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What Will We Do?: The Destruction of Occupational Identities in the ‘KnowledgeBased Economy’ :: Monthly Review
Ursula Huws

Wh at Will We Do?: Th e Destruction of Occupation al Iden tities in th e ‘Kn owledg e-Based Econ omy’ Ursula Huws is professor of in tern ation al labor studies at th e Workin g Lives Research In stitute at Lon don Metropolitan Un iversity an d is director of th e research con sultan cy An alytica. Sh e is th e auth or of The Making of a Cybertariat: Virtual Work in a Real World (Mon th ly Review Press, 2003). Faced with th e difficulty of “placin g ” a stran g er, th e most common open in g g ambit is to ask, “Wh at do you do?” Except perh aps in a few small h un ter-g ath erer tribes, a person ’s occupation is on e of th e most importan t delin eators of social iden tity. In man y European cultures th is is reflected in family n ames. People called Sch midt, Smith , Herrero, or Lefebvre, for in stan ce, h ad an cestors wh o were iron workers. Wain wrig h ts an d Wag n ers are descen ded from wag on makers, an d so on with th e Mullers (Millers), Boulan g ers (Bakers), Guerreros (soldiers), an d all th e myriad Potters, Butch ers, Carters, Coopers, Carpen ters, Fish ers, Sh eph erds, an d Cooks wh ose n ames can be foun d in an y North American ph on e book. Th e ph en omen on is by n o mean s un ique to cultures of European orig in . In South Asia th e division of labor evolved to become so embedded in oth er social structures th at occupation al iden tity was someth in g you were born in to. In th e words of Sudh eer Birodkar, “occupation al specialisation was th e essen ce of th e sub-division of th e two lower Varn as (castes) of th e Vaish yas an d Sh udras in to th e various Jatis (occupation al sub-castes)….In frin g emen t of caste rules of vocation could lead to expulsion ; th us a Ch amar (sh oe maker) h ad to remain a Ch amar all h is life. If h e tried to become a Kumar (potter) or Darji (tailor) h e was in dan g er of bein g expelled from th e Ch amar caste an d obviously un der th e caste rules h e would n ot be admitted in to an y oth er caste in spite of h is h avin g th e kn owledg e of an y oth er vocation .”1 Such discrete craft-based occupation al iden tities beg an to break down un der th e impact of automation an d th e in troduction of th e factory system. In h eren t in capitalist relation s of production , accordin g to Marxian th eory, is th e g en eral ten den cy to reduce workers to an un differen tiated mass, wh o can easily replace each oth er—a workin g class or proletariat. Th ere is a direct relation sh ip between th e deg ree of skill required to perform an y g iven task an d th e scarcity of th at skill an d th e ability of th e workers wh o possess it to n eg otiate with employers (or, in th e case of th e self-employed, with customers) for h ig h wag es an d decen t workin g con dition s. It is th us in th e in terests of capital to h ave a workin g class wh ose skills are as g en eric an d substitutable as possible. Workers wh o h ave on ly g en eric skills are ch eap to employ an d can be g ot rid of if th ey become troublesome because substitutes can easily be foun d. For socialists, occupation al iden tity (con structed as it g en erally is aroun d th e possession of particular skills, kn owledg e, or experien ce) th us presen ts someth in g of a con un drum. On th e on e h an d, it forms a basic org an ization al buildin g block; on th e

such as German y. Some of th ese fun ction s are th emselves subjected to processes wh ereby th e kn owledg e of th e workers is expropriated an d in corporated in to computer prog rams or databases so th at th e tasks can be carried out by fewer. or less-skilled. such as g uilds. th ey were eith er explicitly occupation -based. As a result. Th is g ives th em a divisive ch aracter in relation to workin g people as a larg er class. an d ch eaper. wh ose members were often oblig ed to take oath s to preserve th e secrets of th e trade in elaborate in itiation rituals an d to en g ag e in oth er practices wh ich con solidated th e bon ds between members but excluded outsiders. such as appren ticesh ips. as in th e craft-based trade un ion s th at were prevalen t in th e Un ited Kin g dom. However. wh ere social-democratic political parties h ave taken th e lead in developin g sectorbased. th at th is same period was also ch aracterized by labor markets wh ich were stron g ly seg men ted by g en der an d eth n icity. commun icate an d provide con ten t for a wide ran g e of products an d services th at keep th e wh eels of capitalism turn in g . or based in more g en eral trade un ion s led by labor elites with stron g occupation al iden tities. we could in clude th e kn owledg e of specialists workin g on tech n ical-support h elp desks wh o are en courag ed to put th e an swers to frequen tly-asked question s on to databases th at can be accessed by more jun ior fron tlin e staff. in th e sen se th at th ey g en erate stron g in tern al solidarities. But as on e task becomes routin ized an d deskilled. employers an d states ag reed to a kin d of compromise in wh ich th ey lessen ed th eir an tag on ism to workers’ org an ization s an d labor allowed employers to man ag e workplaces with out con stan t th reat of disruption .2 Workers’ org an ization s did differ in differen t coun tries. h owever. less-skilled workers can be substituted to operate th e n ew mach in es. On ce expropriated. Th is h as especially been th e case in coun tries. rath er th an occupation -based collective barg ain in g . educate. Even much n ewer occupation -based g roupin g s often exh ibit stron g social h omog en eity in th eir membersh ip. such g roups may play a prog ressive role in win n in g h ig h er wag es or improved con dition s for some seg men ts of th e workforce or. can be traced back to precapitalist forms of org an ization . it h as an equally ambig uous mean in g for capital.3 It sh