What about the Workers? the Latest Industrial Revolution and Its Shop Floor Effects

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Florian BUTOLLO, FSU Jena, Institute for Sociology, Germany
Martin EHRLICH, FSU Jena, Institute for Sociology, Germany
Thomas ENGEL, FSU Jena, Institute for Sociology, Germany
Ingo SINGE, FSU Jena, Institute for Sociology, Germany
The effects of digital rationalisation on employee’s working conditions, specifically on workplace health and safety and worker participation have been largely ignored in the German discourse on the digital economy. We criticize the current debate for its technocentric orientation, its frequently narrow and national perspective, its focus on manufacturing and on the single company organisation. Current, rather futuristic, debates about a fourth industrial revolution in Germany or the coming of the 2nd machine age in the US tend to discuss economic transformation without paying sufficient attention to the manifold aspects of capitalist crisis, e.g. increasing social inequality, weak economic growth and escalating ecological problems.

This contribution is structured as follows: we will introduce the German discussion on the latest industrial transformation, for which the term “Industrie 4.0” has been coined. The dominant strand within this debate predicts positive economic effects: According to BITKOM`s (an association of IT businesses) calculations, there is a potential to create a relevant increase of GDP and efficiency effects supporting a break-through for green economic growth. When it comes to expected results of “Industrie 4.0” on work and employment, projections of fully automated production and deserted factories are widely rejected. Quite to the contrary, workers will take increasingly coordinating functions in production and will be able to develop and broaden their skills.

We will then present case studies from an interdisciplinary research project. Using original qualitative data we will offer an account of the discernible effects of digital rationalisation on working conditions, health and safety and worker participation in the workplace. For this purpose, we have identified organisations that are quite advanced when it comes to the application of cyber-physical technologies. These empirical insights help us identify problematic forms of work organizations caused by digitalised, networked processes, new software and machine-to-machine communication.