Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Future's Past: Technology and the Class War by Other Means - Revisited

This is another in my series of revisited Phoenix Insurgent articles from the past. I wrote this piece a few years ago. Returning to it, I had intended to write a lengthy introduction re-investigating the trends that I discussed in the piece. However, as I began looking into it again I realized that the tendencies that I highlighted here have only gotten worse -- often much worse -- so rather than just post a bunch of new links I'll just link to the initial google news search I did so you can follow up for yourself and see if I was on point or not.

Because it turns out that's not really the point. I could have chosen almost any technological "advance" to illustrate that technology is a class war instrument at the point of production and distribution (and beyond), and that it is applied against workers for the purpose of controlling us and, specifically, undermining the constant threat that we pose to the production and distribution of Capital which, the gospel goes, should always, like helium, move naturally upwards to the top of any social structure.
Naturally, I reject this false science. Search under "cell phone police", "gps worker" or any other number of technologies and you'll find further blasphemy to enrage the high priests of the technocracy.

Such queries only tell you what you already know: that technology is rapidly building an architecture of control that permeates -- like Capital -- every aspect of our lives. It does so at work for the same reason it does on our streets. Why are there cameras in every intersection? At the border? Control. Domination. To secure the transfer of wealth upwards and to maintain the flow of oppression downwards. To keep us distracted and stuck to a couch. Tracked at home and at work. Too afraid of getting caught to strike back.

Capital's all-seeing-eye now seeks the very same commanding heights which it once denied to state communism's sad-sack all-managing-bureaucracy. Whereas the old orthodoxy denounced the "workers paradise" of state planning, it now itself seeks to track and manage the worker and every one of the tiniest widgets she might produce. What it once pretended to oppose, it now seeks to become. And to me the arguments sound all too familiar.

The point of this article was to illustrate the early days of America's love affair with technology, and to suggest that, like so many rosy Rockwell-esque paintings that we've seen grace magazine covers, dentist office walls and military recruitment posters, there is more to the relationship than the honeymoon love-buzz. Capital has an agenda, and it manifests through technology. And that agenda likewise tends to organize through familiar paths of power, including white supremacy and general attacks on workers desire for self-organization, which I spend some time on considering in this essay. One need not be a Luddite to recognize this plain truth.

So, with that in mind, I submit another PI article from the archive. I hope you enjoy it. If I would make one change to the piece, I would have spent some time investigating the relationship between women and automation, particularly regarding the reproduction of labor power and the rise of automation, both at work and in the home. The relationship of automation to the infusion of women into the workforce during the war would be particularly interesting to research. I suspect that the tendencies that play out in general would apply here, but without having researched it at the time, I can't say for sure. This is a weakness that I would love to see investigated and rectified.


Future's Past: Technology and the class war by other means

By Phoenix Insurgent

"Strange business, this crusading spirit of the managers and engineers, the idea of designing and manufacturing and distributing being sort of a holy war; all that folklore was cooked up by public relations and advertising men hired by managers and engineers to make big business popular in the old days, which it certainly wasn't in the beginning. Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forbears hired people to say about them. Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon."

-Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano


You know, there's no doubt that the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb project were smart folks. Some of them even had regrets of various kinds after their work was done, seeing the effects the bomb had, not just on a couple of Japanese cities and their helpless residents, but on the world as a whole. Of course, others remained unapologetic to the end.

The Christian Science Monitor ran a hilariously-titled story this week about Frank Moss, a former technology entrepreneur and current head of the MIT's prestigious Media Lab.
Cofounded by Nicholas Negroponte and former MIT president Jerome Weisner in 1985, the Media Lab earned its reputation envisioning today's "digital lifestyle," developing ideas from wearable computers to digital ink to a $100 laptop computer for use by children in developing countries.

