The Political Economy of Datafication and Work: A New Digital Taylorism?
with Matthew Cole, Hugo Radice and Charles Umney
This panel looks at the technologies that underpin our world of work, and how capital shapes them to meet its needs, oriented firmly towards the subsumption of wage labor. We cannot repurpose them towards our socialist goal build a world based upon equality and justice for all without directly contesting the existing social order. This requires both a broad vision of a sustainable, egalitarian and democratic society, and concrete proposals that connect to existing struggles and also prefigure radical change.
Technological change has profound consequences for capitalism, rendering obsolete even the most profitable businesses, while creating opportunities for early adopters. New technologies create opportunities for those workers who can acquire necessary skills, but destitution for those rendered unnecessary. Beyond the immediate effects on individuals and communities, there are spatial, organizational, and cultural consequences that transform the fabric of society.
In his analysis of the workplace, Marx concludes that “Large-scale industry possesses in the machine system an entirely objective organization of production, which confronts the worker as a pre-existing material condition of production:”, and defines this condition as the real subsumption of labor. A hundred years later, his analysis informed modern socialist studies of labor and the struggle for workplace. Since the birth of industrial capitalism socialists have both critically examined technology in its social context, but also looked forward to radically different futures of work. As Alfred Barratt Brown wrote in 1934, “We need to look at the whole world of industry with fresh eyes…to the end that the work and its results may alike satisfy human capacities and human needs”.
MATT COLE is a postdoctoral researcher with Fairwork Foundation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
HUGO RADICE is Head of the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds.
CHARLES UMNEY is Associate Professor in the Work and Employment Relations Division at the University of Leeds Business School.
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