Spectrum: Conference on Intermediate Technology - John Flagler on effects of alternative technology on workers

Programs | Midday | Topics | Business | Types | Speeches | Economy | Grants | Legacy Amendment Digitization (2018-2019) | Social Issue | Spectrum | Science | Conference on Intermediate Technology | Midday Reference |
Listen: 25836.wav

Dr. John Flagler, director of labor education at the University of Minnesota, speaking on the effects of alternative technology on workers. Speech given at the Conference on Intermediate Technology.

Flagler is introduced by the conference moderator Thomas Felt, chairman of the Inter-Regional Financial Group.

Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.

most interesting person one of those some relatively rare speakers in American society who? Actually was a worker see his life through workers eyes. obviously has a lot of association with the conference of intermediate technology and behavior related environments He also only was just a quote steel worker about being statement that Bob made with was a choice. He also is a former president of a local union. I think maybe that that's some. a part of his self image which is very important to him that those people that he worked with live with cooperated with have the trust and confidence to I liked him. through the election process has their president you tell the variety of important interesting jobs in both government and education on unemployment. He also has been the United Nations delegate of the US delegate on me to the United Nations First World Conference on worker education. He's currently professor of industrial relations. at the University of Minnesota in a labor Education Service Department Jack Flagler Thank you very much time. I was enjoying so much and being nourished by the ideas of dr. Shoemaker and the Bob Hobart that I hesitated to come forward being the anchor person on the program. However, I will be uncharacteristically brief. Let me put before you the central thesis that I am to speak to so that I can remember what it is. I'd like to set forth a simple kind of premise that runs as follows Society is profoundly affected a shape that is characterized by the nature of its technology. Technology intern is dependent upon its resource base. If you share with me the conviction that Society is in many ways in bad shape and that there are shotty aspects to the texture in substance of things. Then I think it would follow that we need to impact and make those changes through transfiguring technology. And to change technology it would seem to me we look to the kind of resource base upon which it is dependent. The changes will come and they will come rapidly simply because the energy and other resource base will no longer sustain the kind of technology that we have brought forth many others have spoken about this ably and well it falls to me to speak about another resource base people. technology depends upon people Let's see if I can penetrate a couple of significant myths and fairy tales by which we have also been coerced in the past. One of those Mets is that industry doesn't fact exist for the greater honor and Glory of man. I suggest that I discovered a long while ago that this was a fairytale. I discovered this the first day that I met in a gray iron Foundry. an industrial Valley in Upstate, New York Like my father before me and his father before him. I wanted to the shops, but things have improved over the years. My grandfather is a gray iron Foundry men had a life expectancy of 38. My father was much better off. He has a life expectancy of 46 by the time I entered the shops in 1942. I could expect to live to be 45. I want him to that. description of deities Hades scared I was 16 years old with a Fajr birth certificate. It was the booming of the cube Below in the Roaring of the Bessemer converter and men were running around with pots of molten metal. They're hiring Hot Stuff good hot stuff get out of the way and I was petrified a little card from personnel office with the name of the plant manager if I live to be a hundred and seventy and I shall never forget this man. His name was Jimmy Graham and the noise was so overwhelming that I had a shout into people's ears. Where is Jimmy Graham and they pointed deeper and deeper into the bowels of the shop. Glad to penetrate to find this estimable figure. And I finally came upon him. He was as broad as he was high. He had a wet cigar stuck in the corner of his face and I had it in the card from the personnel office took the card. He looked me up and he looked me Downey his stuff on his trousers and he said Jesus Christ kid. They're really scraping the barrel. And that was my welcome to Industry. Well, I came from a trade Union family and I heard that unions cared about people and we're all about and of people so I look for the shop steward and I saw a huge man and bearing down on me. A virtually blocked out the sunlight and he had on his cap a button that said steelworkers Steward my burst into a grin because I knew I was going to be taken under his protective wing and would not be burned to a crisp that very day. And you look down at me with a fearsome grimacy said you're the no kids. I said, that's right. He said you got 30 days to get in the union and get the hell out and that was my welcome to the labor movement. Shortly thereafter, they brought a new machine into that shop and then I really started to get things into perspective concerning where people and Technology fit in the total scheme of things. That machine was brought in by a group of admiring Engineers top staff Executives were invited onto the shop floor and with much plucking of the tongues in Rolling of the eyes that machine was massage than soothe and hands were placed upon it. In a wreck sounds issued forth from one and all. And compliments were paid like ain't he a mother? The gender may not have been correct, but the sentiment was accurate. And I knew where the machine was and I knew where Jack Flagler was. And I haven't learned anything since that time that has changed my opinion concerning the value hierarchy. of people and technology in the society the Leonid populates Where do we go from there? I proposed to very quickly take you for a what's happening concerning people's willingness to put up with that kind of a world of work. and to do that I have to trace with you the kind of answer is that Society has given historically the very sassy proposition. Why work why the hell work? every