I’m not that impressed with the assumptions that Labour’s Future of Work Commission appears to be making: a shiny high tech world where NZ businesses invest in advanced automation and information technologies to make large portions of today’s workforce redundant.
It seems driven by memes sourced from periodicals read by the international business elite, by some Labour types who don’t understand the difficulties of welding stainless steel correctly.
As I worked in NZ high tech in the 1990s, Ruthanasia rocked on and manufacturing was closing down – it seemed like everyone was going to retrain as computer network engineers or database administrators, and those who couldn’t make the grade there were going to retrain to become web page designers or computer help desk technicians.
I recall the Government putting unemployed factory workers through courses to do just that.
Two decades on, that’s generally been proven to be exactly as farcical as it seemed to those involved at the time. It was like the promise of the “paperless office” v2.0
Further, Labour’s apparent position that “technology” is what is going to put Kiwi jobs at risk neatly sidesteps addressing the system truth: the insatiable drive for financial extraction behind it all and a multi-decades lack of strong strategic leadership from the NZ elite. So now we are entering the last few stages of an increasingly desperate and cronyistic capitalism’s catabolic disruption of society.
Here, the commoditisation of labour becomes absolute such that labour is considered utterly disposable or even unnecessary.
Or is it? Perhaps what we need is a futuristic but earthy left wing vision of resiliency which become a complete political economic agenda and call to action of its own. The “political economics of resiliency.” Yes, this would require a huge break from the neoliberal paradigm and mantra of being permissive to big corporate domination.
The following is my (partial) list for a real and relevant “Future of Work Commission.”
1) At every point, a firm distinction must be made between useful work that benefits society, and paid jobs. The former is often not organised as the latter, and the latter often does not accomplish the former. And if we do not push back austerity, economic decline, and increasing parasitic extraction by the 0.1% (and the FIRE economy) it will probably mean that less and less of the important work that society needs to be done will be organised in the form of sustainable paid jobs.
2) The focus must go back on human centred work that prioritises caring, compassion, inter-personal communication, creativity and collectivity. Much of this work will be very important in a society facing multiple increasing stressors, a lot of the work will be low-tech in nature, and only some of it will be able to be organised into decent paid jobs. This is where concepts like a UBI are extremely important in that it will allow people to live while getting vital non-paid work done.
3) Climate change and climate crises will become major impacts on NZ over the next 20-30 years. Any real and relevant Future of Work Commission must directly address this.
4) Transitioning off fossil fuels/fossil fuel depletion will become major impacts on NZ over the next 20-30 years. Any real and relevant Future of Work Commission must directly address this.
5) Kiwis must be mentored to conceptualise, contextualise, problem solve, innovate, generate novel solutions and use the fullness of their imaginations, while working together to co-operate and create, as the number one priority. Not to conform and code using current day tech (almost no 50 year olds saw a single computer at primary school – but most can use an iPhone or work PC just fine today).
Therefore any Future of Work Commission must focus on maximising the human potential of every Kiwi child in a very difficult future of climate change and energy depletion.
To my mind, a Future of Work Commission which is real and relevant needs to make big calls about what the future is going to look like and about some new political economic values for New Zealand. Labour has not yet hit the mark.
EDIT: the Keiser Report (starring the inimitable Max Keiser and Stacey Herbert) has just done a new episode on the future of work in a post capitalism era – including work in a “Star Trek” type universe where people do not get paid – but work in order to advance their reputations and their own satisfaction as people. The Kesier Report based their episode around this great article by Paul Mason in The Guardian looking at how post-capitalism is appearing in many big and small facets of daily working life: whether employed or unemployed.