A Book for our times

The End of Work
By Jeremy Rifkin, Tarcher/Putnam, (NY).
350pp $26.95

Review by J. A. O’Brien

“Global unemployment has now reached its highest level since the great depression of the 1930’s. More than 800 million human beings are now unemployed or underemployed in the world.”

With these words American economist and author Jeremy Rifkin introduces his radical analysis of “Technology, Jobs and Your Future,” – THE END OF WORK – and warns that we could be facing the demise of civilisation as we have come to know it.

From the start of the industrial revolution, machines have been replacing workers. On the land the horse-drawn plough was replaced by the tractor, and then came the combine harvester. And with each new invention, jobs in agriculture decreased and the farm hands became factory hands. But even as new jobs were being created in industry, technology was also “trimming them down as the assembly line followed the lathe, as drills and presses increased their speeds.” At the same time as jobs were being lost in manufacturing, new areas of employment were being created in “service” areas: clerks, typists, salespeople, nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, to name but a few.

Rifkin argues that “Service employment saved modern economies from absolutely devastating unemployment.”

Enter the computer – the Third Industrial Revolution begins and the service industries are no longer absorbing the overspill of workers from other areas. In Australian banks, the introduction of automatic teller machines and centralised telephone services has cost the jobs of 30,000 bank employees in the past five years. And the Finance Sector Union predicts “another 40,000 jobs will go,” if more banks are merged.

No longer can we expect a job for life.

Even workers in essential services like electricity, gas and water supply have had their numbers reduced by almost 25% since 1995. In the US more than 47,000 postal workers have been replaced by “automated machines capable of sight recognition.” The new silicone sorters can read addresses and sort mail faster than postal workers.

And it is not only the unskilled and semi-skilled that are being discarded. As the public and private sectors strive to “get more from less” managers and middle managers are joining the ranks of the unemployed.

Rifkin says, “In the 1980s more than 1.5 M mid-level management jobs were eliminated. In the 1990s their ranks are swelling to include upper-middle-management executives as well.”
As unemployment spreads across classes and nations in ever more automated global economy governments everywhere are being forced to admit that there is no “quick fix” to the problem.

He discusses proposals that governments should supply credit at low-interest rates to repair or build new infrastructure in order to revitalise depressed regions and communities. A policy advocated for their respective countries by Prince Charles in Britain and the late B.A. Santamaria in Australia.

But he does not see Public Works projects as being confined to menial work and says serious consideration should be given to include social wages for skilled workers and “even management and professional workers whose labour is no longer valued or needed in the market place.” And advocates “social wage” not welfare.

Rifkin examines proposals and “solutions” such as reducing working hours, job sharing, cutting back on overtime – all requiring the consent of employers, unions and those who still have jobs.

Rethinking the nature of work he regards as the single most pressing concern facing society and he sees it happening through Non Government Organisations and what he terms the “Third Sector”. After the private and public sector he ranks “independent or volunteer” activity as being third in importance in any community. And he sees it as the “most socially responsible” of the three sectors. He cites examples of the many countries where government bodies are forging new working alliances with non-government organisations to create a “social economy”.

In France the government has been to the fore in training and placing the unemployed in third sector activities. A leading French economist says, “The social economy is not measured the way one measures capitalism, in terms of salaries, revenues etc…. The social economy is best understood in terms of results that add considerably to what traditional economics does not know how to or want to measure.”

With such provocative statements the book challenges us to examine our values and attitudes and to seek those results that best serve our world. The work should be standard reading for policy makers of all shades who may be inclined to be too “comfortable and relaxed”. The most sobering aspect of this book is that it was written before the Global Financial Crisis occurred.

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Followers from twenty-seven countries

This site now has followers from twenty-seven countries around the world. In the past week there have been new visitors from 5 countries. So it is timely to update the list of platforms and outlets from which Against The Wind:Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner can be viewed and purchased. Apart from Amazon worldwide other platforms and outlets include:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/against-the-wind-12

http://www.booktopia.com.au/against-the-wind-james-o-brien/prod9781922086532.html

Also available from all major bookstores in Australia, ISBN:1-922086-53-3 EAN13:978-1-922086-53-2.

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Blogs bloom on USA-Irish site

Ever since the time of the ancient Irish storytellers (Bards) the Irish have enjoyed and perfected the art of story telling. We have been described as ‘the greatest talkers since the Greeks’ and whether in the oral tradition or as the written word the ability to tell a tale or spin a yarn is all part of a cherished Irish heritage.

Short snappy prose that can be humorous or poignant, rousing or sad is an art form many Irish writers have perfected. Even authors of monumental works like James Joyce have excelled in the shorter form as have Liam O’Flaherty and Frank O’Connor. Nor has the short story been kept as the preserve of male writers. When it comes to short vivid pieces that can leave one dwelling on them for days afterwards, female writers from Mary Lavin to Edna O’Brien can hold their place with pride in the ranks of literature.

