Laurie Carmichael on Technological Change (1)

“After the Revolution; (Micro) Chips with Everything”, Laurie Carmichael in Australian Left Review, February 1989

This is the first of several articles that show Laurie Carmichael’s long term interest in technological change and, his interest in applying a study of it to its implications for working people. The Australian Left Review was the analytical discussion magazine of the Communist Party and Carmichael was a regular contributor to it.

The article features a thumbnail sketch of the 4 major periods of technological change and what happened in its interaction with social relations. It concludes with a reminder of how the emergence of the microchip was shaping and was shaped by the macro-political economy of the times: for Australia, its entrenchment as a prime supplier of raw materials dug from the ground.

The article includes a discussion of “Taylorism” that was a feature of union education, starting in the metalworkers union and extending into the work of the Trade Union Training Authority. The purpose there was to study the impact of mass production technologies and processes on workers and, also, on the job classification system, and associated pay relativities, in Australia’s industrial awards. The education discussions included resources like Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film, “Modern Times”, and other documentary footage of Taylor’s rationale for his “scientific management”: making work so simple that “even a monkey can do it”.

Carmichael also summarises the brief history of the microchip as hardware and its interaction with software. He briefly suggests that employer control of work suppresses and inhibits the liberating potential of software development that could be controlled by workers for the benefit of society as a whole.

Carmichael, with a lot of support and in the face of much resistance also, was arguing that a new award classification system that integrated payment for skills acquired and used would be of great benefit for workers in the near and longer-term future. That led to his great determination to raise the status of vocational education and also to its synthesis with “general education”.

Don Sutherland