ould be n oted. customize th em for n ew purposes. th roug h th eir stron g org an ization an d ability to resist bein g push ed aroun d by th e employers. all of th em un doubtedly owe man y of th eir ach ievemen ts to th e efforts of workers’ org an ization s th at were stron g en oug h to compel employers to sh are some of th e productivity g ain s of mass production . an d en tertain th e population . Skill does n ot just h ave a double-edg ed ch aracter for labor. in form. it is n ecessary to draw on th e expertise an d experien ce of someon e wh o kn ows exactly h ow to do it to an atomize every step in th e process an d work out h ow it can be stan dardized an d h ow a mach in e can be prog rammed to repeat th ese steps. Some of th e mech an isms for limitin g en try to th e occupation . Before a task can be automated. Human kn owledg e. But th e n eed for skills does n ot stop th ere. th ey may lead campaig n s for protective leg islation or welfare provision s wh ich ben efit th e population in g en eral. th e kn owledg e an d experien ce (or “craft”) of th ese workers can be dispen sed with . more broadly. an d exclusive. an d care for.oth er it is a barrier to th e developmen t of broader class con sciousn ess. or th e kn owledg e of un iversity professors wh o are asked to con vert th eir lectures in to con ten t for “e-learn in g ” courses. an d creativity are absolutely essen tial to in ven t an d desig n n ew products an d processes. Tradition ally most (th oug h n ot all) org an ization s of workers h ave g rown up aroun d specific occupation al iden tities in g roupin g s wh ich are simultan eously in clusive. . workers. as well as bein g fractured alon g man y oth er dimen sion s. Th e in n ovation process wh ich forms th e n ecessary motor of ch an g e for capitalist developmen t is deeply con tradictory in its n eed for skill. for in stan ce. distract. g ivin g a g en dered an d eth n ic ch aracter to wh o is admitted an d wh o excluded. Here. in g en uity. in th e sen se th at th ey rely for th eir effectiven ess on stron g boun daries an d restriction s on en try to th e g roup. Alth oug h th e welfare states th at developed durin g th e post–Secon d World War period in advan ced capitalist coun tries took distin ctive forms.

th e evolution of an ever-more complex tech n ical division of labor h as created a con stan tly ch an g in g deman d for an extremely diverse ran g e of skills. cartels. Th ere are of course man y ways in wh ich th e very con cept of a market in labor is question able. g en erally smaller. As workers resist or adapt to ch an g e an d org an ize to protect th eir in terests.” In order to routin ize th e jobs of on e g roup of workers. Labor is n ot ph ysically mobile in th e way th at capital is. It can be arg ued th at tradition al Marxian th eory un derestimates th e importan ce of skill in sh apin g th e ways in wh ich labor markets fun ction . particular sectors. In some situation s. wh ich are differen t in ch aracter from th e employin g compan y’s resources. th ey can also be said to be in a con tin uous process of con struction an d decon struction . It is often easier for your body parts to cross a n ation al fron tier after you are dead th an it is for you as a livin g person to en ter th at coun try leg ally to seek work. Th e h uman body. Th e n ature of in n ovation is such th at both processes h appen simultan eously: each n ew developmen t in th e tech n ical division of labor en tails a n ew split between “h ead” an d “h an ds. wh ose members can be kept in lin e by th e kn owledg e th at an y worker wh o deman ds too much can be replaced by someon e else from th e “reserve army” of th e un employed wh o can do th e same work more ch eaply or more complian tly. various forms of allian ce amon g . Th e reality th at h as evolved is con siderably more complex th an th e classic picture of a polarization of society between a bourg eoisie—th at own s th e mean s of production . n ew occupation s are con tin uously bein g formed an d older on es re-formed. We also n eed to look more closely at th e role played by th e state in providin g g en eric skills to a workforce wh ich is required to fill n ich es in an in creasin g ly complex an d turbulen t econ omy an d th e role th ese g en eric skills play in erodin g occupation al boun daries an d un dermin in g th e power of org an ized labor.a n ew coh ort of “kn owledg e workers” is required to devise th e n ext stag e in th e commodification process. Just as occupation al iden tities can be said to be both exclusion ary an d in clusive. as well as in th e n umber of con secutive h ours it can keep g oin g . an d dictates th e fun ction in g of th e state—an d an ever-more h omog en ous proletarian mass. th ey also wan t to retain proprietary con trol over skills an d kn owledg e th at g ive th em a competitive edg e over rival compan ies. an d. products. wh ich can be stretch ed as far as th e limits of its access to capital an d raw materials. man y of wh ich are specific to particular stag es of in dustrial developmen t. en duran ce. or even specific compan ies. in th is era of free trade wh en capital can cross n ation al borders at will. labor is stron g ly con strain ed in its ability to tap in to opportun ities in oth er coun tries. th e con cept of th e reserve army is still a relevan t on e th at h elps us make sen se of man y recen t developmen ts in labor markets. proprietory processes. On th e con trary.4 Arg umen ts about wh eth er th e developmen t of an ever more tech n olog ically complex capitalism results in deskillin g or reskillin g are th erefore beside th e poin t. despite th is multiplication of tasks in a division of labor wh ich is in creasin g ly dispersed both con tractually an d g eog raph ically. we n eed a more differen tiated idea of th e role played by occupation al iden tities an d skill in th e fun ction in g of labor markets. Labor markets are also distorted by man y oth er factors in cludin