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The world of work

| by Victor Cherubim

( February 6, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) We are repeatedly informed in the media, often experience in advance, before it happens, the rapid pace of change. This will perhaps, herald unprecedented upheavals in the world of work. Millions of jobs around the developed world are being lost, as the digital revolution takes over surely but stealthily, rather than steadily. At the same time thousands of jobs, we are told, are to be created in the more digitalised economy, as witnessed by Google and Amazon sales surge, in this digital revolution.

Google reported revenue of $16.8 billion during the fourth quarter 2013, with earnings of $12.01 per share, allowing for the losses of $384 million incurred at Motorola smartphone, which alleged has been sold to Lenovo for $2.91 billion.

On the flip side, UK Banks ,Barclays Bank among others,is planning cuts in every one of its branches in UK. In the press, we note that 400 or more Barclay’s staff is being made redundant in its corporate banking arm as part of its long term plan to use new technology to automate more processes. Relationship Managers are being trained to take over their roles, whilst machines will replace Bank Clerks soon.

Today is “Black Wednesday” in London with the so called shut down of the London Underground (Tube), the first of two 48 hours walk out by Transport for London (TfL) workers. The second strike is fixed for 11 February 2014. Both will cause “misery” for hardworking people having to commute to work. It is also estimated to impact on the tourists, visitors and shoppers who bring money into the London economy, costing at least £50 million per day.

The Unions: National Union of Rail, Transport and Maritime Union (RTM) and TSSA have long complained that their members have been made redundant, with trains without guards, soon driver–less trains, many station staff also made to work short time or their work taken over by ticket machines.

Whilst these strikes go on and unforeseen “planned” to coincide most often with the worst weather conditions, in the midst of winter, with squalls of heavy wind and unsettled climatic disruption, RTM know they have no chance of stopping “machines taking over their jobs.”

Besides, Union bosses are also fully acquainted with alternative plans employers take to protect their business. Train Managers, we are told, have had months of schooling to take over the running of trains on the Underground. Likewise, most Employers have taken a commonsense approach to staff working remotely, even from their homes during this disruption and/or considering technological innovation.

How does all this affect a worker in Sri Lanka?

Many so called Middle Class,” white collar” jobs are being rendered obsolete. It won’t be long before we find Bank Clerks anywhere in the world, an endangered species. So what about, blue collar” workers. Soon they too, will be in “for the chop.”

By definition, a “Blue Collar” worker is “a working class person, who performs manual jobs,
skilled or unskilled.” They could be in manufacturing, construction, mechanical, maintenance, technical installation or other types of physical work. Blue collar workers, notwithstanding our machinists in our Garment factories, or even “nannies” who work in the Middle East, have been sought for having some sort of skill in physical work. These workers have been derisorily termed, “the bottom feeders.”

Stringent cost demands coupled with low wages and poor working conditions have driven capital generating businesses to provide the minimal working conditions to their workers. As a result tragedies have occurred and have been spotlighted. Some Companies care less about safety conditions or workers livelihood. Capital greed resists little or nothing that stands in the way of its insatiable appetite for returns on investment.

“A way of knowing what you want, before you even want it”

Add to this race to “trawl the bottom” not only in and around our seas, but also on our land, has hit workers on the head. We now are warned by Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezoz: “We have a way of knowing what you want, before you even want it.

It may sound Science fiction, but it is all part of the process of the digital revolution taking place, before our very eyes. Have we any power to control whether we work or not?

How is this all being done?

This revolution has been caused by us, under our own eyes. Technology has learned to predict the needs of the people, in advance of providing it to the people. Take a simple example, the very fact how long the cursor on our internet hovers over an item, a web page, a melody list, a search item, leaves a imprint of “how our mind works and functions.” By learning behaviour patterns, this is monitored, recorded, analysed and fed back to the very people who used technology to help create business. Machines that can gobble vast amounts of data on how we live, how we eat, how we work, how we relax, or how we do anything, in fact , our life’s footprint is all stored in super computers, which churn out, call it number crunch, and feed it back to us in goods and services.

“The Internet of the Thing,” is connected to the web by microscopic sensors, remotely controlled and lands on our plate as “Work.” What will it end up or will it ever end?