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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession V: From intellectual dependence to creativity
close this folderOn the edge of a razor blade: the new historical blocs and socio-cultural alternatives in Europe
close this folderMiroslav Pecuilic and Zoran Vidakovic
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentI. The new janus - Two faces of science and technology
View the documentII. The pathology of power and science
View the documentIII. The new protagonist - social movements and organic intelligentsia
View the documentIV. Dramatic birth of alternatives
View the documentV. Self-reliance and solidarity (autonomy and new universality)
View the documentNotes

IV. Dramatic birth of alternatives

Through the examples of the European social movements' struggle for the transformation of labour and of the models of consumption, for the new city, and for health, we shall demonstrate the idea of the mass social movement as the birthplace of the alternatives which are striving for a new quality of human existence.

1. Robotization and Dequalification or the Transformation of Labour

1.1. In response to the crisis of alienated labour and profiteer consumption (as forms of exploitation both of the producers and consumers) new alternatives arise in respect to how work is performed and what is produced. The transformation of labour becomes the decisive front of the social struggle.

Modern technology has deprived man of creative, useful work with hands and brains, and given him plenty of work of a fragmented kind, most of which is joyless and boring. The way it promises to develop further seems even more inhumane. The scientific and technological revolution has, like a knife, cut into the whole working body and made a sharp division. It has liberated only a small minority from routine work. For a vast majority of workers it has brought forth new forms of monotonous, routine labour which violently attack the nervous system and lead to the psychological exhaustion of labour which, instead of being a source of health and sanity, becomes a punishment and curse.

The motions of the new and technologically improved mega-machine, in which there is no place for human initiative, grab them from morning to night, bring them to an exactly set track, put narrow and rigid boundaries on human initiative, and condemn them to obsolescence. Power, speed, motion, standardization, mass production, quantification, regimentation, precision, uniformity, astronomical regularity, and, above all, control become key passwords.

This human drama would endlessly go on if people did not react (a) by rejecting such work, which is becoming especially common among the younger generation; (b) by resentment, escape, and the conscious withdrawal of efficiency; (c) by bringing an alternative for transforming labour, by putting the technological organization of work under the control of the producers.

Under social pressure, in a small number of companies the employers have consented to give the workers extensive rights as regards the organization of labour. They were given the right to set the time and rhythm of production by themselves, to modify and adapt equipment and the mode of production. The times of arrival at and departure from work were not clocked any longer, nor were there any more supervisors, "officers of production." The previously fragmented tasks were put together again, making both every individual and the group responsible for the complex product. The management had to take into consideration all the innovations suggested by the workers' collective. Finally, wages go up in proportion to the productivity of labour.

In dozens of companies where this system was implemented, after a period of wandering, noticeable increases in production were brought about; workers did not stay away from work, a profusion of new ideas and technical innovations kept flowing in from the plants (Gorz).

It is becoming obvious that the endless fragmentation of job tasks is not a consequence of technology, which would develop according to its own laws, regardless of the social context. This fragmentation is a consequence of a technology which would prevent the worker from "stealing" time from his employer, because the workers cannot be trusted. As long as they control at least a tiny part of their labour, there is the danger that they could use this power against those who are exploiting them. The "scientific" organization of labour is first of all the scientific destruction of all possibilities of workers' control (Letieri). The authoritarian organization which sharply divides manual and mental labour, execution and decision-making, is actually a domination technique as much as it is a technique of production. It is insisted upon that domination is necessary in order to increase production as much as possible. But no - domination is necessary in order to provide for conditions which are to ensure that the largest amount of labour possible should serve goals which are not the goals of the workers, but which are there to serve the reproduction of capital and of bureaucratic (technocratic) power (Letieri, Magdof).

Therefore, the workers' movement is not being utopian when opposing the dequalification of the labour force and coming forth with demands to abolish the authoritarian, hierarchal division of labour. Instead of fragmented work and attachment to a partial operation they demand team work. Alternating and collective performance of tasks, collective preparation of decisions, broader scope for initiatives and for the expression of one's abilities are called for. The broad network of hierarchical functions was not caused by technological needs as much as it was caused by the necessity to mutually divide the strata of workers and technicians, by the system of psychological motivation, prestige, special status, and benefits, and to attach them to the interests of profits and bureaucracy. This is where the origin of one of the great sociological laws of modern society lies: "The prestige carried by people in modern industrial society varies in inverse proportion to their closeness to actual production" (Schumacher).