g mon opolies an d mon opson ies (a sin g le buyer of labor power). th e basic un it wh ich is offered on a labor market. Th ere is an extreme asymmetry between th e ch aracteristics of labor an d th ose of capital wh ich make th e trade in labor quite differen t from trade in oth er g oods an d services. h as fin ite limits in terms of its stren g th . con trols th e circulation of g oods an d capital. A startin g poin t for th is an alysis is th e idea of a labor market itself. Employers h ave to balan ce th eir in terest in ch eapen in g th e value of labor with th eir n eed to en sure th at th ere is a ren ewable supply of well-educated an d creative workers with fresh n ew ideas. But in order to tease out th ese un derstan din g s. an d ag ility. However. in th is era in wh ich th e labor-employer-state compromise (sometimes described as th e “Fordist deal”) h as eith er collapsed or is un der severe strain . g roup with some sort of overview of th e process is n ecessary. an oth er.

it is reason able to con clude th at it is past its h eyday. In oth er words. but on ce in side workers en joy a n umber of ben efits. in dustrial structures. are prepared to offer in ducemen ts to keep loyal workers. 1971). In tern al labor markets. to develop models of multiple or segmented labor markets. tun ed to th eir own specific workin g practices. In retrospect. on th e wh ole. jobs fall roug h ly in to two categ ories: th ose in “primary” or “in tern al” labor markets an d th ose in “secon dary” or “extern al” labor markets. In th ese in tern al markets. h owever. However. labor protection leg islation . Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis (Lexin g ton Books. th e lucky in siders were kept aware of th eir privileg ed status an d. in wh ich th ey developed th e idea of dual labor markets. kept in order by th e kn owledg e th at life out th ere in th e secon dary labor market could be h arsh . we can see th at th e in tern al labor markets described by Doerin g er an d Piore an d th eir followers were n ot absolute an d un ch an g in g features of th e econ omic lan dscape. or to wh ite people. employers are prepared to in vest substan tially in in -compan y train in g in order to ach ieve h ig h levels of productivity. it is importan t to remember th at th e postwar model was n ot un iversal. Alth oug h th e death of th is period is often proclaimed.6 Th e con cept of seg men ted labor markets recog n izes th at th ere may be n umerous differen t labor markets in wh ich wag es an d con dition s are sh aped by an in terplay of factors in cludin g n ation al education systems. In order to un derstan d h ow an d wh y it h as collapsed it is perh aps useful to look in a little more detail at h ow it fun ction ed in its g olden era. are typically h ig h ly structured an d h ierarch ical. In secon dary or extern al labor markets th e un spoken deal between capital an d labor is very differen t: employers do n ot make a lon g -term commitmen t to th e workforce but are prepared to accept lower levels of commitmen t an d productivity from workers wh om th ey feel free to lay off at will. Secon d. In th is model. an d a ran g e of oth er frin g e ben efits. It soon became clear th at th is dual model was too simple to explain th e complexity of wag e differen tials across wh ole diverse econ omies. Rath er. sh aped by th eir particular . Pattern s of in clusion an d exclusion were often rein forced by eth n ic an d g en der differen ces. h olidays. th ey arg ued. typical workers in extern al labor markets would h ave been jan itors or waiters. Th e most importan t factor of all. First. we can n ot be certain th at elemen ts of it will n ot con tin ue to be useful or even n ecessary for capitalism in th e future. En try poin ts in to th ese in tern al labor markets are h ard to squeeze th roug h . or to people of a certain relig ion . cultural tradition s. with in tern al advan cemen t path s. Typical workers in in tern al labor markets at th e en d of th e 1960s wh en Doerin g er an d Piore were writin g would h ave been civil servan ts. Alth oug h th ere were h istorical momen ts wh en labor aristocracies used th eir power to win broad g ain s for much larg er portion s of th e workin g class. are in sulated from extern al market forces by in tern al rule systems.busin esses or labor. n amely. In tern al markets. but took differen t forms in differen t coun tries. On e of th e most importan t attempts to reth eorize labor markets was Peter Doerin g er an d Mich ael Piore’s g roun dbreakin g book. Employers wh o n eed particular skills. Doerin g er an d Piore’s in sig h ts were elaborated by oth er an alysts. it is n ecessary to emph asize th at th e special deal struck by capital with its essen tial “core” workers in side larg e org an ization s on ly fun ction ed effectively because it did not cover all workers. in limitin g access to jobs an d preven tin g th e developmen t of “pure” competition in th e market may be employers’ n eeds for workers with specific skills in a h ig h ly complex— an d in creasin g ly g lobal—tech n ical division of labor. an d oth er con strain ts on th e availability of time or mobility (such as th e n eed to carry out un paid reproductive work) wh ich rein force g en dered an d racial division s in th e workforce. or self-employed people wh o offered th eir skills to a ran g e of differen t customers. relyin g h eavily on firm-specific kn owledg e. th e levels of wag es an d con dition s are differen t from th ose wh ich would pertain in a “pure” extern al market. or employees of larg e compan ies such as IBM or Gen eral Motors. A market in wh ich certain jobs are on ly available to men . in cludin g h ig h er wag es. can n ot by an y mean s be ch aracterized as a “free” market. th ey wen t on to say. an d th e ways in wh ich workers are org an ized. pen sion s. th e period of postwar compromise. we may perceive th em as specific to a certain ph ase of capitalism. state in terven tion .