society has had to answer this somehow the Greeks of car is at one point in their development said don't It's unseemly. Man is created for his own greater honor and Glory wisdom. Goodness. The Pursuit Of Truth and beauty is what life's all about and work is for slaves. And that was the wrong answer and of course some native tribes not only in America, but I was worth sad well work. is for women for men There's the glories of battle the excitement of the hunt and the joy of procreation. but work is for women, but we've had said in this Society why work in a variety of ways situation-specific to a point in time and the first preeminent work ethic in America during colonial times, of course was the Puritan work ethic Calvinism that said if you are rich that's predestined you carry upon you the Manifest grace of God. There's a temporal reward for your Thrift in your indigence. That's that's what work is about know, if you're poor it's because you're very slow send your indigents and your sinfulness. That's why you work because the Lash of an avenging God is on your that's why your work and work is salvation has been a managerial style that has been coincident with work ethics historically and the management style that suited Puritan. Ethic was the manager as the chosen. If work is good and wealth is Manifest pleasure of God. Then those that manifested the greatest amount of welfare, obviously the most particularly chosen of all. this was blended into historically there was a heavy historical overlap with a domestic work ethic growing out of the. Of manifest destiny in this country you all know about manifest destiny. How's the doctrine that God shared with President Polk in the oval room? Said that this nation had to for its Destiny to extend from sea to shining sea and since God share this is a theological principle of the first urgency. It was perfectly okay to pick a fight with the Mexicans and rip off some land or the set aside inferior people that stood in the way of that kind of dynamic. Contemporaneous with this of course was the growth of the frontier Spirit the idea of work as Adventure. Work as the breaking of new lands to the plow the conquest of a hostile Wilderness rather than as we've come to know Wilderness as incredibly fragile. Incredibly precious. Work is heroic work as manly even women were expected to be manly without that check out some of the western statuary Ubly pioneer women. Breast like cantaloupes is brought across the beam is an axe handle. Are you a man-child in the morning and serve you and carried lunch in the field of new? Work is a relic work is Adventure. The managerial style of the frontier Spirit which extended throughout the nineteenth century was the robber baron. The boss says freebooter in buccaneer. The Vanderbilts Whitney's ghouls melons Archbold Farmers, you know the list. contemporaneous in terms of overlap was the arrival on the shores of the fathers and mothers and the grandparents of most of the people of this room the ways of immigrant people who brought to believe Shores almost exclusively a collectivist work ethic. Almost without exception a collective work ethic. And no one ethic ever survived the impact on another totally unchanged. So the immigrants borrowed some of the ethic that they found here and contributed to some of their own collectivist spirits. And what came about is what we referred to in literature is the Immigrant work ethic? Whether this was spoken in Yiddish or Scandinavian German French Italian. Russian at all distilled to this simple idea. I don't mind working my ass off cuz my kids are going to have it better. Is anyone ever heard that kind of sentiment? The idea was the postponement of satisfaction was not the by satisfaction will be in heaven. But I postpone satisfactions in order that what my kids will have it better and so work was seen as good and necessary as fulfilling it as much as the family entered Upon A broader opportunity system. Sherrod therein that's a damn good thing that they had such a dynamic impulse to work because work was Dreadful during that period of time it was dangerous demanding brutalizing life-shortening. And people wouldn't do it for its own sake but only that there was some kind of very significant pay off that payoff was the kids will not have to do what I do. Buy better, it means you don't have to stand up to your armpits in blood in an abattoir in Kansas City when it's a hundred degrees on The Killing Floor in August better is my kid becomes an accountant. Better is the bike could becomes a doctor better. My kid goes to college. My cat doesn't have to Splash gray iron what it's 120 degrees on the pouring floor in June in the Mohawk Valley. Butter is 3 goes to Syracuse University. Something very significant happened to The Rustic The Logical Your Parts in World War II that changed the Sabbath I can made it. Significantly irrelevance and what happened in World War II of cars was that we had a technological explosion. The grew out of the greater rationalizing of work into smaller and smaller units. This prices have been going on for Generations, but it received its greatest and most crisp empathize in World War II simply because we had built in America at technology essentially on a Cadre of Caucasian males largely between ages 17 and 50. What we talked about 18 and 1/2 billion of this card right out of the workforce now to be replaced with women and blacks and functionally illiterate whites from Appalachian Ozark Hill Country. Then they couldn't do those jobs. They were multi-skilled multi-dimensional quickly. The jobs were rationalized so that these people could be very quickly trained and move forward to meet the demands of the war effort and to feed a domestic Society guns and butter. Other people that we talked earlier defined as marginal or even unemployable women blacks Chicanos functionally illiterate in the less-educated accomplish during that. Production miracles. absolutely incredible achievements contemporaneous with this of course was the work of a man up at MIT name Norbert Viner who married a computer to an anti-aircraft gun and head work superbly well and other thinking people said if you could marry a computer to an addy aircraft gun, you can marry a computer to any other kind of replicated function based on a probability scam and the age of automation was a palace. So we had this Cornucopia of Plenty and the other development was of course. the birth of installment Credit in America cuz we had to sell