We can’t turn back the clock, but neither is job insecurity inevitable.
Just as the postwar period managed to make industrialization benefit industrial workers, we need to create new norms, institutions and policies that make digitization benefit today’s workers.
But services like Uber and online freelance markets like Task Rabbit were created to take advantage of an already independent work force; they are not creating it.
Their technology is solving the business and consumer problems of an already insecure work world. It’s worth stressing that the “technology” of temp work — and the possibility of replacing entire work forces with it — existed for years before corporations made the decision to start adopting it.
But by the end of the ’50s, Winter had concluded that the future growth of Manpower was in replacing entire work forces.
He was uniquely positioned to teach corporate America how to reduce its work forces, since nearly all of the Fortune 500 companies used his services, and he tried to do so.Big corporations had always had their critics, but no one before the ’70s would have thought that smaller companies would be better run than large ones.Large companies had resources, economies of scale, professional managers, lots of options.Today’s smartphone app is an easy way to hire a temp, but is it really that much easier than picking up a phone was in 1950?Indeed, shortly after World War II, a Milwaukee man named Elmer Winter founded Manpower, the first major temp agency, to supply emergency secretaries.When we learn about the Industrial Revolution in school, we hear a lot about factories, steam engines, maybe the power loom.We are taught that technological innovation drove social change and radically reshaped the world of work.It is the severing of obligations between businesses and employees.It is the collapse of the protections that the people of the United States, in our laws and our customs, once fought hard to enshrine.This was a necessary precondition for the Industrial Revolution.While factory technology would consolidate this development, the creation of factory technology was possible only because people’s relationship to work had already changed.