[from _Rally, Comrades!_, December, 1994]




By the High Tech Committee of the National Organizing Committee

The ability to design, produce and move goods is undergoing 
radical change.

Computers and robotics, once limited to calculation and 
communications, are now displacing human labor in all sectors of 

Ford Motor Co. recently opened a new transmission factory near 
Detroit, employing 200 people; 10 years ago, it would have 
employed 4,000.

In the Netherlands, automated machinery unloads cargo ships 
without any human labor. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, one plant using 
genetically engineered bacteria produces enough insulin for the 
entire United States; it replaces dozens of slaughterhouses where 
workers once isolated insulin from steer and pig organs. Around 
the world, workers are being evicted from factories and docks and 
farms. The next stop: the homeless shelter, prison, or the global 
trek in search of work.

The technological revolution is the driving force in this terminal 
stage of capitalism, yet it holds the promise of a leap in the 
standard of living for all. We need to understand both: its role 
in an economy organized around private gain and its potential role 
in an economy organized around meeting social needs.

Last January, scholars, labor leaders, community leaders and 
leaders of the unemployed gathered for a conference at the 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Technology and 
Employment Conference grew out of the contradiction of joblessness 
growing among workers in the "booming" high-technology sector.

The presence of people directly hurt by the economic upheaval was 
critical in exposing the bankrupt ideas of the corporate policy 

The electronic revolution developed in the 1930s from the 
intersection of the communications industry and the effort to 
develop fast calculators for business. During World War II and the 
Cold War, huge investments in military electronics gave birth to 
the modern computer hardware industry.

In the 1960s, the power of computers began to be applied directly 
to production processes. Now the most sophisticated computation, 
automation and robotics technology is used to produce such mundane 
items as pencils, razors and juice boxes. Electronics has also 
made possible such new technologies as bio-engineering, digital 
telecommunications, and "smart" materials.

As a result, high technology itself is now a key sector of the 
economy. More U.S. workers are employed in electronics than in 
automobile production. Much of the employment growth in 
electronics and related industries over the past three decades 
came at the expense of traditional industries as companies 
replaced workers with electronics-based machinery.

Will the expansion of high-tech industries create new jobs to 
replace those lost in core manufacturing? It hasn't so far. Even 
including the electronics and computer industries, manufacturing 
employment fell by 859,000 jobs between 1980 and 1989. Despite the 
growth in computer and data processing services, only about half 
the manufacturing jobs lost were replaced by high-tech jobs. And 
no one should get their hopes up. The MIT conference made clear 
that the electronics industry itself is subject to the same forces 
affecting other industries -- cuts in labor costs through "smarter 
technology" and the replacement of computer workers with 

Amid exponential growth in computer and electronic technologies, 
almost every major high-tech employer -- IBM, Digital Equipment, 
Kodak, NYNEX, Xerox, to name a few -- has cut thousands of 
employees. According to the American Electronics Association, 
"Domestic employment in the U.S. electronics industry fell for the 
fourth consecutive year in 1992. ... Since August 1989, our 
industry has lost 309,000 jobs."

In the 1960s, production of transistors was a tedious process 
involving the manual soldering of thousands of connections. In a 
modern silicon chip, a million devices are squeezed onto a surface 
smaller than a fingernail -- using fully automated production 

As the head of Radius, a manufacturer of computer equipment, told 
the San Francisco Examiner, "We turn out [custom computer chips] 
with four engineers and a giant computer. That used to get done 
with 100 engineers. That's 96 engineers you don't need anymore."

In one workshop at the MIT conference, a representative from the 
Communications Workers of America analyzed the impact of 
telecommunications changes on that industry's workers. Internal 
documents reveal that the phone companies' long-term strategy has 
been "end-to-end automation": From the time an order is placed 
until it is in place, the phone company need take no human action. 
"This is not just mechanizing; it's total job elimination."

As Noam Chomsky told conference attendees, "The capitalist 
oligarchy operates completely outside any democratic structures, 
and their plans don't include the rest of us."

President Clinton claims the unemployed need new skills. But even 
the most skilled are losing their jobs. According to the Institute 
of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, unemployment among 
electronic engineers is the highest in over 25 years, and some 
200,000 engineers dropped from U.S. employment rolls between 1991 
and 1993. Even college-educated youths find their opportunities 
shrinking; Labor Secretary Robert Reich's calls for "retraining" 
are revealed as empty rhetoric.

