Midwest Conference on Technology, Employment & Community

Chicago Circle Center, UIC, 750 South Halsted, Chicago, March 2 - 4, 1995

Notes on the Opening Plenary, 7:30 PM 3/2/95

Introduction by Marilyn Borgendale

Dave Ranney

Welcome from Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED). CUED serves needs of community groups in Chicago with technical assistance. Build capacity of people to take on tasks for themselves.

16 years of tremendous technological development. But striking that these breakthrus have not been kind to the people of the community. In fact, the soaring technological capability has resulted in loss of 50,000 jobs, affecting African Americans, Latinos and women mostly.

People earning over 50,000 increased their buying power by over 50%. Those earning under 15,000 lost income by 15%. Need to ask hard questions about impact of technology development In 1866 workers fought for the 8 hour day. International Harvester fought to automate the molding process in order to undercut the power of molders who were in lead of movementt for 8 hour day. Technology is not neutral. Workers fight technology to save their jobs. Pace of technology devel has impoverished many while enriching the few.

Need to find new forms capable of meeting challenge of new age to control the direction and pace of technology development. The NAFTA agreement with Mexico and the Republican program are designed to drive down wages. This is in fact the program of capitalism itself.

Information highway in major contention Challenge of this conference is to seriously discuss the politics of technology and seriously challenge the direction it must take.

Dino Lewis, poet from the Homeless Writers Coalition

How quickly the Good Times Go
Once there was a good job, fine clothes and diamond rings
Houses in the hills, new cars and everything
Trips to the country, parties on Friday nights
A life of happiness and joy, one so sunny and bright

Now my good job is gone, my wife and kids I'll never find
And my life is spent looking for food, everyday from line to line
My house is made of cardboard, now sitting on the curb
Where loneliness, destruction, and dope is the only word

Now old friends when they see me, they ask how could this be
What happened to all the happiness, why so much misery
That is the question, that if I could answer you would know
How quickly and how easily, all the good things you have can go

One day you're on top of things, looking down at the curb
Wondering about the lines, so brother you haven't heard
That trip to the curb is easy, all it takes is to lose that job
Then one day you will wake up, to find that life is truly hard

Then you will know about the lines, and that search for someplace to sleep
And find what it feels like to line up for something to eat
Now this story could go on, there is so much you need to know
But I'm not the one to tell you, how quickly the good thing can go

America's on the Move
America is on the move,
doing what this country do
Making money hand over hand,
And oppressing it's people too

It's streets are full with homeless,
the hungry and the poor
America the land of freedom

No more justice for it's people
unless one of the rich you are
How could America forget the people,
that carried it this far

For without the worker and the artist
and people dying for this country to grow
There would be no more America,
America would be no more

America the great
you're slowly fading away
We can see it on the streets,
as the homeless grow each day

No jobs, no money,
and no place for the poor to rest
But the world only see the good,
and America at it's best

Homeless people see it from the bottom,
our people dying on the streets
Children and baby are hungry,
and there's no place for them to sleep

People freezing to death on the sidewalk
and drugs are openly sold
And America you really don't know
about this bitterness we hold

The food lines and the anger,
of people being suppressed
So now we ask you America,
to help us out of this mess

America the great,
can't you hear your people calling on you
To help us wit our problems,
America what can you do

Our babies are crying for milk,
but for us there is no work
All we get from you America,
is bitterness, dope, and hurt

Now your people are filled with pain,
that you so freely give
Wake up America you're dying,
Won't you help yourself to live

Doug Gills, Center for Urban Economic Development

The Mission of this Conference: Issues are large, who will decide our future?

Do we control the process of production of the things we need But - we have gone thru other periods of technology change and we've always come out of it where jobs and wage slavery were the bottom line.

The difference between now and previous periods We have learned that things are the same and different. We have the productive capacity for abundance for everyone, to meet the basic needs of all society President says he wants to change how or govt does busines We say the questions is question of democracy.

Who makes the decisions? Use the outcome of this conference to inform the public fully of our conclusions to empower the people to drive the process.

Keynote Speaker: Jeremy Rifkin

(By phone, unable to attend due to doctor's orders) We are undergoing fund transformation around the world in the nature of work, a third industrial revolution. Computers and robots are replacing jobs, blue collar or clerical workers are already reengineered out of work or soon will be Less than 2% of workers on farm, less than century ago over 50% on farm This same technology has now moved into factory 17% now are blue collar workers and we're producing more wealth than ever before End of century less than 12% By 2025 no blue collar workers 20,000 are producing more steel thatn 120,000 10 years ago.

