Blue collar, White collar… no collar?

When everything is fully automated, fully robotised, totally pre-ordered, pre-fabricated, digitally mapped, auto-filled and auto-piloted… what’s every bastard gonna do? Oh, and who’s going to do all the crap jobs?

Nobody wants to do the craps jobs anymore, and fair enough, nor should they, I don’t… but someone has to… don’t they?! These jobs; they need to be done to help society manage, and further to that… a little bit of hard yakka never killed anyone… did it? The cooking, the cleaning, the emptying bins and general mopping up after us all… these are just some of the jobs that stop us as a society from drowning in a sea of our own filth, but with every year and every new invention we seem to find ways to side step ‘us’ actually doing the crap…

So what’s the plan? And not only a plan for what, how and who is going to handle this portion of the crap workload, but all the middle class building, assembly and construction type roles that we seem to be running from like they’re a rapidly approaching bush fire!

In the seventies and eighties the western world had become jack of people doing a number of the manual tasks that had helped to build the society and started the systematic retro fit… upgrade… and replacement of staff in many factories, workshops and production lines with mechanised or robotic installations… In short, some smarty somewhere worked out a way to get machines to do the jobs instead of men and women. The machines could do the tasks just as well, if not better; at the same speed, if not faster and they could work uninterrupted for considerably longer periods of time… because machines and robots as you know don’t need to sleep, eat, shit or live – they just work. So with the removal of dinner breaks, dunny breaks, rest time and weekends; the factories were able to turn out a whole heap more of whatever the hell it was that they were producing… and over time do it a bloody lot cheaper. The cheaper the product, the greater the profit margin and so on and so forth… The companies sacked a wing of their workers and sadly for a some it was the end of their working careers while some others managed to re-invent themselves and go again; the blue collar worker in the production line setting was steadily becoming an endangered species.

Fast forward a decade or so and the advancements in computers saw, and continues to see even to this day, a similar encroachment on the human work force by automation and use of modern technology. Increasingly we’ve seen the reduction in the requirement for secretaries, PAs, typists, mail men, delivery staff, editors, proof readers, bank tellers, servo attendants and ‘check out chicks’ to name just a very, very few. These roles are nearing to be obsolete in many circumstances across the western world because once again we, those, them, us, you, me, we – have managed to one way or another dedicate a level of importance to stream lining these tasks and with the aid of the rapidly improving technologies… designed computers or computer programs to do the jobs for us. Everything is a little cheaper, a little quicker and the removal of the human element has allowed us to be far more effective, productive and consistent… which is great for those who have not yet been replaced by IRobot or a series of 0000 and 11111s or is 010101010101? All this cheap stuff that the machines are now building for us is great… though with even less jobs for the everyday Joe & Moe… who’s gonna be buying it?!

Moving forward a few more years we as a society crashed through the year 2000, survived the ‘Millennium Bug’ and are now galloping towards the year 2020! With the continued improvement in technology and the endless supply of ‘good ideas’ and ‘safety measures’ in the workplace, we will soon see the next round of impacts to the working man’s (or woman’s) status quo. We’re now seriously looking at driverless cars, specially dedicated traffic lanes for fully automated and driverless haulage trucks, continued improvements in the selection & delivery of food stuffs and products plus the never ending shift to purchasing next door to bloody everything online! One couldn’t be blamed for wondering if there wasn’t an initiative to see almost every one of us banished from the work force and every single job eliminated. All this extra time will allow us all the freedom to… do what?!

Now for those of us in the bush, us country bumpkins (so to speak), who think that these advancements don’t apply to us or that this driving desire to eliminate boys from the bush doesn’t apply… well we’re fkn wrong! I see myself as a youngish to middle aged man, and when my mum was a kid on a Mulga block in far south west Qld… places had dozens of staff and houses filled with families. The weekends were filled with social events, team sports and every little town had a pub and a shop and a wing of kids at the school… further to that with all these people there was considerably less stock being run on the properties. Now I know right now the national sheep & cattle mob & herd numbers are well down and people are actually trying to rebuild, but we all know that’s a result of years of drought and a now seemingly endless demand. Sheep, wool & cattle prices are through the roof and that’s making it bloody tough for those in the game to recover and next door to impossible for anyone to try and get into the industry. We’re exporting to all corners of the globe and cutting the head off anything that’s old enough to walk onto a truck… and while I’d love to unpack this current rural situation a bit more, I’d like to take us back to the point at hand, and that being that back in the day (in the day of my mum’s childhood), we country folk were a thriving portion of the Australian landscape with a healthy and robust population.

Over the years we’ve seen the cost of production steadily rise, the rate of return gradual decrease and the eventual and inevitable human exodus from life on the land… and so I ask, why is it so? Now that’s a pretty big question, and one part of the answer is exactly the same as what we’ve seen for decades now across so many industries; the impact of and obsession with technology. Instead of mustering camps with ten blokes on horseback, a camp cook and chuck wagon we now have one bloke in a chopper or small air craft and a couple of folks on motor bikes. Instead of having a long mustering season and each property having enough staff and resources to cover this work throughout the entire year, we now knock the musters over in a few days or weeks and have contractors that come out from town. Sure the really big places still have a bit of a staff, but nothing like it used to be, not even close. The place next door to home when mum was growing had almost fifty odd people including families; by the time I came along it was less than a fifth of that and now it’s just the manager and his wife… and one of them works off farm from time to time to supplement their income. This is a place of several hundred thousand acres with still thousands of sheep and cattle… but just no people.

Now mum tells me there was a manager and his family, an overseer and his family, a book keeper and his family, a bore runner, a bore drain man, a gardener or two, a couple of cooks, a few older stockmen, a black smith, a mechanic, some station hands and a wing of jackaroos. They all lived on farm and as I say, many had families on the station with them and all seemed to be able to be kept busy… and the places made a profit. Over time the external and often downward pressures saw the profit margin narrowed and the business model change, and sadly, every time there was a change it almost always led to the reduction in head count on farm. Just the other day the media were awash with stories of how drones will soon be helping with on farm tasks such bore runs and stock musters… and I nearly fell off my fkn chair.

I marvel at the technology and I salute the commitment and initiative of the people that keep coming up with these ideas, designs and eventually the programs or the products… but enough already, cut it the fck out! Go put your efforts into curing cancer or saving the oceans, but leave mankind the fck alone, leave us to do our jobs. Leave us to stay busy and fill in a days with genuine work and an actual reason for crawling into bed of an evening. We all romanticise over the beauty that’s captured in the enduring image of six or eight gentle horsemen (or women) ushering a mob of cows & claves or hulking great bullocks across a grassy plain or along a flowing river’s edge… but then we are non fussed by the notion of a drone set on auto pilot to navigate a paddock and steer livestock through an automated gate set to open & shut like the front doors of a bloody department store building. We’ve got UHF radios and mobile phones strapped to pumps and bores so they can ring us up when they’re out of fuel or the water level has dropped, and we’ve got tractors that lap the paddocks putting in or pulling off crops all at the guidance and will of a GPS system and satellite from outer fkn space.

This automation, this mechanisation and computer enhanced obsession that has engulfed the western world isn’t as prominent in the bush as it is in the cities, but it’s getting there and it will continue to come. The drivers for it and the motivation behind it are as many as they are varied and it’s sad, but it’s real. The society that we live in, the society that we have as a species created is one that now compels us forward with a dedication to do almost everything quicker, cheaper and with less effort… Some of the current affair shows recently spoke with experts in global trends and highlighted some of these historical shifts in labour use, but they also spoke to the future impacts. One point that was made and a fact that we see more and more of is the shift towards the ‘work from home’ worker. Now at first glance with a casual thought I can see how this sort of arrangement could be a wonderful if not very helpful and useful use of resources. But then it dawned on me; with more and more jobs being done from behind a desk and up close to a computer monitor… it matters less and less just where that desk, that computer and the poor bastard driving it are actually located. With the brilliance of modern technology and in the most part the ‘world wide web’ so many routine tasks can not only be done remotely within the same town, city or state… but from all over the bloody world!

We’ve already seen jobs exported overseas to countries where they pay their people less per week than some of us will work for per day or even per hour in some cases. The amount of telecommunication, insurance and accounting companies that are now based in India or somewhere else on the sub-continent far outweigh those that don’t… and it will and can only get worse. If the current trends, the view of recent and prolonged history and the essential ingredient of human nature are anything to go by; why would we pay someone a thousand bucks a week to sit behind a computer in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart when we can pay some other joker a fraction of that to do it from Asia, Europe or anywhere else in the world for that matter? In short! We wouldn’t, and we won’t.

With technology helping to steal almost all the jobs of those people that toil and sweat for a living my mind once again returns to the crap jobs. No one wants to do these jobs, no one wants to or apparently can afford to pay reasonable wages for these jobs to be done and to a point even less people seem to care if the jobs aren’t done until it impacts them personally. So what happens… what happens to the rubbish in the street, the fruit on the vines and burr in the paddocks across a nation? Who empties the bins, cleans the dunnies and carts away old tyres and endless trash along the road side? In the short term we seem to be happy to just make do, OR we pay through the nose for a company to come along and do it once it’s a complete shit fight and an eye saw that needs remedying yesterday.

