The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.
.. Consider the Industrial Revolution. Well before it took place, in the 19th century, another revolution in work occurred in the 18th century, which historians call the “industrious revolution.” Before this revolution, people worked where they lived, perhaps at a farm or a shop. The manufacturing of textiles, for example, relied on networks of independent farmers who spun fibers and wove cloth. They worked on their own; they were not employees.
In the industrious revolution, however, manufacturers gathered workers under one roof, where the labor could be divided and supervised. For the first time on a large scale, home life and work life were separated. People no longer controlled how they worked, and they received a wage instead of sharing directly in the profits of their efforts.
This was a necessary precondition for the Industrial Revolution.
.. the creation of factory technology was possible only because people’s relationship to work had already changed. A power loom would have served no purpose for networks of farmers making cloth at home.
.. our current historical moment is better understood as a second industrious revolution
.. Over these four decades we have seen an increase in the use of day laborers, office temps, management consultants, contract assemblers, adjunct professors, Blackwater mercenaries and every other kind of worker filing an I.R.S. form 1099. These jobs span the income ranks, but they share what all work seems to have in common in the post-1970s economy: They are temporary and insecure... In the last 10 years, 94 percent of net new jobs have appeared outside of traditional employment... services like Uber and online freelance markets like TaskRabbit were created to take advantage of an already independent work force; they are not creating it... Uber is a symptom, not a cause... shortly after World War II, a Milwaukee man named Elmer Winter founded Manpower, the first major temp agency, to supply emergency secretaries.
.. The emergence in the 1970s of a new, strictly financial view of corporations, a philosophy that favored stock and bond prices over production, of short-term gains over long-term investment. Theories of “lean” corporate organization became popular, especially those sold by management consultants and business gurus.
.. Pundits have offered many paths forward — “portable” benefits, universal basic income, worker reclassification — but regardless of the option, the important thing to remember is that we do have a choice.