Service sector will not provide new jobs. Technology replacing jobs here also Layer after layer of management is being eliminated Replaced by virtual management 5 years 240,000 jobs lost. In a few years more no more wholesale, because retail hooks up directly with manufacturer 75% of all labor jobs are called simple repetative can be replaced by computer Inevitable decline of mass labor to produce goods Lost agricultural jobs replaced by industrial jobs, lost industrial jobs replaced by service sector jobs.

There is no future source of jobs Only possibility of jobs are elite jobs, eg. in knwoledge work and entertainment. There will never be enough jobs to replace those lost.

Retraining? For what? 25% of US workforce are temp, by end of century 30%

All of this creating social chaos, economic insecurity A rapidly changing political environment in which people change parties and there's talk of a third party.

Same technology revol in US is affecting every country in world Seeing emergence of two tier society throughout the world Extreme high end and extreme poverty.

Homeshopping will create jobs, sure, but the number will pale compared to the loss of jobs in retail stores.

Government is the employer of last resort. 17% of workforce work for some form of government But govt is also automating, shrinking, no longer the employer of last resort.

Fundamental question - what do we do with the billions of people whose labor is not needed - not one political party is dealing with this question.

How do we share the gains of this tremendous productity? Right now it is destroying the social fabric. It creates the possiblity of freedom from drudgery, from want. Instead we see the employed overworked, while the unemployed are discarded.

Need a great political debate about how to share the fruits of this technology. Two possibilities:

In conclusion, technological development offers both tremendous challenge and opportunity. Also tremendous dislocation.

This conference the first in series of discussions in communities to start engaging the country in national debate on who will share the fruits of this third industrial revolution.

Challenge people to go on the internet with this message. Use this opportunity here at the Conference, through future efforts and the internet to prepare the community to discuss how we will enter the 21st century.

Abdul Alkalimat

Thank Jeremy Rifkin's valuable contribution to open up to the public a debate that has been going on in the halls af academia and also in the survival movement.

Our task is not to reinvent government, but to reinvent democracy. Mobilize people who have heretofore been voiceless. To have the kind of dialog to confront our fears.

Three questions to focus on:

Jonathan King

Technology transformation is real.

Example from bio tech. The pancreases of the slaughter houses of Chicago provided the insulin for diabetes in the old days. Now one plant produces enough insulin from biotech to supply need of all people in US.

Bio tech exists to determine what toxics are killing people. Need to apply it to that.

We live in time where we can change history.

Sally Lerner

from Canada, instrumental in opening up the debate about the future of work on the Internet.
Knows both the US and Canada Canada is going thru struggle about its safety net. Has long been more European in providing the safety net as a right, not as a sop to the "inadequate" as treated in the US Now there is rightwing pressure in Canada to move to US model.

There is tremendous agreement among Jon, Jeremy, Abdul and me and I hope for many of you out there.

There is a myth that the new technology will create jobs, a sop to the middle class. But Reich is now calling this class the anxious class.

There myth that anyone who tries and is capable, etc can get a job leads to the cruel stimatizing of people blaming them for not getting jobs. Cruelest punishment since we have created a culture of the work ethic where your identity is shaped by your work. Now that is all over and it never did work well.

We are in a revolution. Need to throw off the idea that if you dont have a paid job you are nothing. Need to decouple work and life. No longer need to have the 8 hour day as the center of your life. When Jeremy Rifkin's book came out I felt so grateful because now I dont have to write it. He proposes the social wage, or some call it guaranteed income. The technology resulted from government subsidy. Where is our payoff?

Luis Rodriguez

Have the ability of abundance then why are we heading the direction we are.

One thing government does is redirect social energy. Instead of directing social engery to unlease our human cabability. Instead they are incarcerating the people. At current rate 1/2 of our pop will be in prison by 2023..

Our youth feel they have nowhere to go. They seek death. Need to emplower them. And when you work with them, they do not want to die.

Gingrich puts forth view we are irresponsible. Truth is you cannot be responsible if you feel you do not count. There are 15 yr olds who feel they must have children now before they die.

Need to end the system of exploiter, exploited. Why do we even need employers? If our youth had the tools why do they need to work for anyone else. We have the capability, but are held back by the relations we accept.