In order to try to model some of th ese differen ces. th ere are man y in termediate skill position dustrial structures an d h istories. a stron g social-democratic movemen t push ed for sector-level collective barg ain in g ag reemen ts wh ich mean t th at th e “in sider deal” was exten ded to all workers in a particular sector. an d particular train in g an d qualification systems wh ich are in turn reflected in th e ways occupation s are defin ed.g . by takin g th e train in g courses provided by th e employer an d followin g th e in tern al compan y rules. For in stan ce a h ig h ly paid executive of a larg e compan y or a sen ior civil servan t would be somewh ere n ear th e top on th e rig h t-h an d side. for in stan ce in Britain ) or in certain compan ies (as was th e case wh ere compan y-level barg ain in g was domin an t). for in stan ce. in cludin g th e specific ways th at workers’ org an ization s h ad evolved.. such as th e on e we are livin g th roug h rig h t n ow. In a coun try like German y. would be a season al fruit-picker or a part-time. we would expect a h ig h proportion of th e workin g population to be g rouped towards th e rig h t-h an d side of th is diag ram. con siderable employer in vestmen t in train in g an d tig h tlydefin ed occupation al demarcation s.7 I h ave foun d th is diag ram useful for an alyzin g th e differen ces between labor markets in differen t coun tries. would be a n ew recruit or an appren tice at th e bottom of th e occupation al ladder in a larg e stable in stitution (e. I use a diag ram adapted from Rosemary Crompton (see below) to in teg rate dual labor market th eory with g en der an d class th eory. Th is diag ram takes in tern al an d extern al labor markets as two extremes. sh own h ere on th e rig h t an d th e left of th e diag ram (allowin g for th e possibility th at th ere may be oth er in termediate types of labor market seg men ts placed somewh ere between th ese extremes). n ear corn er B. would be over to th e left n ear corn er A. It sh ould in prin ciple be possible to plot an y kin d of paid work somewh ere in relation to th ese two axes. Down at th e bottom on th e rig h t-h an d side. In a more “liberal” labor market. In German y. a train ee mail sorter). th at of skill. But a h ig h ly paid freelan ce accoun tan t workin g for a n umber of differen t clien ts. Ag ain . h istorically stron g in tern al labor markets. or as temporary or part-time workers with little lon g -term job security an d few ch an ces for promotion with in th e firm or train in g beyon d th e . pattern s of in vestmen t. an d particularly for examin in g h ow th ey ch an g e in times of rapid structural an d tech n olog ical ch an g e.” an d th is in turn mean s th at th e collapse of th e postwar compromise takes a un ique form in each coun try. an d a welfare system closely lin ked to employer-based plan s. rath er th an just to certain occupation al g roups (as was common wh ere craft-based un ion s were stron g . n ear corn er C. sh own h ere on th e top an d bottom of th e diag ram. Over on th e bottom left. n ear corn er D. temporary burg er-flipper. It th en adds an oth er dimen sion . with its corporatist politics.6 Various types of “in sider deal” are also complemen ted by specific types of “outsider deal. th e ch aracteristic pattern would place a much h ig h er proportion of th e workin g population over on th e left-h an d side of th e diag ram—workin g con tin g en tly as self-employed in dividuals. A typical career trajectory would be to start down in corn er D an d work on e’s way up toward B. alth oug h still n ear th e top in terms of skill level. David Coates h as provided us with an exten sive an alysis of th e econ omy-wide implication s of such differen ces wh ich h ave produced distin ctive types of welfare systems. deg rees an d types of g overn men t in terven tion . such as th at of th e Un ited States or th e Un ited Kin g dom.

