The Fate of Humanity in the Post Industrial Age.
From the time when our ancestors picket up a stick or rock to make a task easier we have been a tool using species. As our ability to shape and use materials improved we began to make not just tools to help us do something but to build machines to do it for us.
With metallurgy, science and engineering we came to build more and more complex devices and soon human muscles were not enough. Horses, oxen, the wind or water, we used them all to drive the new machines.
Steam has been in use as a power source for thousands of years, Hero of Alexandria in ancient Greece produced designs for a simple steam engine and powered water pumps, an automatic theatre, a windmill powered musical organ, oh and he also built the first recorded vending machine.
Water wheels and wind mills provided power to grind grain and pump water or work forges.
Textile production expanded significantly when mechanised looms came into use.
Dutch cloth makers in the 15th century used new loom designs to work faster with less workers, the angry staff who were losing their jobs would throw their wooden clogs (called Sabots pronounced Sa Bo) into the delicate machines to wreck them, the origin of the word sabotage and saboteur.
But it was not until the Victorians arrived on the scene that we began to truly mechanise our industry significantly increasing production, automation quickly followed and the great mills were the first but not the only places where workers found themselves replaced by machines.
Steam powered devices created huge changes in the countryside and the many of the jobs on the farms that traditional required large numbers of people were being taken over by a few men and a steam engine. This led to a decline in seasonal work outside of picking which was traditionally done by women and children. This accelerated the trend of men seeking work in the towns and cities rather than in the countryside.
In 1801 less than 20% of the UK population lived in a town or city, before the end of that century the number was over 70%. Factories and anything that needed a workforce needed to be in the towns and cities because that was where the workers were, workers in turn went to the towns and cities because that was where the factories were setting up.
London, Manchester and Birmingham all grew significantly and thanks to networks of ports, canals and roads goods could be imported from all over the world to feed these cities.
So when those factories and mills increasingly automated and left tens of thousands without work those now unemployed people found themselves in the urban areas away from the old traditional part time jobs on the farms.
Each new trend, each new advance in industrialisation and automation resulted in large numbers of jobs lost to the machines but improvements in engineering and science led to new opportunities for employment as new factories opened, ever higher demands for coal, metal, manufactured goods and more created new jobs for a time until increasing automation in that area increased production at the expense of jobs.
This cycle has been going on for generations. But each time new technology took over peoples jobs it would be some time before the next new technology arrived, people had the time to move into new jobs. There were periods of unemployment and many would do casual or daily work, but there were still some jobs to be had even for those without skills.
However as we have advanced through the twentieth century and now into the twenty first century’s that cycle has been getting shorter and shorter as new technology arrives more often reducing the time people have to learn new skills or to take unskilled jobs before those are gone.
Often it is simply not worth retraining staff as the training will be out of date within a year.
College and University courses are anywhere from a few years out of date to a significant chunk of a decade behind the times. People struggle to keep up and all too often it is a matter of economics, it costs too much to train up staff, so bring in a few people who do know what they are doing and fill the rest of the workforce with cheap drones.
What we are looking at is economics. What is cheaper for a profit driven business, living breathing humans paid a wage they can live on or a robot or software package. The Victorian mills produced far more product and needed a smaller workforce. Robotic assembly lines can work 24/7, never get tired and never take breaks.
Such Industry as we still have is automated to a lesser or greater degree
Millions of jobs lost to machines!
Actually let me rephrase that because that's not strictly the case. What I should say is millions of well paying jobs that provide a comfortable income have been lost to machines.
Thanks to Zero hours contracts where workers are not paid any form of pension or employment benefit and are only used for the hours they are needed then left to wait for a call it has become very cheap for employers who are profit driven and treat their staff as resources to bring in a few slaves when needed and get rid of them at other times.
What this means is that the number of very cheap, unskilled jobs is growing through zero hours contracts as those without jobs are exploited very cheaply, more cheaply than it would cost to automate.
We have reached the point where many jobs which are difficult to automate become cheaper to be done by human beings as long as those humans are paid less than what is called a living wage, paid in fact the absolute minimum that a profit focused employer can get away with.
Contracts that provide no holiday pay or entitlements are becoming the norm for employment, though in many cases they are advertised as temp to perm, only they all to often never become permanent jobs.
Jobs for life are long gone, jobs by the month or the week or even by the hour are becoming the most common way of being employed. With all the uncertainty that such employment brings. How can you budget or even be able to pay the bills if you have no idea how much money you earn week by week or even if you will earn anything at all next week.
What used to be called the middle class, people with an income high enough to make them financially secure and comfortable, they are vanishing. What used to be called working class, people living paycheck by paycheck and with little or no financial security, they are growing in number.
Robots and automation have not just taken jobs directly, they have been responsible for distorting the entire structure of employment across the entire economy. Wage decrease has happened in every area not just Industry. Large numbers of people no longer employed by manufacturing have flooded the service sectors and depressed wages there.
The threat of robots and programs taking over peoples jobs is used to keep wages down. Want a pay rise, oh well that would make it cheaper to automate the entire call centre with voice recognition and human emulator software. After all you are just asking questions from a list and pushing a yes or no button. A software package can ask "is the power light on?" and listen for yes or no just as well.
Robots, drones, automation. These have become an integral part of our society and have made huge changes, every aspect of out lives is very different to what it was a century ago.
Corporations have spotted the potential for profit and now reap massive returns thanks to taking jobs from people and using robots instead. Even the threat of robots or automation is used to keep wages down.
Politicians and the laws that protect people from exploitation by corporations are hopelessly out of date. But our politicians and law makers are also hopelessly out of date, they are still trying to rule Britain from last century rather than this century.
Technology advances at a pace that leaves politicians and even most of the rest of society far behind.
No one is stopping to seriously look at this situation and try to get a head of it, instead we have automation, robots and software taking more and more jobs leaving fewer and fewer comfortable jobs but an ever growing number of jobs that have conditions and pay that would be familiar to those suffering in a Victorian mill.
The unemployed did not lose their jobs because they wanted to, they are all to often punished because technology is changing the very nature of jobs and employment but politicians fail to see or understand what is happening.
This situation is getting worse and will continue to get worse until we reach a balance between the right of humans to a living income and to have a secure economic future and the rights of corporations to use technology to reduce human beings to little more than paid slaves to be used and abused at will.
Until we stop and have this discussion and accept that technology has made full employment an utterly ridiculous luxury and even half employment difficult to achieve people will continue to find their lives blighted by the very technology that was supposed to set us free.
Don't complain about the Polish taking your jobs. Its the robots you have to worry about.