I know the bush tends to survive on kids home on school holidays and backpackers to get a lot of the work done – but how sustainable is that? This is a massive country with an ever increasing population and last time I looked more and more of everything we have and use is constructed in a semi disposable fashion with end goal of it finding its way to land fill.  

Through ‘good ideas’ or technological advancements we’ve found ways to do away with the human element in so many facets of the working environment; and through warm & fuzzy and socially desirable language we’ve used things like ‘safety measures’ and ‘product consistency’ to explain away the loss of jobs. The current and increasing mentality says that we are so focussed on speed, quality, cost and human safety that we’d prefer to see one person with a computer or a machine (if a human is involved at all) do the job of ten men (or women). And when I say ‘human safety’, I’m not suggesting for a second that we should put people in harm’s way to complete a task, not at all! I’m referring to the fact that we need two blokes to pick up a bag of chook feed and a fork lift to carry a bag of cement… jobs one bloke used to do all day… on his own.

The examples are so numerous it’s hard to know where to start…

In the western world we can’t handle the notion of physical work being done when a machine could do it for us; so much so, that the mere idea of six or eight blokes being employed to unload shipping containers or trucks or train carriages by hand and create an income for their families as against one bloke doing it with a fork lift is almost repulsive to the modern thinker. It will take the guys SO much longer and what if one of them hurts themselves…? And they won’t restack the contents as neatly in its new location and we’ll probably have to go back to training these guys on how to do it properly and so on and so on… and it’s true! But isn’t it sad. Good hearted men & women built the entire bloody world with little more than hard yakka… and now we’re petrified of breaking a sweat, getting a blister or things not being perfect to look at.

We made the bags of almost everything that comes in a bag smaller so that one bloke could lift them easy, then we built a training and workplace Health & Safety culture that created another entire industry to ensure that the guys that were lifting these ever shrinking bags were doing so in the correct manner, not to mention all the support staff, networks and industries that were growing to look after these people if and when they did hurt themselves or decide they wanted to do something else… then we said Fck it! it’s all too hard. We bought a couple of fork lifts and sacked all the staff… much quicker, much safer, much cheaper… and much easier to manage.

The unemployment rate is now through the roof; the government tells us that it’s at historically low levels and percentage wise it’s in single digits… but they are less forthcoming with sharing how it is that they define unemployed. You only have to volunteer at the local shelter or help out the kids sporting events and they say you’re a worker! We’ve got more people on some form of government benefit than ever before in the history of the nation and of those that do have jobs the vast majority are parked behind a desk or hooked up to a telephone. Meanwhile the robots, the machines and the fully automated systems around the country are punching away at the jobs we used to do and worse still… some of our number that are sat at a desk are spending great amounts of time, money & initiative dreaming up even more ways for technology to do shit for us!

I can understand if they want machines and shit to do the really tough and bloody dangerous stuff for us, yep! Go for it! You talk about using drones to bomb the shit out of the enemy or automated systems for fighting crime, working underground or completing deep ocean tasks… then yep I’m with you. I don’t want to see anyone put in harm’s way or risking their skin for me or mine in such a way that may stop them from going home to theirs… but let a man dig a hole, swing a pick, lift a bag, chase a cow or build a car… let people talk to one another face to face as they buy shit at a shop or get something fixed down the street. We’re not designed to do nothing, not to sit on our ever growing arses all day and gradually turn into blobs parked at a computer.

We try to keep our kids busy so they don’t get bored and dream up ways to run a root and get into trouble… it seems to me that perhaps we should be applying the same thinking or have a similar mindset to the rest of the human race… not just continuing to invent ways & means for us all to do less. All this crap looks great and seems cool at the time, but the long term impacts of us all doing less and less… is bad, really fkn bad.

We, the people, are on an almost daily basis contributing to the gradual extinction of the working human and sentencing generations now and into the future to lives spent sitting idle without physical or mental challenges to fill their days and dedicate their lives to… and that Folks, doesn’t make sense, not one little bit…

Thanks for reading & for playing along… This is Black Rat’s Back Chat and you’re welcome. JM xo.

#bluecollarwhitecollarnocollar #everyoneneedssomethingtodo #nothinggoodfromidlehands

Categories James Blog | Tags: | Posted on February 27, 2017

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