with major differen ces in livin g stan dards between a larg e un differen tiated mass of precarious workers n ear th e C corn er an d th e privileg ed few n ear A or B an d con siderable variation in between . in con trast. employers are much more likely to respon d to ch an g in g circumstan ces by casualizin g employmen t. In creasin g n umbers of temporary workers are taken on to replace or supplemen t th e work of full-time employees. Here. Th e employers’ in cen tives to reduce th e cost of labor may be th e same wh erever th ey are based. th e boun daries of th e in tern al labor market are firmly defin ed: eith er you are in or you are out. Th ese are n ot. so too th e way out is likely to be th roug h a formalized redun dan cy process. wh ere employees are protected by stron g un ion ag reemen ts. Despite fairn ess rules. In a less reg ulated labor market such as th e Un ited States an d Un ited Kin g dom. Typically. an d in creasin g use is made of outsourcin g . people of color. On ce un employed. opportun ities would n ot in practice be available equally to th e en tire population . Th ese labor markets could be expected to exh ibit a stron g er polarization . an d th e ben efits of bein g in side th em are often relatively less. We mig h t expect th e Scan din avian coun tries with th eir stron g welfare systems lin ked more to citizen sh ip th an to employmen t status an d th eir commitmen t to publicly provided education an d train in g . an d women more likely to be foun d down in th e C quadran t. beyon d basic h ig h sch ool certification . th roug h acceptin g a breakdown of tradition al job demarcation s kn own as “multiskillin g ”) rath er th an lose th eir toeh old in side. Th e way out of th e in tern al labor market is th us more likely to follow th e direction of th e arrow I h ave labeled “casualization ” in th e diag ram. Just as th e most usual way in is th roug h formalized appoin tmen t procedures. Th e route out of secure well-paid work is th us likely to follow th e direction of th e arrow I h ave marked “un employmen t” in th e diag ram. with relatively few in eith er C or D. to h ave h ig h ly skilled workin g population s much more skewed to th e top h alf of th e diag ram. Alth oug h un employmen t still exists in th ese coun tries (just as casualization takes place in coun tries like Fran ce. as a creepin g precariousn ess spreads across th e labor market like rust eatin g away at th e old Fordist mach in ery. th e qualification s th at workers do h old. German y. would be likely to h ave a very small formal sector. in all th ese types of labor market. Workers wh o are in side th e in tern al labor market h ave a lot to lose. Such perception s do little to foster a sen se of un ity amon g workers. Th is diag ram is n ot just useful as a way of comparin g static labor markets. mean in g th at th e g reat mass of th e population is over on th e left-h an d side of th e diag ram in A or C. th ey fin d it difficult to fin d an oth er job. sin ce most of th eir welfare ben efits are lin ked to th eir employmen t status. partly because th eir skills may be very in dustry specific or employer specific an d partly because employers are reluctan t to create n ew jobs for people to wh om th ey will h ave to make a lon g -term commitmen t. in tern al labor markets are much less well-protected. of course. Do th ese differen ces matter? Readers of th e busin ess press will n o doubt be used to fin g er-poin tin g articles blamin g th e five million un employed in German y on th e “sclerotic” or “rig id” European labor market policies just as readers of more liberal European journ als will be familiar with stories about th e overworked workers of th e “An g lo-Saxon ” coun tries wh o h ave g iven away th eir rig h ts in a collective act of selfexploitation . Austria. h ave been acquired at th eir own expen se or th at of th eir paren ts.immediate requiremen ts of th eir job. but in a “corporatist” labor market. so th ey will fiercely resist expulsion an d will often accept a radical restructurin g of th eir work (e. Life-lon g residen t (an d wh ite) men would usually domin ate th e B quadran t of th e diag ram. with immig ran ts.. staff with skills th at are still required but n ot reg ularly are en courag ed to g o part-time. But tradition al Marxists mig h t arg ue th at th e g reat mass of th e un employed an d th e g reat . It also h elps us un derstan d th e differen t dyn amic ways in wh ich org an ization al restructurin g affects workers in differen t n ation al con texts. or g o freelan ce. In stead wh at can be seen is a g en eral worsen in g of workin g con dition s an d g rowin g in security. an d Belg ium) it is less likely to be absolute or of lon g duration .g . th e on ly two possible models. Man y developin g coun tries.

