“The fragile consensus which links the Australian community can be shattered if we fail to grasp the interdependence of the skilled and unskilled, rich and poor, market sector and convivial sector. It is essential to recognise the need for employers, trade unions, major political parties and all levels of government to evolve broad policies to ensure that technological change is not used to widen social and economic divisions, and avoid a legacy of increasing bitterness between the powerful and impotent.”
A progressive collective of undergraduate lecturers and tutors* in the early — mid 80s ignited my interests in all things social and public policy, along with organisational theory and practice, philosophy, research, and that which pertains to the future of work. Moreover they were by and large more concerned with teaching ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’. For that I have been eternally grateful.
A 30+ year ‘career’ in industrial relations and human resource management is perhaps no better testament to that small flame lit and fanned circa 1983 to 85. While the day to day demands of IR and HR can at times be less than enthusing, at other times it can be quite exhilarating presenting opportunities for significant positive impact on the lives of working people. The bigger picture stuff, the very context for IR and HR: why we work, where we work, how we work, who and how we lead, who and why we follow, is the stuff that can and has sustained my practical and intellectual curiosity for over three decades.
The lead extract in this piece was written quite recently, you might surmise. You’d be wrong though. Those words are lifted from a book. A book that was on the required reading list for me as an undergraduate student. The book, first published in 1982, is ‘Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the future of work’ written by Australia’s own Barry Jones**.
To be precise the extract is actually the last paragraph of Sleepers, Wake! page 238 of my copy, set in a chapter with a clear nod to the future titled ‘What is to be done?’
1982: fragile consensus; interdependence of skilled and unskilled, rich and poor; evolving policies to prevent widening of social and economic divisions and avoid bitterness between powerful and those less so. Hmmmm 1982. Visionary stuff.
My reach for the keyboard today follows a reach to the bookshelf yesterday (to dust off my copy of Sleepers, Wake) which in turn followed reading an article in The Weekend Australian (31/10/20) where I learned that the sequel to Sleepers, Wake, some 38 years on, is about to hit the bookshops.
Excited. Ready to be provoked. Prepared to have some settled assumptions unsettled. Geared for fresh localised thoughts and ideas by Barry Jones about the world of work and its future.
My copy of “What Is To Be Done: Political Engagement and Saving the Planet” by Barry Jones is ordered.
Teasers of what’s to come, courtesy of The Australian’s Troy Bramston and his interview with Barry Jones:
- Jones warns that we face a series of interrelated existential challenges which threaten the advancement of civilisation and the welfare of humanity, and that political systems here and overseas are failing to adequately grapple with these challenges.
- In Jones’ view, we have never been better educated yet our public discourse has never been dumber.
- In Australia (and elsewhere of course) liberal democracy and enlightenment values are at risk posits Jones.
“We see a retreat from reason; the rejection of facts and expertise; the rise of populism, snarling nationalisms, tribalism, and conspiracy theories; a fundamentalist revival and hostility to science; a failure of ethical leadership; deepening corruption of democratic processes; profound neglect of the climate change imperative; and the triumph of vested interests,”
In my humble opinion, if ever there was a time to write the sequel to Sleepers, Wake!, without having read a word I am thinking that Barry Jones has absolutely nailed the timing.
If you’ve not read Sleepers, Wake! (1982) or its revisions, the book is ‘based on the premise that technologically advanced nations are currently passing through a post-industrial or information revolution, Jones analyzed the unique threats and opportunities of the sudden rise in information to manufacturing, service employment, and basic income.’ Jones argued that science and technology had changed the quality, length, and direction of life in the past century far more than politics, education, ideology, or religion. ‘Therefore, inventors such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford have shaped human experience more broadly and enduringly than Lenin and Hitler.’
I wonder what Jones will say about Gates, Zuck and co?
Here’s a couple of specific tastes from Sleepers, Wake! which, if you pause and ponder on them for a time, may provide you insight into my enthusiasm for Jones’ 2020 sequel:
Looking beyond the industrial era:
- ‘We are now entering an age of discontinuity, marking an end to the industrial era, in which the whole range of human capacity and experience may be changed beyond recognition in a few decades.”
Predicting workforce change:
- “We must dispel the illusion that vast numbers of new jobs can be found in high-volume production.”
The world wide web was still close to a decade away:
- “Computerisation is the lead technology of the post-industrial revolution and will help to create a post-service society marked by unprecedentedly (yes he wrote this word way way before 2020) rapid changes in the nature of work, society, communication and personal experience.”
This absolute gem, of course well before the work/life balance movement:
- “The question of life after death has always occupied human thought: basic changes in human working patterns may stimulate interest in the possibility of life before death.”
The final chapter of 1982’s Sleepers, Wake! (‘What Is To Be Done’) begins with a quote from Andre Malraux***
“Leisure creates its own demand and to meet it we must build factories for ideas just as there must be factories for machinery.”
Factories for ideas… Factories for ideas…
I am 100% no Barry Jones, nowhere near even close. I happily and readily settle for a version of John Locke’s ‘under-labourer’, content to be clearing the ground a little. That said I do ascribe to and practice this Jones-ism:
‘The secret to living a long and productive life, he suggests, is to remain curious about the world and to never stop trying to understand it and shape it.’
I am curious about many things, in particular the world of work and all things that relate to it, and I am most hopeful of a long and productive life. My doorbell will ring soon enough with the delivery of ‘What is to be done’. Understanding and shaping to follow.
Watch this space sometime thereafter for PART 2.
*No better time to acknowledge with thanks the profound and life-changing impact that Bernadette Harrison, Mary Crooks, Elery Hamilton-Smith, Roger Trowbridge, Mark Considine, Tony Dalton, Gary Wickham, Greg Heath, Grant Cushman, David Foster and others had on me all those years ago at PIT (now RMIT University). Those Portables were indeed a Factory for Ideas. Factory for ideas about Leisure inclusive.
**Barry Owen Jones, AC FAA (born 11 October 1932), is an Australian polymath, writer, teacher, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician. Sleepers, Wake! was first published in 1982, and subsequently updated and reprinted in multiple languages.
***Andre Malraux was a French novelist, art historian, and statesman (1901 to 1976).