Now a USA based blog site The New Wild Geese is providing a platform for the scattered Irish Diaspora to write about themselves and their experiences throughout the world. Their mission: “to explore, promote, preserve and celebrate the epic heritage of the Irish worldwide”. CEO and founder of the site, Gerry Regan says, “All Irish people and those of Irish extraction are welcome to become members and contribute their blog posts and comments to the site. We do not apply a political litmus test to select a membership. We coalesce precisely because we focus on what we share, rather than our differences”.

As a result of this broad embrace contributors as diverse as Malachy McCourt and ex Taoiseach John Bruton may be given space in the blog’s newsletter pages. With over 2000 members and more than 25000 visits a month the site provides a platform that connects Irish people and friends of Ireland to their heritage and culture throughout the world. But it is not specifically simply just a writer’s site that allows discussion and debate. This virtual community is not only supported by the written word but also by photos and video clips with music and song that can all be found in an exciting kaleidoscope of features and articles.

With a growing and interactive membership from “wherever green is worn” the future of The New Wild Geese is assured. May ten thousand blogs bloom.
Visit The Wild Geese at: http://thenewwildgeese.com/?xg_source=msg
mes network

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Can the Irish Left unite?

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has renewed his appeal for parties of the Left to come together to provide ‘positive alternative’ policies to the program of austerity endorsed by the present Irish government. And reports in the Irish media say a similar proposal is being discussed by at least four of the independent TDs (MPs) on the opposition benches in the Dail.

While it is indeed gratifying to learn such moves are afoot, the concept is not new or original. And one can’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde’s remark that ‘It is a terrible thing for a man to find out that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth’.

In a media release in October 2013, on my book Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner, I said:

“I felt it was time to tell where the idea of a ‘United Front’ to challenge this ‘closed Irish society’ originated, and to share my views on why it had failed to gain enough support to make a much-needed change.”

The chapter, ‘A dangerous idea’ tells the story. And I will leave it to readers to judge it all for themselves.

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At a library near you

With the onset of the digital age there were many who thought we were entering an era that would see the decline if not the end of printed books and as a result the demise of the public library. This has not happened; far from withering away libraries are thriving and evolving with their communities and are actually becoming more popular.

There are almost 500 public libraries throughout Australia and 180 of these are located in Victoria. More than 27 million visits a year are made to Victorian libraries and result in 50 million loans being made to avid readers. These include more than 300,000 e-books downloaded annually.

Such is the demand that city councils throughout the state are investing millions of dollars in library/community centres with up-to-date technology and community spaces for gatherings and events. One such complex at a cost of $20 million will open in April at Docklands in Melbourne. And before that at the end of January a new generation and fully redeveloped public library will open in the regional city of Bendigo.

As any writer will tell you even more satisfying than seeing your book on display at your local book store is the knowledge that it is available to countless readers at a library near you.

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An historian comments

 

Memoirs of an Irish childhood in the years after independence have become a popular genre in Irish writing in the last decade. These memoirs can offer us some extraordinary glimpses into the Irish experience in the twentieth century.

 Against the Wind follows in a similar vein to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, reciting a Irish Catholic childhood with bullying schoolteachers and priests, cultural restrictions due to the Catholic church and the intimacy between Church and State, particularly in relation to birth control – a development which ultimately convinces O’Brien to emigrate to Australia in 1968 – ‘I would not have “Mother Church” in our bedroom’. Also similar to Angela’s Ashes and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, O’Brien’s mother looms large in the narrative. She appears to influence his ideas on socialism and equality, as well as his eventual disillusionment with republicanism.

 This book is also timely, for two reasons. Its discussion on ideas of working-class development and of independence will resonate with many as we commemorate the 1913 Lockout and Irish revolution, questioning, perhaps, what was achieved with independence, particularly as the country goes through another heart-breaking recession which sees many citizens leave its shores, as O’Brien did throughout the 1950s to England and more permanently in 1968, to Australia. The book will also appeal to the Irish Diaspora, as O’Brien’s memories of migration to and from England for work in the lean years of 1950s Ireland will resonate with many. As thousands continue to emigrate every week for places like Australia, O’Brien reminds us in his closing lines, ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland… I am as Ireland made me. Intentionally or not’.

Dr Sarah Campbell
Modern Irish History
School of History, Classics and Archaeology
Newcastle University

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Links to memoir

At the request of some followers of this blog, this post provides some links to sites and information that is pertinent to my memoir.

Publisher: http://sidharta.com.au Melbourne.

Distributors: http://www.dennisjones.com.au and http://www.portcampbellpress.com.au

Melbourne.

Another useful link is http://www.thebookseller.com/news/kobo-partners-eason.html  The ISBN: 1-922086-53-3 and EAN13:978-1-922086-53-2 may also be helpful for readers in Ireland. News to hand says Gazelle Books in Britain are also being approached by the distributors.

Watch this space between now and Christmas for more information.

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