The lab is also, Moss boasts, "clearly the coolest place on the planet" to work, for those interested in how technology can change society.
But don't get the false impression that the lab's raison d'etre is charity. On its website, the Media Lab boasts that
[t]he Laboratory pioneered collaboration between academia and industry, and provides a unique environment to explore basic research and applications, without regard to traditional divisions among disciplines.
From the "Sponsorship" section of the website, the Media Lab fleshes out its point further, pointing out just what corporations that pony up the cash can expect to get in exchange for their sponsorship.
Many sponsors find the Laboratory to be a uniquely valuable resource for conducting research that is too costly or too "far out" to be accommodated within a corporate environment. The "multiplier" effect of joining a community of sponsors to support advanced research has impressive results. For less than the cost of one senior scientist's salary plus benefits, a sponsor can gain access to the work of a 300-person research laboratory.
The CSM expands on the purpose of the lab further in their article.
Most of the lab's $32 million yearly budget comes from corporate sponsors ranging from the expected - tech giants such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Intel, and Cisco Systems - to the less obvious, such as Campbell Soup, Philip Morris, and The LEGO Group, maker of LEGO toys.

One of Moss's top priorities is to make sure these 80 or so corporate sponsors feel they benefit from the work of the lab. In the go-go days of the late 1990s tech boom, companies could simply decide, "This is cool. We're going to put money behind it," Moss says. But today, "You have to be able to justify that [spending] as a good investment that has a return."
Moss sees his "new" way of doing things as reaching beyond MIT, and hopefully setting the standard for a new era of cooperation between scientists, government and business.

One of the interesting things about Moss's vision is how convinced he is that his model amounts to something different in the world of high tech research. But, the truth is, we've seen this kind of thing before. Capitalism has always relied on government subsidy to fund both its products and the weapons it uses to attack the working class.

For those who want to understand the world, as the capitalists now stand ready again to remake it, it's instructive to look at the discussions and conditions that surrounded the implementation of an older technologies. If we look at the design and application of automation in the US, we can get a pretty sizeable hint at what the research conducted by folks like Moss is likely to accomplish in the future. And, from that hint, we can maybe design our own strategy to stop it.


Automation functioned as a flexible class war weapon, undermining workers in a variety of ways, depending on the needs of capital. Martin Glaberman writes that the end of the war saw a major transformation of the auto industry.
The centralization of power with the elimination of the smaller auto companies (Kaiser, Hudson, Packard, etc.) was combined with the decentralization of production in the newly automated or modernized plants. Reuther continued the policies begun by old Henry Ford and followed by CM's C. F. Wilson. The five-dollar day was superseded by the cost-of-living allowance as the golden chain that was to bind the workers to the most intense and alienating exploitation to be found anywhere in the industrialized world. No wage increase can compensate for the fact that the operations required of one worker on an auto assembly line never total as much as one minute.

In 1955 auto workers erupted in a wave of wildcat strikes that rejected the policy of fringe benefits combined with increasing speed-up. They made it clear that what was at issue was the inability of the union contract to provide any solution to the day-to-day problems on the plant floor. In some plants, at the expiration of the three-year contract, there are literally thousands of unresolved grievances testifying to the need of workers to manage production in their own name.
Coming out of World War II, the capitalists were in need of new additions to their arsenal, and workers control was a constant threat to profits and capitalist dictatorship on the job floor. While labor had ostensibly taken a "no-strike" pledge during the war, strikes had not abated as much as the capitalists would have liked. Workers went out as much in 1944 as they did in 1937 (the year of the famous Flint Sit-Down Strike), but government-imposed wage controls and forced arbitration limited gains.
In an effort to keep wages in line, the NWLB came up with a policy known as the Little Steel Formula. First applied to the steel industry then to a wide range of occupations, the formula allowed wage increases only at levels that would not increase inflation. Unionists argued that Little Steel fundamentally crippled collective bargaining and that wage increases were constantly behind inflation, keeping workers poor while corporations raked in incredible profits.
With the end of the war and the end of the "no-strike" pledge, workers exploded in mass action. In 1945 and 1946, workers struck GM. Capitalists feared a return to the pre-war militancy of labor and the re-emergence of the demands for workers control from the shop floor. Further, capitalists feared a return of the Depression if business returned to capitalism as usual.

