What a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war in the job market

Our friend and frequent Boing Boing contributor Clive Thompson has a piece in the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine entitled "Rage Against the Machines." He explores the 19th century Luddite Revolution, the first rebellion against automation, comparing it to the upcoming robot workforce revolution.

I didn't know that pre-industrial textile workers were well-paid and had lots of free time. No wonder they fought so hard against textile automation!

At the turn of 1800, the textile industry in the United Kingdom was an economic juggernaut that employed the vast majority of workers in the North. Working from home, weavers produced stockings using frames, while cotton-spinners created yarn. “Croppers” would take large sheets of woven wool fabric and trim the rough surface off, making it smooth to the touch.

These workers had great control over when and how they worked—and plenty of leisure. “The year was chequered with holidays, wakes, and fairs; it was not one dull round of labor,” as the stocking-maker William Gardiner noted gaily at the time. Indeed, some “seldom worked more than three days a week.” Not only was the weekend a holiday, but they took Monday off too, celebrating it as a drunken “St. Monday.”

Croppers in particular were a force to be reckoned with. They were well-off—their pay was three times that of stocking-makers—and their work required them to pass heavy cropping tools across the wool, making them muscular, brawny men who were fiercely independent. In the textile world, the croppers were, as one observer noted at the time, “notoriously the least manageable of any persons employed.”

But in the first decade of the 1800s, the textile economy went into a tailspin.

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Artist in residence sought for Bioprocess Labratory in Zurich

Are you an "artist, designer, biohacker, or other cultural practitioner" who's interested in synthetic biology? You could spend 4-6 weeks in Zurich at the Bioprocess Laboratory, where you will "actively engage with scientists working on a synthetic biology related project with focus on the design of antibiotics." Read the rest

Company town + Internet of Things + Drones = total surveillance of remote mine workers

Rio Tinto is a giant UK/Australian mining corporation that operates many facilities in Australia's remotest reaches, where there is no housing for workers, so the company ends up building "company towns" where their laborers live, closing the loop between home and worklife, and putting them both under control of a corporation; now the company is flirting with the kind of "smart city" technology that has been tried elsewhere, but generally in places where the residents are citizens, not employees, and the governing law is created by a legislature, not a non-negotiable employment contract. Read the rest

Facebookers defy Zuckerberg, form fake news "task force"

Days after Mark Zuckerberg called the idea that Facebook -- and specifically, the fake news circulated on Facebook -- had influenced the US election as "a pretty crazy idea," a group of "renegade" Facebook employees have formed themselves into a "task force" to tackle the issue, and have been warned by their managers that they may not speak to the press about this on pain on termination. Read the rest

Walmart smears worker-based chat app with lies and scare tactics

Workit is an Android app from OUR Walmart, a pro-labor/pro-union organization: it allows Walmart workers to ask questions about Walmart policy and employee rights, which are answered by a database compiled by using IBM's Watson to come up with answers to hundreds of frequently posed questions; questions can also be answered by other users. Read the rest

Wells Fargo blackballed employees who refused to commit fraud, forcing them out of the industry forever

Earlier this month, Planet Money aired an interview with a Wells Fargo whistleblower who was fired for trying to alert the bank to the millions of criminal frauds being committed against its customers, and we learned that the whistleblower had been added to a confidential blacklist used by the finance industry, preventing her from ever getting work in the industry again. Read the rest

One week left! Apply for a Shuttleworth Fellowship

The Shuttleworth Fellowships hand millions directly to people starting out on a journey to radically transform the world to make it more open; this year, I'm Honourary Steward, meaning I'll help pick the grantees. Read the rest

Help wanted: Director of Technology Policy for Consumer Reports

This is a pretty amazing vacancy: "You will lead Consumer Reports in our effort to realize a market where consumer safety is protected through strong encryption; consumers’ rights to test, repair, and modify their devices are supported by copyright, security, and consumer protection laws; and consumers are empowered to make informed choices about IoT products while being protected by privacy policies regulating the collection, use, and storage of their data. This is a chance to build something big, meaningful, and new." Read the rest

UK/EU security researchers: tax-free stipend to study privacy and authentication

UC London's offering a tax-free stipend for UK/EU students to work on designing and evaluating new approaches for continuous authentication, based on a solid theoretical underpinning so as to give a high degree of confidence that the resulting decisions match expectations and requirements" as well as "ways to preserve user privacy by processing behavioural measurements on the user’s computer such that sensitive information is not sent to the online service." (Image: LordHarris, CC-BY-SA) (Thanks, William!) Read the rest

#Slaveroo: Crowdsourcing a strike-fund for exploited gig economy workers

"Gig economy" scooter drivers for London's Deliveroo service earn £7/hour plus £1/delivery, and that's nowhere near a living wage: but rather than giving their a pay rise (£9.40/hour, plus £1/delivery, plus petrol, plus tips), Deliveroo wants to cut them all to zero-hours contracts with no hourly wage and £3.75/delivery and they fired all the drivers who asked for a living wage, so naturally, drivers are crowdfunding a strike-fund to fight back. Read the rest

Fox's employee contracts may mean Gretchen Carlson will never get her day in court

Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment suit against her former boss, Roger Ailes, may be dead before its begun, because Fox News makes all its employees sign "binding arbitration" agreements that force them to use a system of private courts that let corporate America make up its own laws. Read the rest

White House contends with AI's big social challenges, July 7/NYC

Meredith from Simply Secure writes, "Artificial Intelligence is already with us, and the White House and New York University’s Information Law Institute are hosting a major public symposium to face what the social and economic impacts might be. AI Now, happening July 7th in New York City, will address the real world impacts of AI systems in the next next 5-10 years." Read the rest

New York's stately libraries sport hidden apartments for live-in caretakers

For the first half of the 20th Century, it was common for New York's libraries to have live-in superintendents, whose families would live on-site in hidden apartments -- the last one of these apartments wasn't vacated until 2006. Read the rest

Not robots: youth unemployment caused by late retirement, driven by pension precarity

If youth unemployment -- and the lack of good entry-level jobs for college grads -- was being driven by workplace automation, American productivity (value created per hour worked) would be soaring, rather than stagnating. Read the rest

Microsoft will buy Linkedin for $26.2B

The all-cash deal is expected to close by the end of the calendar year, and will be one of the largest acquisitions in tech business history. Read the rest

Smartphone maker Foxconn replaces 60,000 workers with robots

A Chinese government official told the South China Morning Post that a Foxconn factory has "reduced employee strength from 110,000 to 50,000 thanks to the introduction of robots. It has tasted success in reduction of labour costs. More companies are likely to follow suit."

As many as 600 major companies in Kunshan have similar plans, according to a government survey.

The job cuts do not augur well for Kunshan, which had a population of more than 2.5 million at the end of 2014, two-thirds of whom were migrant workers.

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EFF is hiring a software engineer!

Forget "disrupting" some industry -- work at EFF and you can write code to make a better future for everyone! Read the rest

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