Industry 4.0

New Challenges for the European World of Work

We appear to be on the cusp of a new age. The era of digitalisation looks set to revolutionise the status quo, from the world of work to the way we live, from leisure activities and public space through to politics and privacy. Technically, the term ‘digitalisation’ refers to the enhancement of information and communication processes by means of digital storage, transmission and processing technology. Innovative hardware and software allows these processes to take place faster and more flexibly and be less location-dependent.

According to some, we are on the verge of a “fourth industrial revolution” (Schwab 2016). What is surprising is the way that this movement is often seen as some unstoppable natural process that humans are powerless to influence. The debate surrounding digitalisation thus resembles the discourse on globalisation in the 1990s. And yet, digitalisation and Industry 4.0 have not come out of the blue. It is profit that drives capitalist society to invest in technological innovation. This is particularly evident if we consider the changes taking place in the world of work. Standard forms of employment are increasingly giving way to a blurring of boundaries between work and leisure time and an ability for workers to be available at all times thanks to smartphones, cloud working and mobile work.

The study ‘Industry 4.0 and its Consequences for Work and Labour’ (Gaddi/Garbellini/Garibaldo 2018) deals precisely with this relationship between digitalisation and working conditions in the industrial sector, drawing on a sample of 40 Italian companies. Its authors Matteo Gaddi, Nadia Garbellini and Francesco Garibaldo, from Italian left-wing organisations Associazione Culturale Punto Rosso and Fondazione Claudio Sabattini, ask how Industry 4.0 is changing industrial relations. Does it offer greater opportunities for participation and more flexibility for workers, or is Industry 4.0 merely an attempt to monitor performance more closely and intensify work?

The following publication summarises the main findings of the study. It starts by examining current trends in European industrial policy and goes on to define a number of key concepts. There follows a brief discussion of the state of digitalisation in Italy and a description of the study’s methodology. The next section presents the findings and looks at the impact that digitalisation is having on working conditions, before considering the implications for trade union action and progressive actors. The conclusion calls for a digital left in step with the times.

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