an d do simple arith metic so th at th ey could follow in struction s. Nowadays.” Th ey also require people wh o are prepared to keep on learn in g n ew skills as th e tech n olog y or th e market ch an g es.” combin ed in wh atever pick-an d-mix . th e lin otype operator. th at would h ave g iven th em some barg ain in g power wh ich would h ave restricted th e employers’ scope for man euver. th e switch board operator h ave all eith er g on e th e way of th e h an dloom weaver or th e scribe or been tran sformed out of all recog n ition .” an d “en trepren eursh ip. Wh at th ey n eed is a plen tiful supply of computer-literate workers wh o can be taken on wh en th ey are n eeded an d dropped wh en th ey are n o lon g er required. in volvin g such a wide ran g e of differen t in puts in such complex con fig uration s th at for man y tasks (th oug h n ot all) simple muscle power is n o lon g er en oug h . an d truan cy or lapses in pun ctuality were pun ish ed severely. On ce th ese skills were un iversal.” An d th ey n eed people wh o are familiar with or able to master a ran g e of specific software packag es an d wh o can commun icate with distan t customers in a g lobal market. Th e jobs of th e lath e turn er. write. in dustries. th e pattern cutter. th e proofreader. h ard work. n obody could exert extra leverag e in th e market by possessin g th em. h owever. th e tech n ical division of labor h as evolved to a poin t wh ere most jobs actually require specific skills an d a reserve army is n o use un less it possesses th em. teach in g th e “th ree Rs” in an atmosph ere wh ere auth ority was to be respected. of course. an d compan ies. both th e rh etoric an d th e skills are a little differen t. it h as in troduced a ran g e of stan dard processes for org an izin g an d man ipulatin g th e in formation pertain in g to th em. th e g raph ic desig n er. But h ow can th ey g uaran tee such a supply? Th ere is an in terestin g parallel h ere with wh at h appen ed in th e n in eteen th cen tury wh en th e org an ization of in dustry an d of n ation al econ omies an d empires became complex en oug h to require a workforce th at was n umerate an d literate. It was also useful even for man ual workers to be able to read. Needless to say. Th e proportion of th e workforce th at actually uses a computer in th e course of its daily work varies from coun try to coun try but it is h ig h . Not on ly was an army of clerks n ecessary to process th e in voices an d receipts for all th e tran saction s in volved in in tern ation al trade. Th e use of computers h as n ot iron ed out th e man y differen ces th at remain between differen t production processes. Th ese are n ot. an d respect for oth er people’s property. In oth er words. However. in most cases th e same skills th at were required a g en eration ag o—th ose skills aroun d wh ich th e occupation al iden tities of th e secon d h alf of th e twen tieth cen tury evolved. th e audio typist.” “aptitudes. Th ere is on ly on e problem with th is approach . If on ly a few people h ad th ese skills. th ese “skills. an d g rowin g . an d so on . with n o fear of bein g left stran ded with out th e n ecessary skills wh en deman d picks up ag ain . Modern econ omies n ow produce such a h ug e array of g oods an d services.” “employability. Neith er do th ey wan t to in vest h eavily in train in g th em. n ecessary to en sure th at n ew recruits arrived at th e workplace already in stilled with th e values of pun ctuality. An d employers do n ot wan t to h ave to barg ain with a small elite g roup of workers wh o un derstan d h ow th ese computers work an d are able to operate th em (as some of th em h ad to in th e 1960s wh en computer prog rammin g was th e exclusive—an d mystified—preserve of a few relatively privileg ed tech ies). keep track of stock. an d iden tify wh ich g oods to buy. a stron g work eth ic was en courag ed. Employers wan t people wh o are “dig itally literate.” “competen ces.” an d “kn ow-h ow. It was also.mass of con tin g en t workers n everth eless serve more or less th e same fun ction : th ey are th e reserve army wh ose existen ce acts as a brake on workers’ movemen ts to improve pay an d con dition s in th e more org an ized seg men ts of th e labor market. Wh at was th e solution ? Un iversal primary sch ool education . read public sig n s.” “self-motivated. A key role in th is tran sformation h as been played by in formation tech n olog y.” an d “g ood team players” an d wh o possess “soft skills. th ere was also an in creasin g n eed for records to be kept of th e work itself to n ote wh o h ad worked wh at h ours an d calculate th eir earn in g s. Literacy an d n umeracy were also useful to people in th eir capacities as con sumers—so th at th ey could h an dle cash in an econ omy th at in creasin g ly relied on mon ey. th e film editor. sometimes described as “a commitmen t to lifelon g learn in g . th e keypun ch operator.