these products because this new hardware so enormously productive was expensive. Where to have a domestic consuming pool of great depth and width and installment credit Came Upon Us and that's when we have a good work ethic became irrelevant because now you need not say I do this work so that my kids can have it better. You could say I do this work so that I can have it better and my kids going to have it better on their own. Specifically for the first time in the immediate post World War II area was possible for working people that have their private cherriots to manhandle a mortgage on a rambler and exotic places like Robbinsdale and Richfield. St. Louis Park and Andrew Rippon the good life and we entered upon a different life. Not necessarily the good life as we're coming to appreciate we had upon what some people have called The Hog economy. The economy that says it's not only necessary. To transform Needs & Wants into needs its essential absolutely essential. I'm so it became good to have things. If you had one car who the hell were you if you didn't have a second car come on, they had two cars than you had to put a hitch on the back of the bumper. So that in traffic people could see you had to hit you probably had a trailer and you were person of Greater consequence. Yeah, the television sets. You were certainly educationally depriving your children if you did not have to. Therefore obviating arguments intellectual. Otherwise over whether to see Captain Kangaroo or whether to see Howdy Doody. The kids got into the act that asked another kid in the neighborhood. You have color TV in your house. You said no say, what's the matter you old man laid off? And so it went the mud for hitch demanded the purchase of a trailer with two then I had to carry something in a boat was put upon it and then a place by the lakes of the boat could be docked and whatever new toy came along had to be purchased in order that you continue to demonstrate that you are a person of consequence. In the hog economy and doing your patriotic Duty as President Eisenhower told us during the Depression of the late 50s when he said everybody go out and buy a car. We got a card for another one. Get the economy going as your patriotic Duty worker is consumer and the work ethic as a fence ethic. Why do I work at work for things? That's why why do you work with things because things are important because they make me feel important and people treat me important cuz I possess things. This fabric became increasingly stretched for many people particularly. It started to surface in the mid-60s. And I remember well one of my students describing graphically when it first occurred to him that this kind of economy could not continue to describe the conversation between his father and mother of a Sunday morning with something like this mother says fried. It's time to get up. He says I worked overtime yesterday. I'm tired. I'm going to sleep in at Sunday morning. She says but we've got to take the boat down to the lake. He says I'm tired her response were paying for the goddamn thing. We have to take it down to the lake. the student of mine now describes his parents Has people going on to The Gallows joylessly, did they set forth to use that boat because they were both banging for the goddamn thing. And I might students pronounce the central wisdom. You said it came to me as Saul being knocked off the horse becoming Paul that my people did not possess those things, but those things possessed by people. They are castrated the arising in the laying down. That felt that the job was not worth the candle. That they wanted next to see a life that consisted of punching a clock at 6:30 in the morning punching out at 4:30 at night. And if you did this until you were 65, then everything most certainly would be tickety-boo. Now you could retire to what? Only away from something. So it's a little time that I never even let me talk to you about what I see coming on the scene very rapidly not only here but around the world and that is the insistence on the part of workers that work be meaningful. And if it's not meaningful that it'd be better compensated so they don't have to do so much of it. And we talked about the emerging ethic is experiential as aware. Aware of the fact that we are defined by the we like they're not by our function what we do. and that if what we do is brutalizing dehumanizing meaning last we feel and behave as if we were worth less. We see many kinds of examples of pathology among workers is a direct Consequence the technology that they work with. What it means to them? I just about run out of time, but let me just say the kinds of things. I see on the horizon. That makes me very hopeful we see around the world and in this country a growth in insistence on the part of working people that they have a significant voice in the way work is done when it's done and how it should be rewarded. The we will see increasingly in the future. the growth of autonomous work teams of self-directed work what will see is an increase in flexi-time where people select out those hours that will enable them to live lies of meaningfulness. What we see is evidence the people are insisting on that increasingly. As a laborer arbitrator 10 years ago, most of the overtime distribution cases that came to hand were quarrels by one worker against another over who should get the available overtime. Now when I get overtime distribution grievances to arbitrate the overwhelming number have to do with I don't want to have to work that overtime voluntary claims on Freetime against mandatory compulsion to have to work. The overwhelming demand for the steelworkers is a guaranteed work. Lifetime the packing house workers. Chief demand is 4:30 and out. We went 30 years on the job and no more regardless of the age we go in at 16 at 46 out the Auto Workers on strike for what 60 additional free days time. In a calendar year the previous Auto Workers strike was over mandatory versus voluntary overtime. The evidence is undeniable People leisure-time Prayed About trade-offs. They want to virtually experience life to be aware to be fully human to be fully alive. And they insist on a kind of a work experience that increasingly makes that possible and if it's not possible, then they will insist on the kinds of changes in technology that will bring that potentiality to realization. Wish I had more time to share with you. This is a tremendously attentive group. Thank you so much for inviting me to be here.


