Coming Job Glut: Expanding Work in The High-Tech Sector
(page 3 of 3)
By Ivan Handler
Chicago Third Wave Study Group
corporations that can advertise their sites all over may reap the
largest benefits, small providers can benefit just as well. Imagine
you are a provider with a very small niche of say 100,000 regular
users. If you collect just 10 cents per month from them on average,
you will take home $120,000 dollars/year. As you can see, if you
can provide a more unique and specialized information service, you
can charge more to a smaller audience and still do quite well. Less
specialization implies a lower charge and a larger audience for
success. While small specialists will not be able to afford the
advertising resources of a large corporation, that may not be important.
Larger specialty sites that have established followings are happy
to link to smaller more specialized sites to increase their traffic.
The smaller sites are thus “electronic symbionts” of
the larger sites. This type of spontaneous hierarchy can go a long
way and provide millions of niches for small providers. As this
evolves, these niches as a whole may be necessary to the functioning
of “corporate communities” who will ultimately depend
upon good relations with thousands of these smaller communities
As with corporate
information management, the growth of these sites is in a positive
feedback loop, the more sites there are, the larger the need for
newer sites to help people negotiate all the sites available.
How many people
are employed by web sites? Unfortunately I have no statistics on
this. The range goes from one person for a few hours a week (cy.Rev
fits this) to hundreds of people working in several shifts to keep
a large commercial site functioning 24 hours a day. Given that there
are millions of web sites and thousands of commercial sites and
that the commercial sites are just starting to come up, this translates
into a large number of jobs. In addition, there is the indirect
labor employed by the Internet Service Providers to keep the basic
infrastructure working. There are all kinds of graphic artists and
writers who are contracted to produce specific content for a site
and then move on to other contracts, advertising agencies, consultants
galore, trainers, technical book writers and on and on. The point
to remember is that we are just at the beginning of the Web as a
commercial trend . It is bound to keep growing at a furious pace
for at least the next 10 years (and probably a whole lot longer).
Future for High-Tech Jobs
seems inevitable. For people in the high-tech sector who constantly
renew their skills, job opportunities will always be expanding.
Job related anxieties will not be about finding work, it will be
more with deciding what kind of circumstances to work in, as well
as completing projects successfully.
The other interesting
question becomes what happens to salaries in an economy in a permanent
job shortage? Traditional economic views predict disastrous inflation
leading to a meltdown. But we are experiencing one of the longest
runs of low inflation in history, so that view is probably wrong.
While sooner or later the speculative bubble will burst and many
stocks will loose their value, I am dubious that this will be anything
more than a bump on the road. I think the left needs to do more
empirical and theoretical work to understand the new dynamics in
the information led economy.
There are no
studies (that I am aware of) that demonstrate this positive feedback
loop between the information explosion and the need for more high-tech
labor. On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor statistics provides
some interesting supporting data. The top 5 occupations that are
expected to grow the fastest in the period 1998-2008 are all high-tech
significant source of training
Note this table does not imply that these jobs are or will be the
most numerous in this time frame. Low paid service jobs will still
For people who
can function in this environment because they have the necessary
skills, this new economy is a fantastic promise. You can have the
money to live and work anywhere you want comfortably, possibly even
without a boss. For those without the background, this is just another
opportunity that is beyond grasp.
for the Future
By a high-tech
worker I mean someone who has information manipulation skills using
computer technology. At its most basic this means knowing how to
use one of the office suites such as Microsoft Office, WordPerfect
or Lotus’ SmartSuite as well as being able to get around the
internet with a browser. In general this also means having the ability
to read and write, as well as reasonable computational ability.
It should also be obvious that the more educated a worker is the
higher the job earning potential.
There are two
main barriers to entry into the high-tech job market. The first
is education and the second is job entrances or who you know. Progressive
strategies that address joblessness need to account for both of
left strategies that focus on getting a bigger piece of the pie
as well as keeping the pie constructed the same way it was in 1950
have clearly failed and I see no indication this will ever be reversed.
Even the UPS workers’ recent victory seems to me to be more
of a missed opportunity. The union, instead of taking up the cause
of part-time workers (as part-time workers) took a more traditional
approach. By getting some of the part-time workers upgraded to full-time
they won the strike. But part-time workers are expanding at a fast
rate, and are being used by UPS’s competition. The upshot
is that the union managed to avoid the issue of organizing part-time
workers, giving management time to figure out how to defeat the
union on this issue in the next struggle.
that we need to reduce the workweek so that more people can obtain
full-time employment and so workers will enjoy a better life style.
This also seems like a stop-gap. First it still does not address
getting workers into higher paying and more stable high-tech jobs.