And, towards these ends, capitalists viewed machinists with particular distrust. Because of the high level of skill demanded by the machines they utilized and the operations they had to perform, combined with their direct relationship to the point of production and the less alienated nature of their job, machinists represented a very real threat to the capitalist dream of unhindered control over labor and production.


Pushed to meet increased production for the war, and with capitalism in shambles, the government had poured money into new technologies. Airplane production soared, thanks to automation.
Drawing on a plan proposed during World War I, the NDC decided to utilize automated production capabilities of automobile factories to produce aircraft parts, thereby permitting the aircraft companies to assemble even greater numbers of aircraft. Consolidated and possibly Douglas Aircraft would be teamed with Ford for the B-24, North American Aviation with General Motors for the B-25 and Martin with Chrysler for the B-26.
American capitalism wasn't capable of taking on these costs itself. It needed subsidies, and the war and demands of the government provided the perfect symbiosis necessary to achieve both the government's plan to challenge Nazi imperialism and the capitalist's desire to tame its workforce.

The Chairman of North American Aviation at the time, J. H. Kindelberger, put it this way:
We must maintain a progressive attitude toward production methods improvements and continue to develop machinery and equipment adaptable to volume production. We should cooperate with each other in major industry-wide collaboration and with government in projects which offer wide applications and yet are too costly for financing by the companies.
In his book, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, David F. Noble writes that the war saw a tremendous transformation of the relationship between business and government. Reflecting the generally accepted notion that free market capitalism had collapsed with the Great Depression, businesses looked to new models for development and the preservation of their dominance over workers. Government funding for research at Bell Labs, for instance, went from 1 percent of the budget in 1939 to 83 percent in 1943.

And the military and industry marriage of convenience elevated the status of scientists, as well. Again, Noble notes,
If preparation for war and the war itself lifted the nation out of the Depression, it also provided scientists and engineers with growing employment, a chance once again to demonstrate their prowess, and an opportunity to restore public confidence in scientific and technological progress. Engaging in continuous self-promotion and advertising their accomplishments in such areas as radar, rocketry, and atomic weaponry, the scientists emerged from the war with a larger-than-life image (and self-image) as genuine national heroes. Determined to preserve their heroic status, to lay to rest the doubts and disclosures of the Depression decade, and, above all, to rekindle the traditional American spirit of technological optimism, they early became the advance corps of a self-serving postwar cultural offensive. This progressivist cultural offensive succeeded and, as a consequence, the scientific community secured unprecedented peacetime military and civilian government support for its research and development activities.
Despite the grand mythology of scientific apoliticism and egalitarian progress, the War and the resulting order served to pull scientists into the political apparatus, primarily through the military budget. No longer mere inventors, the new economy transformed scientists into social engineers.


In his 1962 essay, "Man, work & the automated feast", Ben B. Seligman wrote,
Automation is already moving with a rapidity that threatens to tear apart existing social and organizational structures; according to some observers, it will even alter the habits of thought that men have up to now prided themselves on … Now, new industrial functions, new economic forms, new work habits, and new social headaches are being created in ways that signify a kind of dialectical leap.
Without a doubt, automation did remake the American working class. Echoing elite sentiment, labor leaders generally embraced automation, if grudgingly at times, and ignored the complaints from their rank and file. Meanwhile, the capitalists' enthusiasm for it grew steadily following World War II, finally reaching near religious levels in the 50's and 60's.

The elite hope was that, by undermining the power of the machinists, control of production could be transferred from the shop floor, where it risked expropriation and sabotage by workers, to the offices of management and technicians. In a real sense, the replacement of workers with automation was a substitution of capital for labor, subsidized by government. Capitalist control was to be re-imposed on an unruly workforce.

"The unions now attempt to make management's decisions on prices, on profits, on production schedules, on depreciation reserves and on many other phases of industrial operation," lamented Ernest T. Weir, National Steel Corporation chairman.