Experience has shown that there is no technical necessity for the dequalification and robotization of workers. On the contrary, it is possible to adapt the process of work in such a way that it can simultaneously be a process of continuous education, Productive labour and the constant acquisition of knowledge and skills can be melded into a whole. There is no need to condemn anyone to unqualified and stultifying working tasks for his entire working life.

1.2. The deep crisis of the economy and its interrelated technological growth has discouraged all hopes of full employment by causing waves of gigantic unemployment which have spread all over the planet. It has caused great restructuring of economies and the withering away of entire branches of the economy, thereby increasingly affecting European workers as well, and younger educated people in particular.

In response to the strategy of the ruling classes, numerous alternatives growing out of factories and turning into demands for a different global strategy of development, investment, development planning, North-South relations, etc. have appeared. Employment becomes the very precondition of everything else. The output of an idle man is nil whereas the output of even a poorly equipped man can be a positive contribution. The success in terms of output or income, without consideration of the number of jobs, is quite Inappropriate in the conditions here under consideration, for it implies a static approach to the problem of development. The dynamic approach pays heed to the needs of people: their first need is to start work (Schumacher).

However, there are only two things that we should like to point out. Although in different ways, unemployment is becoming a common vital problem and neuralgic point in both developed and underdeveloped countries. Also, it cannot be resolved by the prevailing model of technological growth. It is a road without hope. Profound changes in the mode of production and in the character of labour represent one of the most important fields for socio-cultural alternatives.

There is an idea we should like to point out both for developed and underdeveloped countries: the combination of modern automated production in large series with decentralized production. Quality products made in large series and in an automated process of production would satisfy existential needs and would be followed up by a multitude of decentralized, local, self-initiated productive units. They would provide for the option of freer, less impersonal and routine work. According to their affinities and capabilities workers would give such units their own personal stamp, utilize local resources, and satisfy numerous non-uniform needs. Shorter working hours in the basic production would gradually enable this free activity.

The world model of development, which with its satellite industrialization caused a massive pauperization of the peasant masses and brought about the existing pattern of development, arose in societies rich in capital and short of labour, and therefore it cannot possibly be appropriate for societies short of capital and rich in labour.

As Gandhi said, the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the masses. The system of mass production, based on sophisticated, highly capital-intensive, high energy input-dependent, and human labour-saving technology, presupposes that you are already rich, for a great deal of capital investment is needed to establish one single workplace. The system of production by the masses mobilizes the priceless resources which are possessed by all human beings, their clever brains and skillful hands, and supports them with first-class tools. The technology of the "dual economy" in the developing countries will remain for the foreseeable future. The modern sector will not be able to absorb the whole.

First then, workplaces have to be created in the areas where the people are living now, and not only in metropolitan areas into which they tend to migrate; second, these workplaces must be, on average, cheap enough so that they can be created in large numbers without this calling for an unattainable level of capital formation and imports. Third, production should be mainly from local materials and mainly for local use.

The "intermediate technology" concept has conflicting meanings, and if taken out of the broader social context it can have dubious features. However, it provides food for thought. The "knowledge can be applied in a great variety of ways, of which the current application in modern industry is only one" (Schumacher).

1.3. All the phenomena we have described are links in a long chain of change. However the potentially deepest civilizational alternative is contained in the demand for essentially shorter working hours. It is becoming one of the central and radical demands of the social movement which embodies an enormous potential of deepest changes to be made in the quality of life. Time is becoming the greatest value - the evaluation of time is the evaluation of human life itself. However, shorter working hours also become the main practical means for an entire chain of changes:

(a) Shorter working hours for workers and longer working hours for machines would contribute to greater employment, particularly of the younger generation.

(b) An orientation towards shorter working hours would be an incentive for the development of technologies which save time - the most valuable raw material of human life.

(c) Shorter working hours enable the overcoming of the division of labour, and provide for the linking of work and education, which enables every worker to constantly enrich his practical and theoretical knowledge. The school and the factory, productive labour and the acquisition of knowledge, become organically connected; from youth to retirement every individual is sometimes a producer, sometimes a student, or even teacher. The development of human capabilities and their cultivation, rather than the acquisition of things, is becoming the primary value. "Conditions will be made for anyone who carries the germ of Raphael to become Raphael" (K. Marx).