Secondly, it is quite possible that given the pace of automation,
capitalists will be able to continue to shrink the labor force even
as the workweek shrinks resulting in no net gain for labor.
“The High Road(7)” seems to be the strategy best positioned
to be able to attack these barriers. Swinney divides the capitalist
class into two camps, the high roaders and the low roaders. The
high roaders are concerned with providing employment for people
to generate new wealth and for a healthy environment. They can be
tactical allies when it comes to providing capital to restructure
failing enterprises by arranging for worker buyouts, retraining
and even capital equipment purchases. The low roaders are driven
by a "race-to-the -bottom" focus on short term gain to
the exclusion of all else. They are the ones who shut down productive
factories in one country to take advantage of starvation wages and
totalitarian environments in another. They are the primary constituents
of the new transnational class. Swinney’s strategy goes way
beyond allying with sectors of capital; he involves unions and community
groups as the core of the people that need to be organized and empowered
to be able to stand independently of any ally. This is why I consider
this approach so promising.
strategy is critical to stem the bleeding that is now going on in
the name of globalization. It does not yet address the dynamics
of the high-tech marketplace. I want to make a stab in that direction.
First an anecdote
will hopefully clarify the kinds of opportunities that are now opening
up as a result of a tight labor market. Entrepreneurial Edge Direct
on March 16, 2000 (8) published an interesting article about a plumbing
and heating company that needed more help but was hindered by the
tight labor market. The owner got hooked up with an organization
that taught “survival” language skills and was able
to contract with them to provide survival English lessons for 5
newly hired Latino workers and survival Spanish classes for his
65 English-speaking workers. This became a major boon to his business.
It seems doubtful that this would have come about in anything other
than a tight job market. Employers are loath to cross racial and/or
language lines unless they are desperate. But under these circumstances
not only did normally left out Latinos get some jobs, a new service
company grew too. Survival language skills are probably not going
to do well in a loose labor market. This is an example of how a
tight labor market not only provides entrances to new jobs to the
traditionally left out. It also provides opportunities for labor
service organizations that did not exist before either.
The basic model
is to grow politically and economically independent and self-sustaining
organizations built up around gaining access to the high-tech workplace.
As in Swinney’s model, this means reinvigorating unions and
giving them back to their membership. It also means building alliances
with community organizations and other institutions that have a
stake in the success of the oppressed. In addition it means struggling
for democratic and civil rights and advocating economic and civil
policies that are consistent with the needs of the overwhelming
majority. It means struggling to be heard, which is increasingly
difficult in a world dominated by huge transnational media monopolies.
This, in many
ways, this model resembles the “Serve the People” approach
of the Black Panthers. As you recall, the Panther strategy was derived
from revolutionary third world strategies to build a self-sustaining
independent base from which to operate. Impoverished and oppressed,
the Afro-American community was marginalized even when employed,
numbed by welfare and deadened by gangs and drugs. While the attempt
to build that independent base failed, it failed because the State
was fearful of its success. Cointelpro, other parallel actions by
law enforcement and media hysteria all succeeded in destroying the
Panthers. This shows how difficult it will be to establish such
One of the reasons
for this difficulty is that now the new Transnational Capitalist
Class (TCC)(9) is asserting hegemony over national governments that
in the first place were never oriented to helping the oppressed.
This class is even more predatory that the earlier national bourgeoisie
of the advanced nations and is completely focused on short term
gain. Independent economic and political organizations not dominated
by the TCC are considered threats; and national governments are
charged with disposing of those threats.
revolutionary base among the oppressed is only one aspect of developing
a revolutionary strategy. This paper is focused on this aspect because
of its relations to the question of jobs. I am not attempting to
claim that these ideas constitute a whole revolutionary strategy.
The following points, however, need to be addressed in an overall
Reforms to bridge
the digital divide are not enough. Gaining access to technology
is clearly important for oppressed groups, but it is not sufficient
to provide meaningful jobs or to provide an independent political
and economic base to contend for power.Reforms to bridge the digital
divide are not enough. Gaining access to technology is clearly important
for oppressed groups, but it is not sufficient to provide meaningful
jobs or to provide an independent political and economic base to
contend for power.
Unions and community
groups need to become high-tech learning centers and to go after
alliances with venture capital to form high-tech incubators. These
institutions are a critical need in the inner city. Poor and minorities
without any experience have a much harder time breaking into good
jobs. Nobody knows who is behind a web page or where they are located.
