OPINION

Upgrading labor

May Day was marked around the globe under the shadow of the economic crisis and the burgeoning threat of unemployment. The credit crunch, among other things, showed that the social contract that had supported postwar growth is fragile: The relationship between labor and capital, with the state as supervisor and a welfare state that saw countries rise from the ruins of WWII, is no more. Different times, different responsibilities. Labor is hurt by excess growth, by the excess circulation of capital, by the huge geopolitical changes and the shutdown of factories. It’s also hurt by major changes in the work environment and life per se. The continuous revolutions in information technology, telecommunications and biotechnology are transforming our perception of time and space. They change or destroy professions and industries. Cities flourish or are abandoned, new countries come onto the world stage on the coattails of the transfer of technology and cheap labor. Many multinational companies’ opportunism and dubious capitalist practices add to the strain on the labor market but the transformation brought about by new technologies is just as deep and perhaps more permanent. The Internet and telecommunication networks provide amazing opportunities for communication, learning and e-work but, at the same time, outsource thousands of jobs away from developed nations. This is hurting the very people who produced and consumed these technologies, the first who came up with a digital lifestyle. Also threatened are any workers who fail to keep up with developments in knowledge and technology. We are facing a new form of Darwinism and the labor market must come up with a response to the challenge. People don’t suddenly become worthless because some guarantee has expired. They just need some retraining from time to time. Upgrading labor, and by extension societies, is a novel