2. Alternative Model of Consumption and Growth

If one side of the model is the problematique pertaining to the character and conditions of work, the other side pertains to what should be produced and for what needs. In other words, the second main field is the quest for an alternative to crisis of consumption models.

The dangers are undeniable, but what remains concealed is the causes, the deep, organic relationship between the ecological crisis and the crisis of the mode of production (the character of labour and the working conditions). The fact that the workers' and ecological movements are not connected testifies to this. However, there is a hidden but deep relationship between the character of the working process, the position of the producers, and the attitude towards the biological foundations of life, between that which is happening in the factory and in the city. The way of using the human labour force in production and the way of exploiting nature are subject to the same laws. The same logic reduces man to a commodity, and ruthlessly destroys nature. This is also valid for the period of early, difficult socialism which had many of the characteristics of classic industrial organization, the ideals of quantitative growth. Consumption based on the profit-power-prestige trinity, on artificial needs, becomes one of the main causes of the destruction of nature. The key problem facing the corporations is how to prevent market saturation and keep up a growing demand for those goods which bring maximum profit. This problem can be solved in only one way: by constantly launching new products which "outdate" the old ones, products whose usability for individuals need not be better. If the present-day trends are allowed to remain, a collapse of society and an irremediable destruction of the biological system upon which human life on this planet depends will inevitably be brought about by the end of the century. Blueprint for survival. The dangers are well known: a decrease in food production; the reappearance of hunger; the ruthless exhaustion of natural resources; air, water, and soil pollution, etc.

Integral parts of this consumption model (mode of reproduction) are the cultural patterns and the status-seekers' psychology whose purpose, is to preserve a social hierarchy, as well as competition among individuals all of whom want to be "above the others." Their motto is: "What is good for all is not food; you will be prestigious only if you have more than others have." As soon as the goods that were possessed only by the elite (various types of cars, houses, and school diplomas) become accessible to the other strata as well, they become devalued.

The threshold of poverty is raised higher; new privileges inaccessible to the masses are brought about. This "poverty modernization" (Ivan Illich) is one of the fundamental causes of parasitically super consumption and of the exhaustion of natural resources. A citizen of the USA has an influence over his environment which is 25 times greater than that of a citizen of India. The ecological effect of the energy consumption of the USA, with its population of 250 million, is equal to that which 5 billion Indians living in India would have (A. Davis). The consumption and growth generated by these forces cannot be maintained: the maintenance costs of industry in itself are steadily increasing, while the natural resources are steadily diminishing. The solutions do not lie in putting a stop to growth while preserving the same system, as proposed by the Club of Rome. The demand to stop all industrial growth would mean that the rich part of the world would, in order to preserve its cruel affluence, have to maintain the poverty of the rest of the world. The poorer are requested to abandon all hope for a better life forever.

The roots of the problem do not lie in an insufficient production, but in the nature of the goods that are being produced and for what purposes; in the mode of consumption. An answer to these problems, which is proposed by the ecological movements that are close to the working masses, is the creation of an alternative, a great inversion. It is worth producing the goods that are necessary for all, and the aim is not the creation of privileges and hierarchies. Production would be oriented to the products which are of a higher quality and more durable. The pursuit of quantity would not be the main criterion. There is nothing except power, prestige, and profit to prevent us from producing high-quality clothes, machines, more durable cars; from giving incentives to good and cheap public transport, more collective services, etc.

In conclusion, may we say that the progress of the producer, the protection of his abilities and of the environment in which he lives should be stressed as the main purpose and criterion of progress. Man protects his natural and social being at the same front of the social struggle.

People certainly would not like to take earth back to the stage where it was seven days after the world was created. However, they want to and can eliminate ecological catastrophe. The time has come either to pay one's dues to ecology or to go bankrupt. However, this debt cannot be paid only in the ancient values of greater social justice among nations. New steps towards peace and equality among nations must precede the better harmony between nature and man. This great breakthrough, in which we as a species should find ways of survival and progress in a world of a different quality, can only be made within a world framework.

3. The Crisis of the Urban Dinosaur and the New City

A great social movement demanding a different kind of city is born before our eyes. The modern megalopolis, the urban dinosaur, is facing an acute crisis.

