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Automation and the planned obsolescence of the Proletariat

Garry Glass discusses how advances in automation are disrupting class relations.

Part 6 - Planned obsolescence of the Proletarian subject


If automation is to be adopted then it should be because the workers themselves want it, that they may find more useful things to do with the new efficiency gains. Without worker engagement it is much more likely to look like planned obsolescence of the worker themselves.

The question automation poses labour is a crisis for the proletarian subject – how will we reproduce our lives, in a world dominated by access to a wage – when gaining full time, well remunerated or secure employment has become destabilized?

Our bargaining power within the capitalist system either comes from our ability to sell our labour, or through our ownership of property. Whilst the working population have been enchanted by accumulating goods and using services, they have not been accumulating their own means of production. The crisis in wages and entrepreneurship along with collapse of effective unionism means that individual bargaining power has been eroded significantly.

There is a prevailing myth that money is a reward for graft, that somehow getting things for free is a handout from a nanny state funded by hard working taxpayers. Gains in efficiency that come from all the innovations and labours of our ancestors must be seen as a common good and not subject to private ownership.

The left does need to be propositional if it is to get beyond being reactive. The right needs people to be kept in drudgery, to internalise the guilt of debt and to not have enough free time on its hands to organise rebellion. UBI will lift people out of poverty somewhat but it is imperative that this is seen as a concession on the road to greater political and economic freedom. To settle for this as sufficient can only disempower the working class. Ultimately what makes a right work ethic in the 21st century needs to be clarified as does the question of what amount of luxury we actually need to be satisfied.

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