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A fourth industrial revolution? Digital transformation, labor and work organization: a view from Spain


The paper offers an overview of how the process of technological innovation known as digitization affects the capitalist production mode and its relations of production, particularly in Spain, based on a review of the bibliography and the statistical sources available. The gradual appearance or development, since the last quarter of the last century, of a set of information and communication technologies, which allow the hybridization between the physical and the digital world, erasing the borders between both worlds, has led to talk of Industry 4.0 also called “the fourth industrial revolution”. After this supposed revolution, there would be a digital revolution. Though is paradoxical that, since the 1980s, in Europe the industry continues to lose weight in the economy as a whole, in employment and participation in Gross Value Added. The paper reviews the effects of digitalization and automation on employment and working conditions, in particular polarization, changes in employment shares across occupations, and jobs at risk, with some emphasis in the Spanish case. In the last section the paper intends to answer the question whether there is a progressive industrial policy feasible.

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Fig. 1

Source: Eurostat database and own elaboration

Fig. 2

Source: OECD (2019b); figure 2.14; p. 65

Fig. 3

Source: Author elaboration based on Nedelkoska and Quintini (2018; 26) and CEDEFOB (2018; 48)

Fig. 4

Source: Adapted from OECD (2019b); Figure 2.6; p. 49


  1. Though, as chief EC bureaucrats seems to live in the world of Dr. Pangloss, in the main document of Eurofound on the Future of Manufacturing project, these scenarios are considered “speculative” (Eurofound, 2019b; 40). Nevertheless, the report recognises, in the very last paragraph: “There will be some loss of jobs”. Yet, so that we do not worry much, immediately states: “Previous experience of large-scale structural change shows that this should be anticipated and managed” (Eurofound 2019b; 58).

  2. On the causes and consequences of early school dropout and repeat of grade, see Chapter 1 of Muñoz de Bustillo Llorente et al. (2009).

  3. See for instance the book written by two World Bank economists, Hallward-Driemeier and Nayyar (2017) on the future of manufacturing-led development. On the non-neoclassical side, between the last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, two journals have devoted a monographic issue on a progressive or renewed industrial policy: Journal Für Entwicklungspolitik (3/4-2018) and Structural Change and Economic Dynamics (March 2019), see the introductory papers of Eder et al. (2018) and Andreoni et al. (2019).

  4. I belong to that small group of scholars that, at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, analysed the insertion of Spain in the capitalist mode of production from the centre-periphery perspective, using among other things the tools of dependency theories; as well as we highlighted the role of the State in the configuration of the economic policy (and in particular of the industrial policy) from the perspective of class structure and domination. See Braña et al. (1984).


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Correspondence to Francisco-Javier Braña.

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The corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest. I thank the editors and the referees for their suggestions that improved the paper, although, as usual, any error is only attributable to the author.

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Braña, FJ. A fourth industrial revolution? Digital transformation, labor and work organization: a view from Spain. J. Ind. Bus. Econ. 46, 415–430 (2019).

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  • Digital revolution
  • Industrial revolution
  • Industry 4.0
  • Labor
  • Employment and Work organization
  • Industrial policy

Jel Classification

  • O33
  • O25
  • L50
  • J21
  • J30