But the exhilaration of the elite for automation, so obvious by the 60's and 70's, had earlier origins. Writing in Fortune Magazine in 1946, Eric W. Leaver and John J. Brown, laid out the future as they saw it in their influential article, "Machines Without Men":
The human machine tender is at best a makeshift. We are beginning to develop fabrication, control, safety, and observing devices immensely superior to the human mechanism. This development is only in its infancy, yet already we have machines that see better than eyes, calculate more reliable than brains, communicate faster and farther than the voice, record more accurately than memory, and act faster and better than hands. These devices are not subject to any human limitations. They do not mind working around the clock. They never feel hunger or fatigue. They are always satisfied with working conditions and never demand higher wages based on the company's ability to pay. They not only cause less trouble than humans doing comparable work, but they can be built to ring an alarm bell in the central control room whenever they are not working properly.
The advantages automation promised to capitalists were obvious, and because of this fact, any complaint from workers or their organizations about the effects of automation was received quite harshly by the powers that be. "Whenever an exasperated labor leader asserts that automation can be a curse, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce responds that he is a Luddite," said Seligman.


Because the American capitalist conspiracy for domination centers on white supremacy and the division of the working class, the drive to automate necessarily also played out in ways disproportionately bad for workers of color, and Black factory workers in particular. Just as today's lay-offs in Detroit disproportionately affect African-Americans, in many factories with a high percentage of Black employees, automation often had lethal consequences, and could be applied selectively to force speed ups and to increase their rate of exploitation.

In their fantastic piece, "Niggermation In Auto: Company Policy and the Rise of Black Caucuses," Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin discuss the way that automation was brought to bear on Black workers. Automation was used, often selectively, to force dangerous speed ups in order to increase production.
Management credited this much higher productivity per worker to its improved managerial techniques and new machinery. Workers, on the other hand, claimed the higher productivity was primarily a result of their being forced to work harder and faster under increasingly unsafe and unhealthy conditions. The companies called their methods automation; black workers in Detroit called them 'niggermation.'
These speed ups imposed dangerous conditions on Black workers, as Georgakas and Surkin noted.
Eldon conditions were typical of conditions in the industry. Even when there were technological changes, usually only one segment of the assembly line was automated, so that the workers on other segments had to labor more strenuously to keep up. Often, the automation eliminated interesting jobs, leaving the more menial and monotonous tasks for people.
Writing in 1963, civil rights organizer Baynard Rustin, put it this way:
The civil rights movement alone cannot provide jobs for all. It cannot
solve the problems raised by automation—and automation deprives more Negroes
of jobs than any other single factor, including prejudice.
Martin Luther King came to similar conclusions about the effect of automation on Black workers struggling for respect and control over their lives. In a speech before the AFL-CIO in 1961, he remarked,
Labor today faces a grave crisis, perhaps the most calamitous since it began its march from the shadows of want and insecurity. In the next ten to twenty years automation will grind jobs into dust as it grinds out unbelievable volumes of production. This period is made to order for those who would seek to drive labor into impotency by viciously attacking it at every point of weakness.
Again King hit hard on the issue in 1968, foreseeing the dismantalling of the factory system and the rise of the service economy.
In the days to come, organized labor will increase its importance in the destinies of Negroes. Automation is imperceptibly but inexorably producing dislocations, skimming off unskilled labor from the industrial force. The displaced are flowing into proliferating service occupations. These enterprises are traditionally unorganized and provide low wage scales with longer hours. The Negroes pressed into these services need union protection, and the union movement needs their membership to maintain its relative strength in the whole society.
King, by that time, had recognized what some others, like Malcolm X had been saying for some time. Interviewed in 1964, Malcolm X said,
The Muslims, as the Nation of Islam is called, stress the futility of the integrationist program. They argue that there is no precedent for the absorption of Negroes into the greater white American mainstream in fact or in history, that integrationists are asking for something the American socioeconomic system is inherently unable to give them -- mass class mobility, so that at best Negroes can expect from the integrationist program a hopeless entry into the lowest levels of a working class already disenfranchised by automation.
It was becoming clear that what progress Blacks had made during and immediately after World War II was under attack by capitalism through automation. Without access to good jobs, the whole notion of Black economic uplift and integration came under attack. While automation attacked white workers wages and power on the job, it served to undermine the foundations of the integrationist mainstream of the civil rights movement. Framed correctly, a battle against automation carried within it at that time the potentiality of subverting white supremacy, and with it the underpinnings of American capitalism.