Digitization made possible by the State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, approved by voters in 2008.

This Story Appears in the Following Collections

Views and opinions expressed in the content do not represent the opinions of APMG. APMG is not responsible for objectionable content and language represented on the site. Please use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report a piece of content. Thank you.

Transcriptions provided are machine generated, and while APMG makes the best effort for accuracy, mistakes will happen. Please excuse these errors and use the "Contact Us" button if you'd like to report an error. Thank you.

< path d="M23.5-64c0 0.1 0 0.1 0 0.2 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1 -0.1 0.1-0.1 0.3-0.1 0.4 -0.2 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.3 0 0 0 0.1 0 0.2 0 0.1 0 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.2 0.1 0.4 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.2 0 0.4-0.1 0.5-0.1 0.2 0 0.4 0 0.6-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.1-0.3 0.3-0.5 0.1-0.1 0.3 0 0.4-0.1 0.2-0.1 0.3-0.3 0.4-0.5 0-0.1 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.1 0.1-0.2 0.1-0.3 0-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.1-0.2 0-0.1 0-0.2 0-0.3 0-0.2 0-0.4-0.1-0.5 -0.4-0.7-1.2-0.9-2-0.8 -0.2 0-0.3 0.1-0.4 0.2 -0.2 0.1-0.1 0.2-0.3 0.2 -0.1 0-0.2 0.1-0.2 0.2C23.5-64 23.5-64.1 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64 23.5-64"/>