An d. un iversities (an d) con sultan ts. an y market advan tag es h eld by th ose wh o previously h ad more or less exclusive access to th is kn owledg e are destroyed.” wh ere each job description is in fin itely elastic an d th ere is n ever a poin t at wh ich th e worker can sit back an d th in k.” Multin ation al compan ies are also active in establish in g g lobal skill stan dards. in th e sen se of “th is is wh at I do. th e European Computer Drivin g Licen se (ECDL) certifies th at its own er h as acquired basic computer skills. just as in th e n in eteen th cen tury.”11 Such prog rams often explicitly deman d a disman tlin g of n ation al qualification systems an d lin ks to in tern ation al courses an d curricula. train in g may be more likely to be carried out at th e expen se an d in itiative of th e in dividual. an d it can be con ceptualized as takin g place over on th e left-h an d side of th e diag ram. in keepin g with th e corporatist model. Now I can relax an d just g et on with th e job. sometimes. th e g overn men t h as set up arbeitsstiftungen. aid to developin g coun tries for education is in creasin g ly explicitly related to th e developmen t of a g lobal “kn owledg e-based econ omy. At a n ation al level. such activity can be seen as takin g place n ear th e D corn er. it was foun d th at 38 percen t of th e train ees en ded th eir spell of un employmen t by return in g to th eir former employers. as well as th ose of th e in dividual n ation s th at are recipien ts of th eir aid. In deed. in cludin g th e fran ch isin g of courses run by un iversities an d colleg es in don or coun tries. but on a g lobal scale. with th e state colludin g with employers to co-reg ulate en try to wh at. for in stan ce by providin g certification courses in th e use of proprietary software. en courag in g en trepren eursh ip. could still be reg arded as an in tern al labor market. an d “an efficien t in n ovation system of firms. th ere is n ow a un iversal n eed for n ew g en eric attitudes an d abilities. state ag en cies h ave leaped to th e assistan ce of th e employers to provide th em. th ere is in g en eral more an d more emph asis in job advertisemen ts as well as in train in g courses on th e n eed for “e-skills” an d “dig ital literacy. th oug h h eavily eroded. For in stan ce in Austria. On ly th is time it isn ’t with in n ation al borders. amon g th e casualized workers wh o make up th e A–C axis. “kn owledg e for developmen t. for in stan ce. “At last. or competin g empires. wh ere workers can be retrain ed at th e taxpayer’s expen se un til th ey are n eeded ag ain . th e two are in timately in tercon n ected.” “employability. It is n ever easy to disen tan g le capitalism’s n eed to expan d in order to fin d n ew markets from its n eed to tap in to n ew sources of labor. th ese attempts take differen t forms in differen t developed coun tries. h ave. wh ich provide train in g for un employed people in close cooperation with local employers. th e compulsory teach in g of En g lish in primary sch ools. train in g an d R&D in a competitive world econ omy.” in prog rams th at lin k education al reform with th e exten sion of telecommun ication s n etworks.” But th ere is con vin cin g eviden ce th at we h ave n ow en tered a ph ase of g lobal capitalism wh ere.permutation s. At an in tern ation al level. in th e district of Leoben . Reg ardless of th e precise role of th e state. However it is h ard to den y th at th e curren t education al policies of supran ation al bodies like th e World Ban k an d th e European Un ion . at least th e effect of creatin g a g lobal reserve army of “kn owledg e workers. as well as th e n ow familiar emph asis on “e-skills. In on e study by Han s Georg Zilian . In some cases th e subsidy from th e state to th e employer may be less direct th an simply payin g for th e train in g . like Microsoft or SAP.” “dig ital literacy. research cen ters. or don atin g h ardware or telecommun ication s to . I’m train ed. for in stan ce th e EU’s 2001 policy statemen t Strengthening Cooperation with Third Countries10 states th at th e aim of its education policy is “to improve h uman resources man ag emen t an d to make th e EU a powerful actor in education .” In th e process.” Across th e European Un ion . do n ot add up to stable occupation al iden tities. if n ot as an explicit aim.8 In relation to our diag ram. lin ks its aid closely to wh at it calls K4D.” Th e World Ban k. Zilian con cluded th at th ese foun dation s act as h oldin g tan ks for th e employers. In less reg ulated econ omies. I h ave a recog n ized occupation . th ey imply a world in wh ich th ere are n o limits.” an d “en trepren eursh ip. labor foun dation s. an d.”9 Th e aid prog rams of th e European Un ion h ave similar objectives. a secon d European lan g uag e in secon dary sch ools. In fact. but th is is wh at I don ’t do as part of my job. just like th e n eed for un iversal literacy in th e n in eteen th cen tury.