So, returning to MIT's Media Lab, it turns out that Director Moss's new idea isn't so new after all.

To take a contemporary example, consider just the affect that Department of Defense RFID purchasing has had on the spread of that technology. Several years ago, DoD demanded that its suppliers begin integrating RFID into its pallets by 2005, a move that Computerworld said in 2003 "likely will have an even bigger impact than a similar move by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in June."

In early March of 2006, Mark Roberti reported for the RFID Journal, an industry paper, on the government/private collaboration behind RFID's success.
Alien [a major RFID firm] and the state of Ohio deserve kudos for investing in the state-of-the-art facility, but what’s most encouraging to me is that the lab is a rare example of a private company, government and academia working together to take RFID forward.
The RFID Solutions Center has enlisted the cooperation of five area universities, which will use the center for teaching, research and development. This kind of cooperation between industry, government and academia is going to be crucial if we are to solve the many implementation problems that still exist and develop solutions that transform the way companies manufacture, distribute and sell product.
Continuing, Roberti is careful to selectively remove the DoD funding from his analysis of RFID research dollars and, most importantly, purchasing, which is sort of like removing Army purchasing from the ammunition market. Perhaps this obfuscation is meant to bolster his case for government and corporate intervention in the market.
Where is that money going to come from? Some of it will come from governments. The European Union has put up nearly $10 million to fund the Promise project, which is looking at ways to use RFID for product lifecycle management. Asian countries have put up tens of millions of dollars to promote research in RFID. The United States federal government, despite the military’s push to adopt the technology, has done very little. States like Ohio and North Dakota are doing what they can.

The vast majority of funding will have to come from companies, and we’ve seen some visionary firms taking the lead. Airplane makers Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, as well as defense company BAE Systems, are supporting the Aero-ID Programme run by the Auto-ID Labs at Cambridge. Wal-Mart and others, meanwhile, are supporting the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas. But this is a drop in the proverbial bucket.

I understand that companies are not going to fund research out of a love for academics. The academics understand that, too. Research has to be applied toward solving the deployment issues end users face, or toward finding new ways to improve the way companies do business.
Of course, in a way typical of capitalist apologists, just why subsidy of business-friendly technologies is important is hardly addressed at all. It's generally just assumed that it is.

But, Roberti would do well to look more closely at RFID pioneers, Alien Technologies, for a reality check. In 2003, Alien Technologies broke ground on a RFID manufacturing plant at North Dakota State University’s Research and Technology Park, which they hope will help them raise their chip production capacity to 10 billion tags a year. Explaining the choice of location, Alien's CEO, Stav Prodromou, cited two main factors: the company's past cooperation with NDSU and the state's "very business friendly attitude."

When asked in January 2006 about when the "tipping point" for RFID will be, Prodromou responded,
It is Alien's perspective that the tipping point will happen when people break through the ROI barrier. Many large-scale applications were not economical at prices we saw in 2005. It's not across the board, but there is a payback for many applications, such as ensuring the on-shelf availability of apparel, brand protection and so on. As time goes on and tag prices fall, more and more products will fall into the category where there is a payback.
All manner of companies are gearing up now to implement RFID, but Prodromou makes sure to point out that "[t]he DFARS [Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement] became effective in mid-November, and we now have a number of projects underway."

In fact, in 2005 the government was already spending hundreds of millions a year on RFID, with growth then projected at 120 percent by 2009. Just this year, one DoD contract alone with Savi Technology was increased from $207.9 million to $424.5 million. Not insubstantial for a market that went from $1.3 billion in 2003 to $2.7 billion in 2006.