With robots replacing workers, the corporate class no longer needs 
an educated work force. Thus it is methodically pushing to 
disinvest in public education. Hardest hit are African Americans 
and Latinos, who have been systematically excluded from education 
and from skilled jobs in the past. Youth also are hard hit, with 
50 percent unemployment in many areas of the country. For a vast 
section of America's youth, the capitalist system offers no 

Former IBM and Digital Equipment engineers showing up at the 
unemployment office are finding the social safety net of 20 years 
ago being yanked away. Commodity production without human labor is 
leading to the emergence of a new class of people. Since the 
capitalists do not need this new class for production, they are 
unwilling to pay taxes needed to support them -- hence the cuts in 
education and in welfare programs like General Assistance, Aid to 
Families with Dependent Children and Supplemental Security Income. 
The connection between technological change and welfare cuts is 
clearest in Michigan. As General Baker told the MIT conference, 
General Assistance was begun in Michigan in 1937 to provide income 
to autoworkers while factories were closed for model changeovers. 
In 1940, it took six months to implement a model changeover; 
today, as the 1995 cars come down the line, the 1996 cars are 
right behind them. Michigan ended General Assistance in 1991.

As welfare programs are eliminated, the government rapidly builds 
prisons and police networks to deal with the growing survival 

The Industrial Revolution harnessed steam power to human muscles, 
vastly increasing productive power. The Electronic Revolution 
transforms the accumulated intelligence and knowledge of workers 
into mechanical form. Though this displaces workers under the 
current economic system, it also offers the potential for 
liberation from need.

The productive forces now exist to provide food, shelter, 
transportation, computers, health care, education and recreation 
for everyone. This is no longer a utopian statement. In 1940, 50 
percent of the work force was involved in direct manufacture to 
produce the goods then available. Today, 22 percent of the work 
force produces many more goods. Hundreds of years ago, almost 
everyone had to participate in agriculture in order to eat. Now 
three percent of the population grows enough food for everyone 
else. The same transformation is taking place in all areas of 

The new information networks have the potential to make the sum of 
human knowledge accessible to everyone. But as the corporate 
giants move to control the new technology, they increasingly limit 
access to the shrinking number of consumers who can pay for it. 
Private, capitalist appropriation of technology in order to amass 
profit stands in stark contradiction to the potential benefits.

Thus, the impoverishment of increasing numbers of people is due 
not to material shortages, but to the political and economic 
system: private ownership of socially produced wealth. 
Productivity increases make it possible to raise people's standard 
of living, whether they are employed or not. But realizing this 
potential of the high-tech revolution requires the distribution of 
the fruits of production according to need, not profit.

Such a transformation in society does not happen automatically. 
History is made by people, based on how they comprehend the 
changes going on around them. Politics is the battle of ideas. 
Those of us engaged in analysis and education need to speak out 
clearly. We need to explain why capitalism is an obsolete form of 
social organization in the age of the Electronic Revolution.

Though much less human labor will be required to produce goods, 
the vital work of society remains: raising children and providing 
education, transportation, communications, health care, culture, 
recreation and environmental protection to all. This liberating 
work must be described in detail, providing a concrete vision of a 
better life. We must work with groups already fighting for their 
survival around homelessness, welfare rights, substance abuse, 
education and jobs. We must join together to formulate proposals 
and programs. In the process, tens of millions of people will 
realize that their needs can never be met under the existing 
economic system.

Conferences, forums, articles and similar efforts are critical in 
spreading the word and investigating how technological upheavals 
affect different parts of the country and sectors of the economy.

On March 3-4, 1995, a second Technology and Employment Conference 
will be held in Chicago, the industrial heartland of the United 
States. This will be an opportunity for concerned individuals and 
organizations to come together, to share their knowledge and to 
respond to the profound changes happening in the economy.

[For more information, join the High Tech Committee. Write to the 
National Organizing Committee, P.O. Box 477113, Chicago, IL 60647, 
or e-mail jdav@noc.org.]

[The reports of the Technology and Employment Conference are 
available from the Technology and Culture Seminar, MIT, 77 
Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139.]