Not registered? Take a 3-week free trial of our service.
0207 727 6959
For weeks now, authorities in Spain have been locked in a chaotic and sometimes violent confrontation with coal miners in the country’s industrial north. Government spending cuts mean that subsidies to unprofitable coal mines are soon to be slashed. Up to 30,000 jobs are likely to go.
Faced with the loss of their livelihoods, the miners are ready to fight. One group marched hundreds of miles to the capital, Madrid, where crowds mobilised in support. Protesters clashed with police who fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Perhaps, if they keep on pushing, the miners will get their way and hang on to their government funding. In the long term, however, they will almost certainly find themselves on the losing side.
Two hundred years ago, agricultural life in the West was turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. Something similar is happening today, except that this time it is industry that is being swept away. Jobs in mines, factories, docks, assembly lines – jobs that provided wealth and stability to former generations – are disappearing fast.
Why? Because industrial workers have, for decades now, been being replaced by sophisticated machines. And those industrial jobs that remain are, increasingly, being outsourced from the West to lower-paid workers in the developing world.
But while miners protest in Madrid, entrepreneurs are getting excited about a new trend which will, they say, provide the jobs of the future: microtasking. Working as a microtasker is almost the precise opposite of working in heavy industry. Microtaskers work from home; they can work as much or as little as they like – even just for a minute at a time.
All it takes to do a microtask is a working internet connection. Workers can log onto microtasking websites, choose a job and get going. The jobs are mainly things like data entry or web research, but as technology improves, the list will grow to include manufacturing and more. One firm even hopes to use microtaskers operating remote controlled robots to help look after the elderly.
Brave new world
Is this new industrial revolution good or bad news? It is bad, of course, for industrial workers in rich countries, but good for the thousands of people in poorer countries who can now work flexibly over the internet to make, by local standards, a decent wage.
It could also be good news for companies. A flexible workforce is a more efficient workforce, and nothing could be more flexible than a crowd of microtaskers.
But a job is about more than just money. For many people, this technological change will come at a huge personal and social cost.
1. Would you rather be a permanent freelancer or have a modest but secure job for life?
2. Is there any reason why the Spanish government should subsidise unprofitable coal mines?
1. List the top three things you would want to get out of your job in the future, in order of importance. Compare with others in the class. Did everyone say the same?
2. People often talk about ‘being their own boss.’ Write a script for a future conversation between you and ‘boss you’, a boss you keep inside your head.
Scenes from the clashes between Spanish miners and police.
A thoughtful and sophisticated opinion piece on microtasking from the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.
How Spanish miners marched on Madrid.
A brilliant article about the way the rise and fall of one meat-packing plant has shaped an Iowa town. Well worth reading if you have time.
How microtasking could be used to look after the elderly. A good short piece.
The homepage of Mechanical Turk, a microtasking site. By the way, the story of the original ‘mechanical turk’ is well worth Googling!
Q: How will I ever find work if all jobs are to be done by computer?
A: Most jobs in modern society are still way beyond a machine’s capabilities, so there will always be lots of work around. It just won’t be the same sort of work that existed, say, thirty or forty years ago.
Q: Meaning what?
A: The old fashioned sort of industrial job was long term, providing a steady income and a secure pension after retirement. In other professions too, it was common to stay at one company for your whole career.
Q: And now?
A: Increasingly, people expect to change job every few years or so. With microtasking, you could change jobs every five minutes! The downside, of course: no job security.
On the losing side – Spain is not the only country to have faced huge miners’ strikes. In 1984, miners in Britain launched a huge protest against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The defeat of the British miners’ strike in 1985 was a huge blow to the trade union movement and to the power of industrial workers in the UK.
Industrial revolution – For thousands of years, agriculture had been a labour intensive pursuit, carried out by poor farmers living close to the land. The arrival of farming machines in the 18th and 19th Centuries dramatically cut the number of workers needed on the land. Those workers ended up in cities, working in mines and factories.
More than just money – In traditional mill towns or mining towns, a single big industrial enterprise would provide employment to most of the inhabitants. Work was not just a way of earning money. It was also a way of being part of the community. When the jobs dried up, people who had built their lives around an industry found it difficult or impossible to create new livelihoods.
‘A solid job is essential for a happy life.’
What do you think?
Sunday, 22 July 2012
Narmis Lightning from Crawford School thinks:
Business and Economics