Technology and the future of work: a debate

October 24, 2016

A debate on “technology and the future of work” will be held this coming Saturday, 29 October, at 4.0 pm, at the Anarchist Bookfair in North London. The discussion will be started off by Nick Srnicek (author, with Alex Williams, of Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015)) and Gabriel Levy (who writes this blog).

What role does technology play in our ideas about a better world? How could it affect the nature of work in the coming decades? With mass automation looming, is anti-work politics the best solution? The discussion will examine these and other questions around technology and communism, attempting to think through what a future society could look like.

Here are a couple of articles I wrote in response to Inventing the Future, mentioning some of the points that we will talk about on Saturday: ■ Technological utopias: the nuts and bolts. ■ Networked socialism: back to the future.

And here are some more articles discussing Inventing the Future, on the Communism in Situ and Mute sites.

The Bookfair is being held at Park View School, West Green Road, London, N15 3QR. There are plenty of other important discussions on Syria, Brexit, communist and anarchist ideas, and so on. Hope to see you there!

Robots at the Kia car assembly plant in Slovakia

Robots at the Kia car assembly plant in Slovakia


Living standards plummet: what war in Ukraine has “achieved” #2

October 14, 2016

Ukrainian working people’s wages last year crashed to around 30% of their peak in 2013, in dollar terms, a report by the International Monetary Fund has said.

In January 2014, average real wages were about 75% of their level in January 2013. They fell steeply in early 2014, as war loomed – after the fall of president Viktor Yanukovich in February and the annexation

Photo: anarchist contingent on a union protest against the new labour code in November 2015. From the Ukraine activist perspective facebook page

Photo: anarchist contingent on a union protest against the new labour code in November 2015. From the Ukraine activist perspective facebook page

of Crimea by Russia in March. During 2015, real wages fell by a further 18.5%, to hit that low point at the end of the year.

This year “real wages have started to recover, albeit from low levels”, the IMF’s Country Report (no. 16/319, downloadable here) said last month.

The economy as a whole has also started to bounce back from the bottom, according to the Fund’s criteria. Last year it measured a 9.9% fall in GDP and a decline in industrial output of nearly 16%. This year the IMF is expecting economic growth of 1% in Ukraine.

The production of steel, coal and other raw materials also sank during 2014 and 2015, and has made timid steps towards recovery this year.

The World Bank, in a separate report, said that poverty “increased significantly in 2015 due to declining real wages”.

“Inflation peaked at 43.3% at the end of 2015”, due to “considerable depreciation” of the hryvnia, Ukraine’s currency, said the Bank’s Ukraine Economic Update published on 22 September (downloadable here).

“Households were also impacted by higher energy prices in 2015, although the new means-tested Read the rest of this entry »

Slave labour in Lugansk: what war in Ukraine has “achieved”

October 4, 2016

The separatist “Lugansk people’s republic” in eastern Ukraine is using 5000 prisoners as slave labour, a report by local human rights campaigners says.

The prisoners are caught in a legal no man’s land. Most of them were
sentenced and jailed by the Ukrainian court system, which the barbedwire2“people’s republic” – established in May 2014 by armed separatists supported by Russia – does not recognise.

The prisoners are forced to work by violence, and the profits from what they produce shared by the “republic”s authorities, the report, published last week by the Eastern Human Rights Group (EHRG), says. (Here in Russian.) The group emerged from trade union Read the rest of this entry »

Technological utopias: the nuts and bolts

September 23, 2016

The “utopian potentials” of 21st century technology are imprisoned by a “parochial capitalist imagination” and must be liberated by “an ambitious left alternative”, write Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in Inventing the Future: postcapitalism and a world without work (Verso, 2015). We need an “an alternative vision” of a high-tech postcapitalist society, they argue (p. 3).

This review responds to some points raised by Inventing the Future, with a view to developing such a vision.

Srnicek and Williams were motivated to write the book partly by frustration with what they call “folk politics” in the “Occupy” movement of the 2010s – meaning tendencies to “reduce politics to Read the rest of this entry »

Networked socialism: back to the future

September 23, 2016

Germany, 1888. Karl Steinmetz, a precociously smart twenty-year old student, quit the university town of Breslau with the police on his heels. Steinmetz had been caught up in the crackdown on the Social Democrats, then Europe’s largest socialist movement by far.

Soon after starting university, Steinmetz joined the socialist club, which was banned after affiliating with the Social Democrats. A

Charles Steinmetz

Charles Steinmetz

previous round of arrests had hit a party newspaper, The People’s Voice, and he took over as editor. Soon afterwards, he wrote an article that was deemed inflammatory, and he had to flee arrest.

Steinmetz emigrated to the US, travelling steerage class (i.e. sleeping in the hold). He anglicised his first name to Charles, and soon found work at a small electrical firm in New York. He became an electrical engineer and by 1893, aged 28, had made a key contribution Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s take Corbyn’s climate proposals seriously

September 9, 2016

Climate change is “the single most important issue facing humanity”, and politicians need to propose “real solutions” to it, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday as he launched a policy document on energy and the environment.

The document (downloadable here) proposes to produce 65% of the UK’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It aims to make the UK a world

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

Anti-fracking protesters at parliament, 2012. Creative Commons licence.

leader in renewable technology, and create jobs in renewables equipment manufacture, with a £500 billion investment programme. Labour would set up 1000 local cooperative energy producers with a “right to supply” their local communities.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would ban “fracking” (the controversial natural gas production technique the Tories love), and restore the Department for Energy and Climate Change (which Theresa May axed the moment she got to no. 10 Downing Street).

I can think of reasons not to take Corbyn seriously on this. His team has taken a year to come up with seven pages of policy proposals … which is slow, for “the single most important issue facing humanity”. There are gaps in the proposals – such as a stance on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, into which May’s government is currently considering sinking several tens of billions of pounds. And with Corbyn fighting off a challenge from Owen Smith for the Labour leadership, cynics may see the document’s shortcomings as evidence that it has been thrown together for the election campaign.

But I think the proposals should be discussed widely.

It may have taken a year to come up with them, but then many political leaders in Read the rest of this entry »

Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths

August 4, 2016

Nine months after 31 workers drowned in Azerbaijan’s worst-ever oil industry disaster, the country’s authorities have still not said a word about how it happened or what mistakes could be avoided in future.

Most of the victims were thrown into the water when a lifeboat smashed against

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

An improvised memorial to the victims. Photo: OWRPO site

the side of production platform no. 10 at the Guneshli oil field in the Caspian sea, as they tried to escape a fire during a force 10 gale on 4 December last year.

The Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (OWRPO), a campaign group, says state oil company managers broke safety laws for the sake of keeping production going, and that workers did not even have life jackets on during the attempt to evacuate the platform.

State officials lied to the media and the public during the emergency, and treated oil workers’ families with contempt, the OWRPO said in a report published in February.

The government was quick to dismiss the report – but its own 14-person commission, set up to deal with the disaster’s consequences, has not breathed a Read the rest of this entry »