There are many reasons why a transformation of the labour system is due – AI, automation and digitalisation, the green transition and the demographic crisis are the most obvious. The question of which policies are most promising to address these phenomena is the subject of intense debate. Among the contributions to this debate, several points emerge as relatively uncontroversial.
Full-time work should become a rarity. The amount of work that needs to be done should be divided by the number of people wanting to work, resulting in reduced working hours and the unemployed being offered the opportunity to work part-time.
Caring should be reimbursed, both for people who choose to devote their lives to caring and for those who want to work alongside their caring responsibilities. The argument that remuneration would devalue such work cannot be taken seriously. Partial payment for voluntary work, as practised in some countries, does not devalue voluntary work.
The social security system should not be based on work in a society where there is no work for all. People with little work experience or who remain outside the labour market are permanently discriminated against in such a system. Their social human rights are not fully respected. Especially if they choose to care for their families, they are likely to have insufficient resources unless their working family members finance them.
“Informal” community, environmental and care work should be upgraded in the hierarchy of work in a society. It is this kind of work that enables families and communities to survive, and that becomes even more important in times of crisis and war.
The last point does not come from the contemporary debate but was formulated by the philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943), who immersed herself in a manufacturing work regime to experience the plight of manual workers. But it could also be applied to today’s labour system. It would add a value dimension to the current debate on labour policy.
According to Weil, the freedom and joy of the worker should be at the heart of the system. Simone Weil formulated this thought while reflecting on the working conditions in a capitalist production system of the 1930s, where man was subordinated to the machine and constantly humiliated. At the same time, Weil recognised that machines could also be a blessing if they liberated our time and allowed us to concentrate on creative work. Only when the freedom and joy of each worker are placed at the centre of the work system will machines (or AI) not be placed above human beings.
In summary, we need to organise our work and social security systems around the values of freedom, dignity and joy, to value and reward care, environmental and community work, and to normalise part-time work. Only then can we face the challenges of technology, demography and the climate crisis.
Diefenbacher, Hans; Held, Benjamin; Rodenhäuser, Dorothee, Ende des Wachstums – Arbeit ohne Ende? Arbeiten in einer Postwachstumsgesellschaft. Die Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft Jahrbuch 3. Metropolis-Verlag. Marburg 2017.
Ewa Dąbrowska, weltgewandt e.V. / Germany
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