"fissured workplace" reducing worker power; AI jobs

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June Zaccone

Oct 16, 2023, 11:19:20 AM10/16/23
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In 2023, the worldwide share of employees who report being stressed at work reached a record high, according to Gallup. One contributing factor is the “fissured workplace,” in which corporate managers carve up their traditional workforce and redistribute its functions to subcontractors. Often marketed in futuristic terms as a part of the tech economy, it is, in fact, a well-worn way of reducing worker power.

In response to pressures from capital markets to improve their financial performance in the 1980s and ’90s, large corporations whittled down their directly employed staff to those concentrating on “core competencies,” freeing them to fire “non-essential” laborers, such as janitors, whom they subsequently brought back as temps at significantly reduced pay—a domestic expression of labor arbitrage. Neoliberals argue that this corporate strategy is a win-win, liberating workers from being tied to one company, which now must compete for their services. But in reality, they are thrust into unregulated forms of employment with irregular hours, low earnings, no route for advancement, muddied relationships with management, and no business enterprise ultimately responsible for their welfare.

One of the primary characteristics of the fissured workplace is its obscured authority structure.
Application programming interfaces, or APIs, which hundreds of tech companies use, bring this process to perfection. APIs are used to crowdsource tasks to workers that a full-time engineering staff and its AI algorithms can’t cover (or that firms won’t pay to have covered by a stable of full-time employees)..... As the journalist David Zweig reports, when Twitter ratcheted up its content moderation to full-blown censorship during the coronavirus debacle, it tasked, “contractors, in places like the Philippines … to adjudicate tweets on complex topics like myocarditis and mask efficacy data.” Americans were rigidly censored by on-demand workers around the world toiling for poverty wages.....

As machines are deployed by corporations to monopolize greater shares of the labor process, new forms of work are generated that require human services at the edges of AI’s reach. “Thus,” they write, “there is an ever-moving frontier between what machines can and can’t solve…. As machines solve more and more problems, we continue to identify needs for augmenting rather than replacing human effort.”

Automation, then, will create new jobs, not mass unemployment. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that we will want the jobs it creates.

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Network
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