Free eBook version of #DivisionofLabor on September 13, 2020. Please share, read and review. [Click Here on Sunday Sept 13].
My friend Bruce Labenz, who worked for many years in the Detroit car industry and then in the healing arts, published Division of Labor, a dystopian futuristic book set in 2048 Detroit’s industrial center. I caught up with him recently and this is what he had to say about the book writing experience.
Kimberly Burnham: What from your work life in Detroit influenced your writing of this book and what changes have you seen in the car industry over the last 40 years?
Bruce Labenz, author of Division of Labor: Having worked in the auto industry for over forty years, and two of the Big Three car companies, I have witnessed a lot of changes in the industry. When I started, American cars were the leaders and foreign cars were laughed at. As more people bought foreign cars it became unpatriotic, at least for many, to buy a foreign car. “Buy American” was the slogan, especially in Michigan and the Midwest. Foreign cars improved in quality and in many cases surpassed American made cars. The Big Three started taking quality lessons from the foreign car makers, mostly the Japanese, on how to improve the overall quality of their cars. Over the years, the quality of the cars is now about even, and it is really a personal choice as to what a person buys and drives.
KB: How have foreign car makers changed during your time working in car manufacturing?
Bruce Labenz: The foreign makers have made plants and employ thousands here in the United States, and the Big Three have invested in those foreign countries and employ thousands there. Now, there are partnerships between the once mortal enemies. All the manufactures use the same supply base companies. Parts and cars are shipped all over the world. The hunt for the “low cost producer” is now a worldwide hunt. That’s why China was first a manufacturer of parts, then of entire cars. Now, China may be on the verge of pricing themselves out of many markets. Vietnam, Thailand, India, and others are gaining in the manufacturing areas. These trends are happening across all industries. Most call centers are now outside of the US. This will continue, and I wonder how long it will be before manufacturing plants begin springing up in Africa.
KB: What changes would you make if you were in charge of the auto industry and how would you make the future better for industrial workers?
Bruce Labenz: The auto executives failed to make the smart, and tougher, decisions back in the 1970’s. Instead of realizing there was a quality problem with American cars they chose to play the patriotic card. This caused many unneeded hardships. The average worker bore the brunt of the changes, downsizing, and cost (wages and benefits) reductions. The executives were well insulated from any real hardship and even the ones who did leave the companies were often given handsome packages, regardless of their performance. They were in the club and were taken care of as a result of their membership.
I see the same think replaying today. The out-sourcing continues, and the average worker is no better off, and in many cases worse, than the people were forty years ago. Pensions are almost a thing of the past. Healthcare is extremely expensive, and loyalty is non-existent. Companies will cut employees without thinking twice as evidenced by the many contract workers in most large corporations. With these changes, and an amazing public opinion against unions, the average worker has even less leverage than before.
A phrase I use in my book, Division of Labor, “If you don’t like it, leave. There are several people waiting to take your spot.” Is back in vogue. Most people just have to be quiet and exist.
KB: How will this affect automation and artificial intelligence?
Bruce Labenz: This trend will only continue as automation and artificial intelligence continue to increase. More people will be lined up for fewer jobs. Unless the people in charge at all levels of government and business start planning for the future, we as a country will be running into huge problems. My frustration is that they are not planning, and seemingly have no interest in doing so. A large social tsunami is coming and while those in charge can see the factors, they choose the easy way, again, which is to do nothing. No planning. No training in the works. All the while our infrastructure crumbles. It has been said that when the semi-trucks are self-driving there will be four million drivers out of work. Something tells me those four million drivers won’t be too happy about it.
KB: It sounds like you have thought a lot about the future. What prompted you to write the book?
Bruce Labenz: The question of how to best use automation and artificial intelligence to help human beings was what prompted me to write the book. Perhaps a seeming lack of compassion and humility from the very people who should have it. Perhaps the “little guy” always taking it on the chin while the top few continue to get richer. Perhaps a never-ending thirst for more from those who certainly have enough, at the expense of that “little guy.” Perhaps the amazing short sightedness of those who should be looking at the long-term problems and possible solutions and doing something positive about it.
Division of Labor paints a world where the rich are still the rich, and the average person is still just trying to make ends meet and pay their bills and keep some amount of dignity. Perhaps the only way I can contribute to the solution is to point out the problem. It’s another example, despite all the major changes described in the book, of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
KB: What can people do today to ensure a better future than the characters in 2048?
Bruce Labenz: Organize, vote, get involved. The world needs honest people who will take the long-term view and make the tough plans. Unfortunately, I see greed and stupidity as the two main things holding us back from seriously making the necessary changes and planning. We are a study in moronic behavior and attitudes. The people at the top are getting richer at the expense of the vast majority. Yet, the vast majority seems to be fine with it. We cut off our own noses to spite our face.
We can’t even get people to wear masks without them crying their rights are being violated. Really?
We have the craziest conspiracy theories, and many believe them.
We face a lot of problems right now to handle before we can get to the problems facing us in the near future. Unless there is an amazing change in a lot of things, we will continue along this path and eventually end up in the ditch.
But, what can people do? How about getting money out of politics? Have the candidates be publicly funded. Each candidate gets the same money and that’s it. More TV time, not more TV ads, so people can listen to the candidates. I just saw that one donor is expected to give over $100 million to the re-election campaign. It is impossible to believe there isn’t some back scratching going on there.
Another thing is a change in attitude toward our fellow Americans. Fringe hate groups are increasing. I view these groups and their rise as a partial result of the changes society has been experiencing.
Minorities are saying “Hey, we’re Americans, too. Remember what the pledge says…’Freedom and justice for ALL.’”
Will we as a nation be smart enough to analyze ourselves and make personal changes? I desperately hope so, but based on what I’m seeing right now, I’m not so sure.
For Interviews contact Bruce Labenz, author of Division of Labor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Division of Labor is available on free download on Sunday, September 13, 2020.
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