Industry 4.0: revolution or hype? Reassessing recent technological trends and their impact on labour

Abstract

The aim of this paper is to reassess the current view of technological trends adopting a historical perspective. In our interpretation, the historical record provides some suggestive evidence for a more sceptical view of the notion of an emerging “fourth” industrial revolution. Indeed, even at an impressionistic glance, the recent developments in AI, communication and robotics that are marked as the core of the fourth industrial revolution, appear as a rather natural prolongation of the ICT macro-trajectories described in this paper. At the same time, to study the relation between technology and labour, we focus on the plant level as the most useful unit of analysis to consider the complex interaction between management systems, labour process and technological innovations. In this sense, we examine two Internet of Things’ technologies in order to underline the persistence of a fundamental trait of the capitalist mode of production, namely the exertion of control over workers. Consistently, we expect a continuity between newly emerging management practices and previous management systems, especially referring to the ones adopted during the ICT revolution.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Change history

  • 05 February 2020

    Unfortunately, the first sentence of the second paragraph under the heading ���Technology and labour��� was published wrongly as below.

Notes

  1. 1.

    As recalled in Knights and Willmott (1990, p.6), Marx pointed out this issue very clearly: “As the number of the co-operating workers increases, so too does their resistance to the domination of capital, and necessarily, the pressure put on by capital to overcome this resistance. The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function arising from the nature of the social labour process, and peculiar to that process, but is at the same time a function of the exploitation of a social labour process, and is consequently conditioned by the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the raw materials of his exploitation” (Marx 1976, p. 449).

  2. 2.

    https://www.abiresearch.com/market-research/product/1032426-wearable-device-market-share-and-forecasts/, https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US44718719.

  3. 3.

    https://www.zebra.com/us/en/about-zebra/newsroom/press-releases/2017/zebra-study-reveals-one-half-of-manufacturers-globally-to-adopt-html.

  4. 4.

    Interesting insights on this point were provided by Pardi (2018) during the conference “A new industrial revolution? Labour, technology and the automotive industry” at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna on 31 May 2018.

  5. 5.

    An example is given by Cirillo et al. (2018) and Gaddi (2018).

  6. 6.

    For instance, the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute certified in 2007 an intense use of computer monitoring by employers to increase productivity and lower cases of litigation (http://www.plattgroupllc.com/jun08/2007ElectronicMonitoringSurveillanceSurvey.pdf).

References

  1. Adler, P. (1995). ‘Democratic Taylorism’: The Toyota production system at NUMMI. In Babson S. (Ed.) Lean work: Empowerment and exploitation in the global auto industry (pp. 207–219). Wayne State University Press, Detroit.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aglietta, M. (2000). A theory of capitalist regulation: The US experience. New York: Verso Books.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Allen, R. (2017). Lesson from history for the future of work. Nature,550, 321–324.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Arntz, M., Gregory, T., & Zierahn, U. (2016). The risk of automation for jobs in OECD countries: A comparative analysis. OECD social, employment and migration working papers, No. 189. Paris: OECD Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baccaro, L., & Howell, C. (2017). Trajectories of neoliberal transformation: European industrial relations since the 1970s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bessen, J. (2015). Learning by doing. The real connection between innovation, wages and wealth. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bonazzi, G. (2007). Storia del pensiero organizzativo. Milan: FrancoAngeli.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Braverman, H. (1974). Labor and monopoly capital. New York: Monthly Review Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age. New York: W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Burawoy, M. (1982). Manufacturing consent: Changes in the labor process under monopoly capitalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Ciocchetti, C. A. (2011). The eavesdropping employer: a twenty-first century framework for employee monitoring. American Business Law Journal,48(2), 285–369.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Cirillo, V., Rinaldini, M., Staccioli, J., & Virgillito, M. E. (2018). Workers’ awareness context in Italian 4.0 factories. GLO Discussion Paper, No. 240.

  13. Clark, G. (2007). A farewell to alms. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Coriat, B. (1991). Penser à l’envers. Paris: Ch. Bourgois.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Da Xu, L., He, W., & Li, S. (2014). Internet of things in industries: A survey. IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics,10(4), 2233–2243.

    Google Scholar 

  16. De Stefano, V. (2015). The rise of the just-in-time workforce: On-demand work, crowdwork, and labor protection in the gig-economy. Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal,37, 471.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dosi, G. (1982). Technological paradigms and technological trajectories: a suggested interpretation of the determinants and directions of technical change. Research Policy,11(3), 147–162.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dosi, G., & Virgillito, M. E. (2019). Whither the evolution of the contemporary social fabric? new technologies and old socio-economic trends. Technical report. GLO Discussion Paper.

  19. Edwards, R. (1982). Contested terrain: The transformation of the workplace in the twentieth century. Science and Society,46(2), 237–240.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Fitbit. (2019). The impact of diabetes on the workplace. https://2nwchq3a3ags2kj7bq20e3qv-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/Impact-Diabetes-Workplace-WP-1.pdf. Accessed 9 Aug 2019.