The end of slavery was the end of a relationship, fought hard against and this demand to change property relations will also be fought. Our kids are not criminals. They have the dream but it is being directed behind bars. We do not need the old relationships. No social valuation where one class or color is seen to be better than another. We envision a world where every child is nurtured and every child is empowered.

Open Mikes

Political aspect of this issue. Democrats and Republicans are backed by big money, big banks. Some people setting selves up as third parties are the same. We need real empowerment of workers in workplaces to discuss these issues in their communities. Have these people choose candidates and work toward solutions and move toward real democracy.

All ideas presented so far present view that there is only one form of property. I think we need to consider different forms of property. Right to land; why should it be treated as a form of property.

There seems to be contradiction in some of the presentations. Rifkin describes in one book he describes our ability to create technologys are beyond our wisdom to put to positive use. And thus we have to have the courage to not do things, choose not to use them because we dont have the social consciousness to use them properly. Some comments indicate that it is thru the development of technology that we will improve the future, while Rifkin would say don't develop. Rifkin makes a call for different criteria for human progress. Need philosophical discussion. Is the development of more and more computers indicative of progress?

Re-reinventing democracy which seems to be theme of the presentations, you cant reinvent what you never had. All of the resources have come to us by way of usuary and theft. We need to rethink what this conference is saying. I would rather see things go in the direction of how can we get back to the kinds of places and methods and ways of living that were socially just and equitable, when people had control of their land and community, eg community supported agriculture. Should stop focussing on the gliches and problems of technology, but go back to the land.

Conference had neglected education, only two people in the panels from schools. There are schools here which have no books. Money for technology has never been used appropriately in schools.

Response by Panelists

Jon King: Agree that it is outrageous that there are patents on life, on genes Notion that someone should own the Internet is outrageous We cant trust private corps to develop bio technology. If the technology was mobilized democracally you really could alleviate human suffering. Nothing intrinsic in technology that is good or evil. Depends on who controls it.

Sally Lerner: Need to become more self reliant. This is the key to power. We have created society that promotes utter dependency. Figure out how to make communities self reliant.

Luis: Whatever we do has to be translated into political action. Need to understand the enviromnet, etc., but the human element is the key. Things will only change if we do it.

Jeremy Rifkin

I wish all of you well, a real trailblazing effort, and hope it leads to similar efforts all across the country.

Time now for millions to speak up and speak out. WE are not going to allow ourselves to be placed in deadend jobs.

Wish you all the best luck in the Conference

More Speakers from Floor

The way I look at it we better be strong.

Nowhere have I heard discussion of economics. Investment decisions are driven without any attention to the morality behind them.

Like to emphasize Rifkin's point that the middle is facing unemployment. This political opportunity as indicated by votes given to Perot. A challenge to us to reach those who are feeling the anxiety. How to create political and economic projects to make them more aware of the threat to them and their children.

My experience as combat commander, I had what I needed within 24 hours. Is there a need for the military. What part does it play? What size should it be to meet the needs of the nation?

My challenge to the conference is not to focus on the negative. We want a good society. Challenge to promote the positive and learn how to replicate that throughout Chicago.

Thank the panel for fine discussion. Would like to hear the following issues. We must have hope. We have the most important asset, the people. Every corporation is coming after us. We are the unlimited resource. Need to look at things from positive and spiritual perspective.

We have the desire to see different world and are creative enough to make it possible, but return to Mr. Rodriguez we need to look at it politically. The corporations are not going to give up. No rational argument to make them give up. They have the police and military to keep them in power. Our strategy has to be on how to seize the political moment not to over fucus on the particularities of the technology. Challenge conference to look at things politically.

Jon King: Possibility that the armed forces will be used against us, our kids, like in Nazi Germany. Notion of private property is absurd, but that's not something that scientific community will understand immediately.

Sally: Milliions, trillions of dollars circulate the world electronically. Leads to proposal that there be tax on these electronic transfers which are totally unproductive. Also propose a "bit" tax on all electronic uses. Electronics is creating the new wealth of nations and we need to find way to capture.

Luis: 10 to 16 year old kids in prison in California living in cells in alm ost total darkness. Luis spoke to them and they cried, laughed, erupted in anger, for the first time in light. This is our future. The military is used against the people - Chiapas, Los Angeles, etc. etc. I am concerned about the future of our kids, the military is not the solution.

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Last modified: Tue Mar 7 12:38:00 1995