After a dozen job changes over 35 years, it is too late for me to become a loyal employee. But I know the model of the faithful worker. The dental assistant who used to tend to my teeth worked at the same small practice for about 35 years before retiring, with deep regret, two years ago. She stopped by regularly afterwards, because she wanted to stay in touch with the community that had defined so much of her life.
The “konditorei” in Sankt Florian, Austria offers fine pastries and wonderful hot chocolate. It was the perfect location to interrupt a holiday for a bit of work. Over a slice of strudel, I spent a few minutes last week contemplating my colleague Andy Mukherjee’s well argued article about the danger robots pose for the modern economy. Looking around the bakery-cafe, I saw why Andy should be proven wrong.
Unemployment is a problem in most developed economies. Any politician, central banker or professional economist in the United States or Europe will admit that the published rates are unacceptably high, that too many people have left the paid labour force and that young people starting out have a particularly bad deal.
The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a turning point in the history of American labour relations. It led directly to a slew of new laws on safety and labour practices in New York State, and indirectly to a less exploitative approach to industrial labourers throughout the country. Last month’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where the collapse of a clothing factory killed more than 700 people, demonstrates that the lessons need to be learned again, this time on a global scale.