such as levels of In tern et access an d usag e of e-commerce. Th e n ew member states in Cen tral an d Eastern Europe. An d if th ey are aware th at it would be perfectly feasible. As th ese prog rams are rolled out. man y of th e sectors in wh ich offsh orin g is takin g place. wh ich are still waitin g in th e queue to join . “Wh at do . are already takin g on th e role of a ch eap back office for th e rest of th e EU. Slovakia. Bosn ia an d Herzeg ovin a. an d workers wh o speak th e g lobal lan g uag es an d can use th e in creasin g ly stan dard g lobal software packag es. an d most are reluctan t to offsh ore th eir more sen sitive “core” research an d developmen t work. market is still man y times larg er th an . h ig h ly specialized skills. If workers kn ow th at th e skills th ey h ave are also h eld by h un dreds of th ousan ds of oth er people aroun d th e world. Alg eria. Syria. are still expan din g . or Martin ique for Fren ch speakers. such as call cen ters. Leban on . th e Russian Federation .” various targ ets for ach ievin g g en eral levels of computer scien ce attain men t. Bulg aria. it is n everth eless importan t to remember th at th e most powerful effect of offsh orin g is n ot to elimin ate jobs in th e Un ited States or in Europe. often . Mon g olia. an d Turkey. tech n olog ically speakin g . Tun isia. In th e destruction of th ese iden tities. Wh ile th eir employers still n eed creativity an d kn owledg e an d. Nation al employers still n eed skilled workers in th eir h ome territory. it is to ch eapen th em. Georg ia. Mexico. Eg ypt. Morocco. Uzbekistan . in cludin g Hun g ary. someth in g wh ich would n ot exist if th ere were mass un employmen t th ere. Israel. th at in Ch in a or In dia. Tun isia. Kyrg yzstan . th e Federal Republic of Yug oslavia. wh en in th e future people ask us. alon g side oth er “kn owledg e society” in dicators. Azerbaijan . Lith uan ia. Sloven ia. th e Ph ilippin es. Jordan . Kazakh istan . Armen ia. Morocco. to move th eir jobs offsh ore. Ukrain e. Th e actual n umber of jobs bein g relocated overseas is tin y compared with th e n ormal “ch urn ” in n ation al labor markets. Latvia. But th is is to miss th e poin t. An d in an y case.S. an d Palestin e. or will workers’ in g en uity an d ability to adapt an d respon d to n ew ch allen g es lead to th e developmen t of n ew forms of org an izin g across n ation al fron tiers? An d. n ear to wh ere th eir clien ts are based. for in stan ce. were set for th e ten n ew member states th at join ed th e EU in 2005.sch ools an d colleg es to familiarize studen ts with th eir products. Wh ile n ot den yin g th e real misery caused by th e un employmen t wh ich is certain ly takin g place. With h ig h capacity telecommun ication s in frastructure in place. as well as for Roman ia. Tajikistan . In th e EU. Polan d. th e population s of th ese coun tries can in creasin g ly be set alon g side th ose of establish ed offsh orin g destin ation s such as In dia. th en it is very difficult to org an ize on th e basis of th eir un ique occupation al iden tities. Croatia.12 Th e “th ird coun tries” referred to in th is policy documen t con stitute an outer rin g of coun tries beyon d th ese: Alban ia. h ig h -con sumption deal an d with it th e en d of job security? Or are we simply livin g th roug h yet an oth er twist in th e developmen t of capitalism? Will we see a collapse of org an ized labor in to protection ism an d racism. Compan ies also. th e Former Yug oslav Republic of Macedon ia. an d Eston ia. th ese are less an d less likely to be foun d with in fixed an d stable occupation al iden tities. th en th is creates a poten t disin cen tive to ask for improvemen ts in wag es an d con dition s or to refuse to take on extra tasks. th e Czech Republic. of course. Just th e possibility th at th e job might move is en oug h to destroy th eir security an d workers’ barg ain in g power. or Barbados for th e En g lish -speakin g world. it will be possible to switch work seamlessly from worker to worker an d place to place in th e process wh ich is in creasin g ly kn own as “g lobal sourcin g ”—a complicated mixin g an d match in g of tasks from a n umber of differen t location s in specific con fig uration s to suit a particular busin ess clien t. or th e Domin ican Republic. or Colombia for Span ish -speakers in th e g lobal race to th e bottom for in formation workers. un der a series of “eEurope Action Plan s. n eed a h ome market for th eir g oods. Th e purpose of a reserve army is n ot to take over all th e work but to act as a disciplin ary force. Th e U. It is often assumed by workers in th e developed econ omies th at th e poin t of movin g work offsh ore is to elimin ate th e jobs back h ome. Moldova. Turkmen istan . are we witn essin g th e fin al death of th e postwar h ig h -wag e. Belarus.

4. ↩ h ttp://in fo.h tm 10.h /sudh eer_birodkar/h in du_h istory/ castejati-varn a. 9. Jörg Flecker.worldban k. 5. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Cambridg e: Polity Press.” paper presen ted at Labour an d Welfare in Europe in th e In formation Econ omy: Is th ere a dan g er of dig ital divide? Worksh op. ↩ h ttp://www. 8. ↩ Jill Rubery & Fran k Wilkin son . 2004. May 27. May 31. Industrial Organisation and Low Pay (Cambridg e: Cambridg e Un iversity Press. 2005) for poin tin g out th e h istorical importan ce of occupation ally defin ed elites in th e German trade un ion movemen t. 6. ↩ h ttp://europa. European Mon itorin g Cen tre for Ch an g e.h tm 12. 2000).org /etools/kam2005/in dex. 3. 2. ↩ David Coates. March 1. Brussels. & Simon e Dah lman n . ↩ For a more detailed explication of th e commodification process see Ursula Huws. 7. 1982). 1990).in t/scadplus/leg /en /ch a/c11053. Outsourcing of ICT and Related Services in the EU. ↩ I am in debted to Yig it Karg in for brin g in g th is to my atten tion . Labour Market Structure. ↩ Han s Georg Zilian . ↩ Adapted from Rosemary Crompton & Kay San derson . ↩ Gøsta Espin g -An derson . December. . 2003). ↩ I am in debted to Markus Promberg er (e-mail correspon den ce. LAW Project. Models of Capitalism: Growth and Stagnation in the Modern Era (Cambridg e: Polity do?” wh at will we reply? Notes 1. Dublin .h in dubooks. 1990). 2005. Gendered Jobs and Social Change (Lon don : Un win Hyman . 11. The Making of a Cybertariat: Virtual Work in a Real World (New York: Mon th ly Review Press. “Welfare an d employmen t flexibility with in th e n ew labour market. ↩ Ursula Huws. European Foun dation for th e Improvemen t of Livin g an d Workin g Con dition s.