forcing people to work in the annual cotton harvest.

Over 264 brands have signed up to a global pledge set up by the Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), run by the California-based charity As You Sow, vowing not to use Uzbek cotton until the government stops using forced child and adult labour.

“I think many consumers would be appalled to contemplate the notion that their garment they’re wearing could be the product of human trafficking,” Hayward said.

He said Applied DNA Sciences was primarily working with two different types of DNA – an engineered DNA made from a botanical source that allowed it to track that fibre back to its origin.

It was also trying to identify the natural DNA found in cotton fibre that allowed researchers to know which species the cotton fibre is and where it comes from.

He said this gave hints that could provide a trail from finished goods back to the crop although the level of analysis had not gone far enough yet to be truly forensic.

But he said it would let a retailer or brand owner pick up their level of attention and investigate a bit further into their supply chain – particularly as they are facing mounting pressure from governments to ensure supply chains are clean.

“We do expect that in the next year or two it will be forensic and we will be able to distinguish the global cultivars of cotton based on their point of origin,” he said.

“While our project is not yet complete we can certainly discern the differences between some Uzbek strains of cotton versus American sources of a similar cotton … the DNA tells a story and it’s very commercially and also relevant to humanity.”

Hayward said unravelling the complex cotton supply chain could set an example on how to tackle other industries.

“If we can help fix that we can help fix much easier to sort our supply chains like pharmaceutics,” he said.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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The toddler tied to a rock while parents work

By Amit Dave
May, 2016

Barrier tape is tied around 15-month-old Shivani's ankle to prevent her from running away, while her mother Sarta Kalara works at a construction site nearby, in Ahmedabad, India, April 19, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India's booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave       SEARCH "TIED TODDLER" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Barrier tape is tied around 15-month-old Shivani’s ankle to prevent her from running away, while her mother Sarta Kalara works at a construction site nearby, in Ahmedabad, India, April 19, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India’s booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Ahmedabad, India (Reuters) — Fifteen month-old Shivani tugs at a plastic tape her mother has wrapped around her leg and tied to a rock at a building site in western India.

Barefoot and caked in dust, the toddler spends nine hours a day in temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) attached to the 4.5 foot (1.4 meter) tape marked “caution.”

Sarta Kalara, her mother, says she has no option but to tether Shivani to the stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad.

“I tie her so she doesn’t go on the road. My younger son is three and a half so he is not able to control her,” said the 23-year old, covering her face with her sari.

“This site is full of traffic, I have no option. I do this for her safety.”

There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India’s booming cities.

Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses.

Many such families live in tents on site or, like Shivani’s, bed down in the open at night.

Sarta Kalara (C), a construction worker, stands among other female workers in Ahmedabad, India, April 20, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India's booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Sarta Kalara (C), a construction worker, stands among other female workers in Ahmedabad, India, April 20, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India’s booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Sarta Kalara, a construction worker, holds her 15-month-old Shivani as a barrier tape is tied to Shivani's ankle to prevent her from running away when Kalara works nearby in Ahmedabad, India, April 20, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India's booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Sarta Kalara, a construction worker, holds her 15-month-old Shivani as a barrier tape is tied to Shivani’s ankle to prevent her from running away when Kalara works nearby in Ahmedabad, India, April 20, 2016. Kalara says she has no option but to tether her daughter Shivani to a stone despite her crying, while she and her husband work for 250 rupees ($3.8) each a shift digging holes for electricity cables in the city of Ahmedabad. There are about 40 million construction workers in India, at least one in five of them women, and the majority poor migrants who shift from site to site, building infrastructure for India’s booming cities. Across the country it is not uncommon to see young children rolling in the sand and mud as their parents carry bricks or dig for new roads or luxury houses. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Prabhat Jha, head of child protection at Save the Children India, said creche facilities were rare, and usually cost.

“There should be creche facilities, either from the government or the construction companies. There should be a safe place for these children. They are at real risk of being hurt,” Jha said.

Indian companies usually outsource the hiring of cheap labor. Contractors bring gangs of workers, often recruited from the same village, to lift, dig or hammer with little oversight or safety provisions.

While Shivani is tied to her rock, men pause for coconut and water amid the searing heat as mothers take quick breaks to feed their kids.

Parents said their children usually stayed with them until they are seven or eight, when they are sent to live with grandparents in poor tribal villages in a neighboring state.

Kalara, holding Shivani as the plastic tape dangled from her leg, said managers had turned a blind eye to her plight.

“They don’t care about us or our children, they are only concerned with their work.”

When a Reuters photographer returned to the site on a second day, a group of laborers laying power cables threw stones at him.

Copyright Reuters 2016

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Militant workers China’s new nightmare

Twenty-four months of work stoppages are recorded in this graphic created from information collected and maintained by China Labour Bulletin. Its cause a Chinese labour movement independent of the Communist party the bulletin permits the China-watcher to monitor the ordinary and everyday aspirations of a people and the apprehensions of their leaders. clb.org.hk/en/is the address of its English-language website.

Twenty-four months of work stoppages are recorded in this graphic created from information collected and maintained by China Labour Bulletin. Its cause a Chinese labour movement independent of the Communist party the bulletin permits the China-watcher to monitor the ordinary and everyday aspirations of a people and the apprehensions of their leaders. clb.org.hk/en/is the address of its English-language website.

China’s workers are not convinced by their government’s new stance, that low economic growth is “normal.” It’s a nightmarish scenario for China, warns International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe in his new column, Labour unrest surges as China’s economy slows. An excerpt:

As China’s economy slows to a crawl, the Communist Party is facing one of its worst nightmares: a militant labour movement.

The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which collects data on strikes and lockouts in China as well as promoting workers’ rights, says there has been a dramatic upturn in labour unrest across the country. As the country’s economy slowed to its lowest growth level since 1990, strikes and protests in the last three months of 2014 were three times those of the same period the year before.

“The dramatic upturn can be partially explained by the increased use of cheap smartphones and social media as tools by workers to get news of their protest action to a wider audience,” says the latest report by the group.

“But at the same time there is clearly an increase in labour activism in response primarily to the economic slowdown in China over the last year or so.”

For at least two decades the Beijing government has agreed with outside analysts that China needs to maintain an annual economic growth rate of at least eight per cent to provide jobs for the estimated 30 million young people entering the workforce every year and to maintain social stability.

But as the growth in gross domestic product slipped to 7.4 per cent last year and is likely to hit only seven per cent this year, China’s leaders are trying to persuade the country’s nearly 800-million-strong workforce that low growth is the “new normal.” Log in first to read Labour unrest surges as China’s economy slows (subscription required*).

Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription.  See Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page

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