Re: Luddites and Neo-luddites

Gary Goodman (sap@TANK.ORG)
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 18:00:24 EST

JL>Allen Lutins writes,


JL>On a more general note, Jeremy Rifkin observes in _The End of
JL>Work_ that each stage of the industrial revolution has
JL>dramatically shortened the work week: steam from 80 to 60
JL>hours, oil and electricity from 60 to 40. The political issue at each
JL>stage has been owner/managers' unwillingness to share the
JL>gains of productivity by spreading the work around. Overcoming
JL>this resistance has been the primary mission of unions and other
JL>labor organizations. The perceived threat of the new electronic
JL>technologies lies (a) in the absence of a new economic sector for
JL>displaced workers to move to--even fast food is now being
JL>automated--and (b) the difficulty of organizing to fight
JL>management that can easily shift the means of production half a
JL>world away. Rifkin's proposal for dealing with (a) is a
JL>combination of tax and regulatory schemes that make it
JL>worthwhile for industry to further reduce the work week and
JL>expand its support of "third sector" (non-market, non-
JL>governmental=community NGO) activities. His pessimism
JL>derives from (b). Here, perhaps, anthropologists working with
JL>the new communication technologies might have a role to play,
JL>helping to build the international organizations needed to
JL>confront multinational businesses. Whether we have the
JL>political skills and political will to do that is, of course, an
JL>interesting question.

JL>John McCreery
JL>Monday, January 29, 1996

I haven't got to this book yet (OH that LIST of To-Be-Read!), but I've
been cautious about comparing work-weeks since I discovered that
medieval yeo-men and women actually spent about as much time OFF work
as laboring -- thanks to all those half and full day holidays they had
via the Church. Nearly every week had at least one, many two Saints'
Days. Plus Sunday.

When the Industrial Revolution started there were any number of reasons
the work week was the length it was -- including a shortage of even
semi-skilled "mechanics."

Though pure greed was certainly a core motivation. Power over others is
an indoxicating brew. With the old customs and safeguards of the
family-centered workplace and the guilds destroyed, a wild anarchy
seemed to reign for a while -- with finally those with the highest
productivity (compared to labor cost) of marketable items coming to set
the standards others had to meet or lose out.

While the "Laissez-faire" era of industrialization is much more myth
than reality (since in America for example, as in most other countries,
it was via government development of roads, forts, canals, railroads,
mail and other comtracts, financial safeguards and outright grants, in
addition to high protective walls of tariff from foreign competition,
that allow the Robber Barons to florish -- not the fabled Invisible
Hand), cost-per-unit 'justifying' a great deal of human exploitation
and misery.

I also suspect there is presently only a quite limited (and decreasing)
amount of manual and even mental labor that is involved on the basic
industrial level -- coupled with both increasing population and desire
for a "fuller" life.

Less work to go around in other words. But more and more goodies being
promoted as necessary to "get by."

(Anyone done a survey of an average supermarket or discount store as to
proportion of luxury items to actual necessities? I think the
discussion alone on what is -- or is not -- a luxury item would prove

We see in about every country different (and usually failing) solutions
to the problem of the permanently Under or Un-employed. Yet, many
economic and management tactics seem based upon early Industrial Age
models! When labor was mostly semi-skilled at best, and workers as
interchangable as the parts; as that very interchangablity was itself
the essence of the Revolution.

Humankind has had to solve variations on this problem before. Which, if
any, can apply to the greater threat of a population with nothing
useful to do, no self-respect, no sense of belonging or value, and no
hope for improvement?

Call it societal pollution. The drain seems clogged up and the toxins
are building up.

Anyone got a good "green" socio-economic drain-cleaner?

Gary D. Goodman