CGIL Congress Contribution

Sergio Bellucci’s contribution to the CGIL national congress. It deals with the phase shift of the condition of wage labor and the prospects of escape from the process of alienation. Digital Taylorism, Implicit Work, and Work for Digital Platforms represent today’s picture. Artificial Intelligence is coming.

The CGIL congress takes place during a particular phase in the history of wage labor. In recent decades we have witnessed profound changes in production structures, the organization of work, and professions, changes that have progressively reduced economic conditions and the rights of the world of work.  The same bargaining capacity has often been reduced to a purely  “defensive” phase.

We have often attributed this phase to the reduced capacity to claim, to the changed working conditions, and to the recovery of the bridge of command of the company. All this has been attributed to the change in the “political phase”,  to the changed relations between social classes after the end of the socialist world, or to the power of financial logic and monetary policies adopted for the construction of the single European currency. Often the different readings on the “centrality” of this or that factor have led to separations, ruptures, and divisions within the movements, and the parties, generating divergent responses that have not had the ability to deal with the “complexity” of the passage, the contribution that each of those factors determined.

Faced with the transition we are experiencing, it is not enough, simply, to “propose” some socially fairer “recipe”. We must assume a complex ability to read the processes and recover the fundamentals of the method of analysis that determined in the ‘800 and’ 900 our ability mobilize endless masses to claim not only the right to better living conditions but also the right (and today I would say the duty) to fight for a new form of society,  a different way of producing for our needs. In a word, another form of Potere.

In my opinion, in fact, we have not gone into the causes that we would once have called “structural” that are intertwining the various changes taking place. This structural form of the transition we are experiencing derives, in my opinion, from the increasingly massive introduction of digital technologies in production processes, the modification of twentieth-century forms of work organization, the impact on professions, the emergence of intangible production cycles, the emergence of “jobs” completely detached from the wage cycle and from the possibility of generating, through the forms of relationship of platforms,  new forms of productive relations capable of subjecting labor to exploitative post-wage conditions.

The “traditional” production cycle began to be invested by digital technologies in the 80s (at the time we called them “numerical control machines’ ‘) and within a little more than a decade Taylorism slipped towards a new pervasive ability to organize the cycle. The form of “fragmentation, cooperation and control” that characterized “the line” exploded its full potential through the potential of digital. The Parcelization, then, became “liquid” allowing to build the line in an “exploded” way, physically separating the places of its composition, allowing to build “a widespread fragmentation on the world-territories  “. This made it possible to spread the production chain because Cooperation could be guaranteed by the digital control of the production cycle even in the absence of physical contiguity of the tasks. Finally, digitally transferred the control of the worker directly to the machine, indeed to the relationship between the worker and the “digital machine”  with which he operated through the form of the program with which he acted (algorithm).   Taylorism had become Digital Taylorism.

Many of the conditions of relocation, “precarization“, and disqualification to which we have had to give answers in recent years indeed derive also from the “political” and “financial” conditions, but these were “activated” by the necessity/possibility that the new forms of production made available to the process of capital valorization. Without this power, we would probably still be in the social conditions of the work of the 80s[1]. We need a bargainer that knows how to get to the core of this form of the production cycle starting from the bargaining of social and human knowledge that is incorporated into the machine and be able to redistribute it through a generalized and strong reduction of hours for the same salary and a growing capacity for bargaining of new digital devices.

Alongside this enormous transformation, the process of digitization has produced a form of unpaid “labor” that is the basis of the great accumulation process that has brought companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc. to be companies capitalized more than the GDP of nations, such as Italy. All major digital companies, in fact, have their production base directly in social relations, making them a valuable production process.  A production process where the Surplus work becomes 100% of the total benefit of the company.  What we do through our smartphones in every moment of our lives,  even when we think we do not use it, is to produce “data”, “information” that is transformed into value through algorithms capable of extracting “meaning”. This “unpaid and uncontracted work activity” of ours –  what I called Lavoro Implicito[2] – has been characterizing,  for over fifteen years, a new phase of the reproduction of capital. One of the new tasks of the union would be to become aware of this new form of “work” and to negotiate conditions and remuneration by socially defining “data ownership and management”. It is not enough to leave this territory to European regulations or national regulations. Identifying a new territory of bargaining and a new phase of claim is necessary.

All this becomes most urgent today. Not only because of the power that these global multinationals have assumed and that allows them to be stronger than entire nations. The technological leap that Artificial Intelligence systems,  such as OpenAi’s GPT-3 today and Google’s Sparrow tomorrow, have made available in production cycles is only the announcement of what will be available in a few years, perhaps only a few months.   We can no longer ignore the computing power in its ability not to become “intelligent”, how much and more than man, but to replace all forms of repetitive activity both in its “industrial” version (through robotization) and in its version of the bureaucratic-administrative process (through software). There is no field that is not invested in this form of computing power[3]. From the automotive sector (from the robotization of production to the urban mobility services of taxis passing through the “breaking” of the form of personal possession of a car) to get the same form of the Public Administration (where the processes of regeneration of decision-making and administrative flows will distort employment quantitatively and qualitatively) passing through entire sectors such as banking,  building, informational, commercial, and so on.

All this will impact the very form of our welfare model. This is why we need a union that knows how to read these processes and understand the new phase that has begun.

[1] On the proposal of Digital Taylorism you can compare Bellucci, S. E-Work. Work Innovation Network, Derive e Approdi, Rome, 2005.

[2] Ibid

[3] On the impact of Artificial Intelligence you can compare Bellucci, S. AI-Work. The digitalization of work, Jaca Book, Milano, 2021.


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