  21. Florida, R., & Kenney, M. (1991). Transplanted organizations: The transfer of Japanese industrial organization to the us. American Sociological Review, 56(3), 381–398.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Freeman, C., & Louca, F. (2001). As time goes by: From the industrial revolutions to the information revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Freeman, C., & Soete, L. (1990). Fast structural change and slow productivity change: some paradoxes in the economics of information technology. Structural change and economic dynamics,1, 225–242.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. (2013). The future of employment. Working Paper Oxford Martin School. http://sep4u.gr/wpcontent/uploads/The_Future_of_Employment_ox_2013.pdf. Accessed 9 Aug 2019.

  25. Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2017). The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Technological Forecasting and Social Change,114, 254–280.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gaddi, M. (2018). Industria 4.0 e il lavoro. Una ricerca nelle fabbriche del Veneto. Milano: Edizioni Punto Rosso.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Gordon, R. (2016). The rise and fall of American growth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Harrison, B. (1997). Lean and mean: The changing landscape of corporate power in the age of flexibility. New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Kern, H., & Schumann, M. (1987). Limits of the division of labour, new production and employment concepts in West German industry. Economic and Industrial Democracy,8(2), 151–170.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Knights, D., & Willmott, H. (1990). Labour process theory. London: MacMillan Press Ltd.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Kumar, P., Reinitz, H., Simunovic, J., Sandeep, K., & Franzon, P. (2009). Overview of rfid technology and its applications in the food industry. Journal of Food Science,74(8), R101–R106.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Lutz, B. (1992). The contradictions of post-tayloristic rationalization and the uncertain future of industrial work. Technology and Work in German Industry (pp. 26–45). London: Routledge and Keagan.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Manske, F. (1990). The end of taylorism or its transformation? From spot control to systemic control of the production process. International Journal of Political Economy,20(4), 61–78.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Marglin, S. A. (1974). What do bosses do? The origins and functions of hierarchy in capitalist production. Review of radical political economics,6(2), 60–112.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Martinelli, A., Mina, A., & Moggi, M. (2019). The enabling technologies of industry 4.0: Examining the seeds of the fourth industrial revolution (No. 2019/09). Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant’ Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.

  36. Marx, K. (1976). Capital (Vol. 1). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Moore, P., Piwek, L., & Roper, I. (2018). The quantified workplace: A study in self-tracking, agility and change management. Self-tracking (pp. 93–110). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Moore, P., & Robinson, A. (2016). The quantified self: What counts in the neoliberal workplace. New Media & Society,18(11), 2774–2792.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Musso, S. (2013). Labor in the third industrial revolution: A tentative synthesis. In G. Dosi & L. Galambos (Eds.), The third industrial revolution in global business. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Noble, D. F. (1978). Social choice in machine design: The case of automatically controlled machine tools, and a challenge for labor. Politics & Society,8(3-4), 313–347.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Noble, D. (2017). Forces of production: A social history of industrial automation. Abington: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Nuvolari, A. (2019). Understanding successive industrial revolutions: a “development block” approach. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 32, 33–44.

    Google Scholar 

  43. OECD. (1994). The OECD jobs study: Facts, analysis and strategies. Paris: OECD Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  44. OECD. (2019). OECD employment outlook 2019. Paris: OECD Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Ohno, T. (1988). Toyota production system: Beyond large-scale production. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Pagnattaro, M. A. (2008). Getting under your skin – literally: RFID in the employment context. Journal of Law, Technology & Policy, 2, 237–257.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Pardi, T. (2018). “Industry 4.0: hypes, stakes, history and possible consequences for workers in the automotive sector, presentation at the conference “A new industrial revolution? Labour, technology and the automotive industry”, 31 May 2018, Pisa.

  48. Piva, M., & Vivarelli, M. (2018). Innovation, jobs, skills and tasks: a multifaceted relationship. Giornale di diritto del lavoro e di relazioni industriali.

  49. Pollard, S. (1963). Factory discipline in the industrial revolution. Economic History Review, 16(2), 254–271.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Schatsky, D. & Kumar, N. (2018). Workforce superpowers: Wearables are augmenting employees’ abilities. Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/signals-for-strategists/wearable-devices-in-the-workplace.html. Accessed 9 Aug 2019.

  51. Schwab, K. (2016). The fourth industrial revolution. Geneve: World Economic Forum.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Seneviratne, S., Hu, Y., Nguyen, T., Lan, G., Khalifa, S., Thilakarathna, K., et al. (2017). A survey of wearable devices and challenges. IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials,19(4), 2573–2620.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Streeck, W., & Thelen, K. A. (2005). Beyond continuity: Institutional change in advanced political economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Summers, L. (2014). US Economic prospects: secular stagnation, hysteresis, and the zero-lower bound. Business Economics,49, 65–73.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Womack, J. P., Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., & Roos, D. (1990). Machine that changed the world. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Zollo, M., & Winter, S. G. (2002). Deliberate learning and the evolution of dynamic capabilities. Organization Science,13(3), 339–351.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge support from European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 822781 GROWINPRO—Growth Welfare Innovation Productivity.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Armanda Cetrulo.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cetrulo, A., Nuvolari, A. Industry 4.0: revolution or hype? Reassessing recent technological trends and their impact on labour. J. Ind. Bus. Econ. 46, 391–402 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40812-019-00132-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Industry 4.0
  • ICT revolution
  • Management system
  • Control

JEL Classification

  • O30
  • O14
  • L23