But, while it still might be true that military RFID expenditures have been eclipsed, however temporarily, by the private sector, the subsidy has served its purpose. Writing for the Electronic Business Online in January 2006, Geoffrey James, focused on the importance of a military/corporate research symbiosis in his aptly titled article, "The war at home".
It turns out that the military's use of RFID is second only to Wal-Mart's in generating demand for RFID chips, according to Parker, thereby helping create a mass market that will get tag prices down to the point where they'll become economical for widespread commercial adoption. Thus, by bootstrapping the RFID market sooner than it otherwise might have reached fruition, NCW will have a direct and positive impact on the revenues of the big RFID vendors: Philips, EM Electronics and Texas Instruments.
As they become more cost-conscious, defense electronics contractors are also drawing more heavily on existing commercial products to build the computing and communications infrastructure that will make NCW-enabled devices work together, according to former Marine colonel Terry Morgan, now director of Netcentric Strategies at Cisco Systems. "There's a core of technology in the commercial world that's now being sold into the defense world," he says. "The trick to keeping defense electronics economical is leveraging the mass market."
Ultimately, the need to achieve NCW quickly and cost-effectively must result in a symbiotic relationship between the defense industry and mainstream electronics firms, according to Morgan. "Research and development should be flowing in both directions," he explains. "The economics of the commercial sector should be helping keep the price of defense electronics down, even as the defense industry creates an incremental market for commercial products."

Such a symbiosis would provide substantial benefits to both sectors. Defense electronics firms would be freed to spend their resources on performing the defense-specific R&D required to make NCW practical, and commercial electronics firms could use their expertise to bring cost efficiencies to the manufacturing process. The symbiosis would also allow our armed forces to upgrade more quickly to NCW, which will not only help them succeed in their missions but also make troops less likely to be injured or killed in the process. And in the end, that's far more important than the health and welfare of the defense industry, the electronics industry or the political powers that be.
And, indeed, now that the market has been made safe for RFID, other companies, governments and their militaries/police are beginning to jump onboard. The Portland Business Journal highlighted one such instance last year. According to an October 2005 article,
Founded in 2001, EID Passport is a privately held company employing 30 people. Its main products, RapidGate and Secure Workplace Solution, use RFID technology to track people entering and leaving stores, warehouses and military facilities. Both systems use ID registration, badges, databases and handheld scanners to identify and track people at specific locations.

"We use RFID as it pertains to tracking and accountability," said Larson. "We attach the RFID plate to the actual picture card so it all becomes one."
And that really gets to the crux of the unstated benefit such technological research bestows on both capitalists and bureaucrats: control. As, Geoffrey James said, RFID will serve "to bring cost efficiencies to the manufacturing process." Translated, that means an attack on workers, who, because of a contradiction of capitalism, must make up the production, supply, distribution and even consumer chain of supply and receiving at the same time that their control and access to that very chain threatens capitalist profits and domination. The danger, from the capitalist's perspective, is always that workers will decide to use those relationships to production for their own benefit, rather than those of the absentee capitalist.


And, so it should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the increasing police state that is the modern workplace in this country, that a new poll has found that employers are increasingly utilizing all manner of surveillance technologies to monitor, coerce and control workers. For the capitalists, RFID will make a welcome addition to this arsenal.

According to a Newsday article this week, "‘Big Brother’ firms keep eye on workers", there are reasons for that.
Certainly, bosses can cite significant reasons for tracking worker activity: Monitoring can go a long way toward cutting down on sexual harassment, workplace accidents and goofing off. Plus, in lawsuits, courts expect employers to be able to hand over electronic evidence.