It should be possible to start all kinds of businesses that serve
the base communities and are profitable. These businesses can grow
and become independent and also provide much needed on-the-job experiences
for members of depressed communities. Again, if a progressive organization
such as a union or community organization is behind this, there
are ample opportunities to build a political base.
adopt these ideas could not only provide jobs for their members,
they would be in good position to be an employment resource, a place
that employers would go to find qualified staff. This would make
it easy to negotiate for better salaries, working conditions and
benefits since they would be holding scarce resources in a tight
market as opposed to now when they are holding resources of diminishing
value both economically and politically. This would also be a good
way for unions to again become a major political force on the rise.
Unions and community
groups also need to create partnerships with local colleges and
universities (knowledge-based social capital). Educational institutions
need to provide classes at an extreme discount or for free in exchange
for a piece of the action from the profits that come from the incubator.
While scholarships and loans can be important, this idea makes the
educational institutions invested in the success of their students
and the incubator and thus also invested in the economic success
of the community. This can have important political ramifications
to the community’s benefit since the educational institutions
can drag in many other players who can become allies (even if the
amount of commitment varies).
organizations with access to workers need to become conduits for
needed educational services. By using the internet, many classes
can be taken in circumstances where the environment can be set up
to insure greater success, especially for single mothers or for
people who have to care for injured or disabled family members.
Education should be on a broad continuous basis. This is because
not only because technology changing rapidly, but because more educated
workers have more intellectual facilities to bring to bear in a
job and that provides competitive advantage. Finally, continuous
education means more opportunity for organizers to interact with
the base, especially if the educational environment is under the
auspices of a progressive organization.
access to high-tech workers also means unions and community organizations
can have influence on the deployment and direction of high technology
itself. Why should high-tech businesses only serve the interests
of the TCC? Why shouldn’t these businesses be better for the
environment? Why shouldn’t customer sensitive web businesses
be concerned about the fact that a large base of customers wants
more democracy and real news not just a backdrop for advertisements?
Building up a strategic base will have profound consequences for
the exercise of power in this new world. Not building this base
will have equally severe consequences in the opposite direction.
The new economy
is upon us. There is no going back. Rather than looking for progressive
models from the past to guide us, we need to strike out in new directions.
Through a “concrete analysis of concrete conditions”
today, we need to determine a strategy and tactics to combat rapacious
capitalism in its modern form, not as it was 100 years ago. Organizing
the industrial proletariat to remain an industrial proletariat is
a rear guard action. It is still important as long as there is an
industrial proletariat, but helping the millions who are excluded
or about to be expelled from the global economy obtain lives they
can live in dignity and justice must be our priority. We can not
do this just by saving industrial jobs, we need to transform people
into modern high-tech workers using a progressive, high road agenda.
classification can occur before entry in a scenario similar to the
following: A new engineering modification is to be created, before
the modification design can start a change request id must be generated
by the system. A record with the identifier and classifying information
is created and placed in a system as a place holder so that other
engineers can see what other changes are being requested even though
the request is not yet complete.
(5) These architectures
are defined primarily by their use of database technology with the
first phase being the most primitive. Mainframe databases never
really standardized though it seems safe that the combination of
CICS and VSAM has ended up as the dominant trend. Client/Server
is primarily defined by relational database technology and the Structured
Query Language (SQL). Object oriented databases supporting XML seems
to be the common trend in the most advanced of the web based technologies.
XML adds a new dimension of “unstructured” or text based
information to the mix in ways that can not be accomplished in a
client/server environment (though Oracle and IBM are trying very
hard to dominate this area with their older database technology).
that the new multi-tiered “pure” XML solutions are clearly
the most efficient and will very soon come to dominate information
management will appear contentious especially to the many software
companies that depend on the older client/server architecture, it
seems like a safe bet. Part of the reason for this is the incredible
growth of XML that is being driven by the W3C which is an industry
standards group that guides the development of the internet as a
One of the distinguishing
features of this new era in computing and all other eras is that
in this era standards bodies are leading the technology sector forward
while in previous eras, dominant corporations were. This is due
to the fact that the web is the first technology that has created
real head-to-head competition in the computer marketplace. Before
the web, computer systems were islands to themselves and vendors
could capture market share by getting a corporation to buy their
hardware and/or software. This would keep many other vendors either
out of the corporation or at least lower their footprint drastically.
With the web, there is no way to isolate your technology so the
expansion of the web depends upon the existence of industry standards
that all vendors adhere to.
An aside is
that Microsoft’s monopoly problems have to do with how it
dominates the client side of the client/server technology. Even
Microsoft has been forced to adhere to W3C standards as a condition
of its existence in the new technology marketplace.
(7) This can
be purchased from The Center for Labor and Community Research for
$10. See http://www.clcr.org/lst_publications.cfm
(9) See Transnational
Capital Faces Nationalist Challenge by Jerry Harris or Fissures
in the Globalist Ruling Bloc? by Jerry Harris and Bill Robinson