Automated Labor Shift


Some notes from Brodeys study sessions at a Norwegian factory. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.

The Group to Study the Automated Night Shift

The group is meeting to take its responsibility for the affects that the group can produce by altering the degree or direction of automation supplied to those who will utilize what is received to their own particular ends. The group seeks to find a way of taking this responsibility. We will search out the first order problems created by the match between the technology and its developing context of use. And also the solutions to these problems, and the problems that these solutions create to three orders. We accept that being objective in this task includes not only valuing the commercial, esthetic and scientific effects of automation, but as well, the human effects having to do with what is now being called quality of life! We will examine the issues from the focus of our power to design alternative systems, rather than from the point of view of what will be the effect of the system the engineer has already designed. Engineers, do create fresh choices when their creative direction is shaped by a real awareness of the effect of what they produce on what they value. We value "quality of life". We wish to use the same skills that have allowed us to build the machines to help us be critical of their effects. As a beginning let us choose to study an aluminium plant located in a small town. What will be the first orders effects of reducing the nightshift by automation. After automation, the factory may have a staff of only several men working at night. It is now technical possible for the plant to run automatically without maintenance for twelve hours. This period of twelve hours without maintenance can be used to reduce the nightshift to the few supervising members.

We must first choose a data base. Our problem begins. What data can be collected without interfering with the system in a way that will cause it to cover up its real modes of operation. The system we propose to study is not an inanimate system for we include both humans and their machines in the territory of the system we wish to comprehend. It was stated: Aluminium is made by electricity. The workers maintain the machinery, and clean up after the machines. This maintenance work could be done entirely during daytime. Our automation design could have this solution as its goal. It was replied: It would be also possible to design so that a team would take responsibility for the smooth running of the machinery regardless of day or night-time, working and do its own schedule and own maintenance. Such teams have been tried in industry. 

Workers of equal status and similar knowledge together take the total responsibility to look after all of the functions necessary for managing a particular part of the production system, and they share with management in any advantage that comes from their teamwork. Previous decisions make it possible to start out by examining the first of these two possibilities. There may be many others. There was some sadness in putting aside the design solution that seemed to give more responsibility for unfragmented and meaningful work to the workers.

Here we jumped ahead two orders and began to discuss the problems of completely automated factories. Would taxation take the place of the cost of labour in a completely automated industry, the taxation after bureaucratic costs being returned to the worker as benefit? Would these benefits tie him into central servicing of his needs? Is centralized care for the citizen provided by bureaucratically responsible means an outcome of our work at developing automation? Who would buy the factory products? What about profits? During the meeting we jumped back and forth between very broad concepts and problems of the third order results of automation, and a more easily examined immediate results of activities now being planned. In the aluminium plant we decided to consider there are 107 furnaces. Three workers attend them at night, the remaining nightshift people transfer to day. They get more sleep. That's simple enough. But what would be the effect on the community, the workers, the families, the storekeepers, the bus drivers? How can we begin to find measurable patterns?

Others have been frightened off by the difficulty of maintaining a way of recognizing relevant measurable patterns once the total system of men, machines, and their community was truly examined. 

But, in these times there seems to be a trade-off between high relevance on the one hand and easy measure on the other. The system of high relevance and easy measure on the other. The system of high relevance are very difficult to measure. With this in mind so that we do not become discouraged let us continue next week with 

1) detailing descriptively as best we can, an aluminium plant in a small community

2) creating a means of modelling the problem of recognizing patterns and developing measurement tools

3) beginning the process of gathering what data is available from previous studies. Whatever would help us to plunge in.

For meeting at Nov. 24/73

For Group Meeting on Automated Night Shift

Categories for Matrix

1. Individual - the worker, his family

2. Community - the town, the area

3. Society - the country, the industry

For each of these:

1. Physical Characteristics. These relate to limits within which there can be a high or low variety of uses of the qualities described. The variety of uses and its information value is described under information characteristics. E.g., though consumer goods may be easy to buy, the availability of personally "just right" goods may be reduced.

2. Information Characteristics. If we assume humans have presently a need for variety and the choice among the variety, and the power to make the choice a means of participation in those events that will affect them and thereby to make the choice realized, then what we call quality of life will be affected by this list as well as the list of physical characteristics.

For each of these there are:

Tactical Changes - rapid immediately realized shifts

Strategic Changes - directions which awaken more or less satisfaction or frustration.




(a) Paycheck

- base pay

- taxes

- overtime

- social benefits

- days off work

(b) Working conditions

- human design

- mix of physical and mental

- danger

- opportunity for advancement

- health services

- fatigue - physical, stress

- layoffs

- unemployment = job changing


- pay related to effort and needs

- taxes related to benefits of use

- overtime related to fatigue, a need for variety

- social benefits related to maintaining status and such costs

- days off related to ways of enjoying them

- variety of work

- related to boredom of job, ability to cope

- related to readiness

- availability

- adaptivity of work schedule to needs

- related to season and income

- related to boredom, skill development, and social shifts (e.g., divorce