The Monkey Wrench, A Labor-Saving Device?

Monkey Wrench pic

Labor-saving devices in the home are great. Throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine is surely better than dragging a load of laundry down to the river and beating it with a rock. Labor-saving devices in industry, though, can be hazardous to the financial health of the laborers.

Labor-saving devices reduce the amount of work necessary to perform an operation. This makes things easier, but it doesn’t make thing better for a company’s workforce. If one person with a labor-saving device such as a computer can do something that used to take 10 people to do, 10 people don’t wind up with really easy jobs. One person winds up doing all the work, and 9 people are let go. Labor-saving devices are very good for the owners and stockholders of companies, but they do absolutely no good at all for the employees, or should I say former employees, of those companies.

This wasn’t always so. Back in our hunter-gatherer past, any labor-saving device was a boon to the entire tribe. The invention of the wheel, for instance, made it much easier to haul a big ole wooly mammoth from the spot where it was killed to the tribe’s cozy kitchen. Since the whole tribe didn’t have to drag the heavy carcass for miles, more people would be available to gather the fixin’s to augment the meal, the various grasses, tubers, nuts, fruits, and seeds that grew in the area. After the invention of the wheel, simple meals could become feasts, and back in those days, anything that made work easier for anyone in the tribe made life better for the whole tribe.

Then somebody invented money, and people started paying others to work for them. It was a fair system, at first, with each side getting what they wanted, until around the Industrial Revolution.   Since then, thousands of labor-saving devices have been good news for employers, and bad news for their employees. With each new labor-saving invention, the employers could save money by cutting employees from the payroll. The rich got richer, and the unemployed went hungry. Income inequality on steroids. This led to some desperate employees trying to save their jobs by sabotaging the new equipment.

Back in 1991, I learned from watching Star Trek VI that the word sabotage came from poor workers in France, who wore wooden shoes called sabots, and tried to break the job-stealing machines by throwing their sabots into them.

Sabots

Today I learned not to believe everything I see in the movies. I learned that, however, from another notorious font of misinformation, the Internet. According to Wikipedia, “those sabot-wearing labourers interrupted production by means of labor disputes, not damage.” So, I don’t know which story is true, but the Star Trek version makes a much better movie.

Either way, sabotage became a tool of organized labor.

Sabotage

Today, industrial workers have another expression, “Throw a monkey wrench into” which means to sabotage or frustrate a project or plans, as in She threw a monkey wrench into my plans for a one-night stand, when she told me she didn’t drink. Workers today are a lot smarter than those old French Sabot tossers. They know that a metal monkey wrench can do far more damage to a piece of equipment than some old wooden shoe. Plus, you don’t have to go home barefoot after you’ve completed the destruction.

Sabotage, like riot, though, “is an ugly thing.” In the end it hurts everyone. The employer loses money and the saboteurs wind up in jail. So how can we encourage the invention of labor-saving devices, without hurting organized labor. I think the simple answer is for employers to give stock in the company to the employees. Let the employees finally share in the benefits of new inventions. I know what you’re thinking.

Socialism

I’m not saying that the employees should own the entire company, though, just a fair share of the company, enough to make them want to see the company prosper. That way when the company moves the factory to a foreign country, they won’t be completely screwed. They will, at least, see their stock rise.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl