Work and Employment in Post-Manufacturing Society – part four by Michael Shanks

Another factor worth mentioning at this stage is the dramatic change now taking place in many Western countries with regard to public sector employment. The early 1970s saw a major increase in the public sector in many Western countries, notably the USA, UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. The reason for this increase were complex. In the period from the mid-1960s on, the Western world underwent what amounted almost to a social revolution. New pressure groups – consumerist, environmentalist, minority rights, groups for racial and sex equality, student unrest, worker participation and industrial democracy – came to exercise an increasing influence on society and on political life. In the USA these movements acquire a considerable fillip from the widespread protest against the Vietnam war. In France there was the remarkable if short lived student-and-worker uprising against the Gaullist regime in May 1968. In Western Europe as a whole, but particularly in the UK and Italy, there was increasing trade union militancy at the end of the 1960s, leading to wage-induced inflationary pressures. Elsewhere in Western Europe the trade unions concentrated on penetrating the power structure of industry through participation in the decision-making processes of management. Only in the US did the trade union movement become less powerful in the 1970s.

This complex of new social pressures – which helps to form the backcloth to the emerging post-manufacturing society – can be ascribed, I believe, to two main factors: rising expectations and an increasing disrespect for authority, permeating throughout Western (thought not, in the second instance, Japanese) society. Why? A number of elements played their part. I would like to identify what seems to me to be some of the major ones – not necessarily in order of importance.

1. Declining belief in and acceptance of traditional religion – partly resulting from the intellectual demolition of Christian ideology through the discoveries of Charles Darwin and his followers gradually seeping down through the community. Scientific humanism gives no credence to the existence of an after life which will redress the injustices of this life; it therefor tends to make one less tolerant of imperfections on Earth. By encouraging a questioning attitude of dogma, it also tends to remove one of the traditional buttresses (a projecting support) to establish authority in society.

2. The pervasive effect of the mass media in widening people’s horizons and increasing their expectations. The use of the media as a marketing tool of great persuasiveness and effet meant that exporsure to the media increased people’s discontents.

3. Similarly, the great expansion of education – especially higher education – which took place in all Western countries in the 1950s and 1960s, increased expectations and at the same time led to a much greater questioning of authority, whether it be of government, church, education itself, trade union or business.

4. The invention of the contraceptive pill has had, and will continue to have, a farreaching impact on society by its enlargement of the options open to woman. It has clearly done much more than anything else to enable woman to overcome the constraints placed upon them by society in ordering their life styles. As such, its effect on life styles and values, on social normes, on family life and on the so-called “permissive society” has been pervasive. We shall return to this point later when we come to examine likely working patterns in post-manufacturing society.

5. The increased movement of people in the post-war era has also done much to enlarge expectations, especially among the poorer sections of the population.

6. It is no accident that the social explosion took place towards the end of the longest period of sustained full employment and economic growth in world history, when people had come to assume that the boom would go on for ever, and that full employment and rising living standards could be taken for granted.

The combined result of these and other factors was that by the start of the 1970s expectations where outrunning by a substantial margin the ability of society to meet them. This gap between expectation and achievement had both a materialist aspect and a qualitative one. On the one hand the increases in wages and salaries demanded far exceeded the feasible increases in production; the resulting gap could only be bridged by price rises, reducing the real value of the income increases won and thus generating fresh demands. Europe had already started to slip down the inflationary chute before OPEC gave it a final shove. On the other hand, demands for improvements in the quality of life – often at the expense of productive efficiency – further widened the gap between the demands of society and the ability of the productive machines to meet them.

(Two examples. The hostility of environmentalists to nuclear power stations in a number of European countries adds to energy costs and thereby reduces industrial productivity. In the USA it is argued that one of the main reasons for the decline in productivity growth in recent years has been the diversion of a significant part of the national’s capital investment into measures to improve the industrial environment at the behest of regulatory bodies of one kind or another. Of course these examples do not imply that opponents of nuclear power or US regulatory agencies are wrong – merely that you cannot expect to have your cake and eat it.)


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