Slums side by side with luxury areas; vestibules of hell - urban destruction of entire districts with tens of thousands of abandoned houses and apartments in New York and Detroit; modern architectural colossus on the ruins of decaying inner cities: the dizzying rise in the cost of community services and the reduction in the quality of collective life-; the accelerated growth of crime and the use of drugs; brutality; ghettos of the poor; the driving out of the working class to the outskirts with, at the same time, the flight of the rich along with the decay of the inner cities, etc. The development of the cities is subject to the logic of profit; city rents which have transformed them into monsters. City life has become a hunting ground, a field for the enrichment of a new bourgeoisie which, having lost power in production, turns to speculation in real estate and building lots, robbery by gigantic rents.

The picture becomes still darker if we look at the Third World, cities encircled with belts of incredible misery, in which by the year 2000 three-fourths of the population of Latin America will live. Satellite industries are the cause of a huge breakdown in agriculture in the Third World countries, resulting in enormous masses of homeless people, the "world of the uprooted" in search of bread and jobs, moving to the big cities where they vegetate.

Day by day new forms of social conflict are born that are directly tied to these collective conditions of life; to conquering the city for the workers, to human aspirations for a renewed take-over of living conditions. In these struggles new alternative city life and dwellings are being born, which go beyond the framework of the capitalist, state bureaucratic system, with different qualities of existence. These are not merely visions, intellectual projects, but living elements already being formed and fighting for life in the lap of the existing conditions. The city - if we now regard its other dimension - was also the birthplace of the new productive and cultural forces; social links are being established, along with the accumulation of centuries of culture, of world horizons.

Let me cite the example of Bologna as an illustration of this desire for a new city and the decision to halt the destructive trend and begin a campaign for more human living conditions with citizens truly deciding their own needs. The progressive movement in Bologna, upon taking over the local authority, began a new renaissance. They started with the most vital point - housing. Block by block they restored the dilapidated and neglected buildings. While one sector was being renovated, its residents were temporarily housed in a new block constructed for the purpose. Thus, bit by bit, the rebirth of the housing and beauties was accomplished. By the abolition of private transportation within the city resources were released that had been required for mammoth parking lots, widening of the streets, overpasses, etc. Apartments remained cheap and public transportation was free. The Mayor of Bologna says:

Urban planning expresses the will of the masses. Men and women of all party affiliations supported it fundamentally, in the local communities, districts, factories. Just try to change one item on the list of goals, and you will have a revolt.... We do not want just to build a city but to create a living organism in which the isolation and alienation of the population of the city will be overcome.

4. Health is Priceless

The link between dehumanized technology and the social milieu is most obvious in the field of medicine. There are two big social processes which generate an attack on human health. Firstly, it is the mode of using labour force in the factory, the megamachine, for squeezing out the surplus of labour. Increased nervous exhaustion is related, as described, to the break-through of technology. The other source is the collective living conditions in the cities whose quality is deteriorating - the ecological crisis. Both social processes are sources of an attack on health because they are guided by the same principle: the tendency directed towards an economic output, as the most important target. Like Shylock, they are trying to save their pound of flesh but to the detriment of the living and working conditions.

The basic orientation of the medical service and research grew out of this social situation. First of all, its emphasis is not on preventive medicine, on the elimination of the causes, but on repairing the human machine and returning it to the same living and working conditions. Secondly, it is the strictly individualistic approach which wants to keep up the appearance of health protection as being related to individual behaviour only - don't smoke; don't eat and drink too much, etc.; it is your own fault that you are ill. The control of collective conditions of living remains out of sight. In opposition to this orientation the workers' movements declared that health is priceless. The essence lies in the demand to control the basic living and working conditions, such as the rhythm and intensity of labour, anti-pollution measures, measures against the poisoning of food, etc. On these foundations a different orientation of the medical sciences has also been brought about, as well as their linking to other fields studying the natural conditions, the process of work, psychological life - the entity of natural and living conditions. A great alliance of sciences for the protection of health is in sight.

The struggle to preserve the psycho-physical integrity of the producers exercises an influence over the character of technology. We can give an illustration to support this statement. The introduction of X-ray quality control in car factories was progressive from a technological standpoint. However, it was hazardous to human health. Due to the workers' demands, a new technology based on remote control eliminated the danger. This possibility was not unknown before the workers' demands, but the other technique was cheaper. It is only out of a social struggle that a technological innovation which both promotes production and preserves health was born.