Originally published in Canadian Dimension on February 11, 2020

In a new guest commentary for the journal Canadian Dimension, Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford argues that existing power relationships in the labour market are being reinforced, more than disrupted, by the process of technological change.

Stanford highlights seven ways in which the nature of work and employment is demonstrating a fundamental continuity, despite changes in technology and work organisation: ranging from the predominance of wage labour in the economy, to employers’ continuing interest in extracting maximum labour effort for the least possible labour cost.

“I have started to conclude there is more constancy than change in the world of work. In particular, the central power relationships that shape employment in a capitalist economy are not fundamentally changing: to the contrary, they are being reinforced… As a result, I suspect the future of work will look a lot like its past, at least as it has existed over the past two centuries. Where work is concerned, it is truly a case of ‘back to the future.'”

Stanford rejects the common assumption that changes in employment relationships (such as the rise of “gig” jobs, and other forms of precarious work) are driven primarily by technology–stressing instead the importance of discrete choices within enterprises and society as a whole about what kinds of technology are developed, and how they are implemented. Improvements in work are certainly possible, but only when workers are able to exert active, organised pressure on employers and governments.

Please read Stanford’s full commentary, Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss (‘Who’ soundtrack optional!).

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by Chris Wright

Chris Wright is Associate Professor in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney, and a member of the Centre for Future Work’s Advisory Committee. This commentary is based on his submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s inquiry into the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023,