So such surveillance is on the increase: The use of video monitoring for theft, violence and sabotage rose last year to 51 percent of 526 employers surveyed by the American Management Association and ePolicy Institute; only 33 percent were using such monitoring four years earlier.
The situation, despite the rapid rate of change, has elicited little commentary from the capitalist press. For anti-capitalists, it should be obvious, though: work is a dictatorship and a dictatorship needs surveillance. Capitalism's disenfranchizement of those who labor from the product of that labor necessitates constant surveillance and intervention. The Newsday article again sums it up nicely:
An employee enters an unauthorized area of the company, his smart-chip badge triggering a hidden surveillance camera. That sends an alert to a security officer, who uses his laptop or cell phone to monitor what the intruder is up to.

Once the realm of Tom Cruise movies, scenes such as this one are playing out at a worksite near you.

What’s more, employer surveillance of workers and property extends beyond the video screen: The boss can tell what Web sites you’ve visited on office computers, the content of e-mail you haven’t even sent, even your every move through cell phones equipped with global positioning. And coming soon: Employee identification through biometrics – measuring such biological components as fingerprints and voice pattern – as well as grain-of-wheat-sized chips implanted under the skin, turning you, in effect, into an EZPass.
The capitalist class, and the state that supports it, is busy honing its policing powers in the workplace in a way that is not without precedent, but which goes far beyond the wildest fantasies of the industrialists of old.

Quoted a few years ago, Per-Olof Loof, Sensormatic's president and CEO, looked into the future of theft deterrance at work.
"While traditional methods of security will always be used by retailers, improvements such as source tagging, RFID systems and technologically advanced surveillance systems are the real weapons in a retailer's war against revenue loss."
According to a 2000 survey of retailers, capitalists estimate they lost more than $13 billion to employee redistribution that year, more than shoplifters took. So, it's natural that capitalists would want to regulate workers as closely as possible on the job. Further, bosses, just like other dictators, have an interest in regulating the movements and interactions and overall freedom of their subjects in order to prevent being challenged.

But, in case RFID itself doesn't solve the problem, an analyst quoted in IT Week's January feature, "How retailers can keep the customer satisfied," was quick to point out that
[t]he number one issue for the shopper is out-of-stock merchandise – an inconvenience that causes 47 per cent of customers to shop elsewhere as a result. New RFID implementations must be linked to workforce management technologies to ensure that replenishment tasks are allocated and completed.
The old authority of capital will not disappear in the future, despite all the elite's wistful talk of information economies and masturbatorily-named "knowlege workers". The old system will merely be augmented by a whole new and sophisiticated police state at work, intended to keep the worker in place, on task and with as little power as possible. And so the profits will flow.

RFID won't be alone in the capitalist's arsenal. The poll cited in the Newsday story further revealed that 76 percent of employers admitted to monitoring internet activity; 51 percent revealed using video surveillance to deter theft (16% to monitor performance); and, 8 percent said they use GPS to track workers.


Anarchists - even those who see much potential in technological change - must recognize the centrality of technology to the class war as it is being framed in the 21st century in the First World. Technological development is political, just like the police forces, armies and parties of the ruling class. And, even if technology might somehow hold promise if we can somehow find out how to decentralize and democratize it, that in no way excuses us from casting a very critical eye towards the existing technology and the elite's future plans. We cannot ignore the political context from which it emerged. Whatever we think of it's potential after the revolution, technology as we now know it is certainly not neutral.

Late in the night of October 1, 1975, a small group of Washington Post press workers slid quietly into the pressroom. Once inside, they caught a foreman off guard. Threatening him with violence if he betrayed their action, they proceeded to dismantle the new computerized press the Post's managers had installed, the side-effect of which - intentional or not - had been to deskill the saboteurs and to concentrate more power in the hands of the bosses by shifting control over production into management's hands. Sytematically, they destroyed all 72 units of the Post's nine machines, cutting wires, jamming gears, locking cylinders and breaking off keys in the starting mechanisms.

Another worker, a deskilled machinist for GE, regretted the passivity of his fellow workers in the face of the technology that would eventually disempower them. "When they closed the division, we should have acted earlier and destroyed it ourselves."

A history worth learning from.

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