The Next Wave is Here
For the last three or so decades, a view has been emerging about the coming of an era of tremendous change in our civilization. Common threads in this thinking are: that change is coming, that it will be large scale, altering fundamentally the way we live, work, govern ourselves, use our resources, how we perceive our role in our communities (locally and globally), and what our priorities are as individuals and as members of a global community. A body of literature is emerging on the subject, a lot of it now coming for relatively mainstream sources. (Books like Life After Capitalism, by David Korten or Jeremy Rifkin's End of Work are just a couple of good examples).
It is believed by proponents of this "next wave" thinking that change on this scale is necessary for our collective survival. The arrival of the next wave is facilitated by our growing collective awareness that we're maxxing out our resources, that we can't continue on our current trajectory without arriving at a catastrophe, and by a growing awareness that alternatives in the way we've organized our world are possible. This growing awareness of our looming date-with-catastrophe and the availability of options-to-catastrophe is being facilitated by quantum leaps in technology that continues to evolve as we speak. To put it simply, the availability of technology like the desktop computer and communications tools like the Internet is rapidly changing us from isolated little people who know a little about a few things and rely on large institutions to tell us the rest to knowledgeable, connected communities that can find out for themselves, think for themselves and decide for themselves how it's (everything) is going to be.
While no one knows what exactly the next wave era will bring, the next wave thinking suggests:
- That there will be a heightened awareness of the interconnectness of and interdependence among things - people, communities, the environment and governing and economic institutions.
- That there will be a reorganization of priorities at every level of existence (social, political, economic) - from self-interest to collective good.
- Generally that we will see a more humane and balanced world. We will see ourselves as members of a community rather than selfish consumers of goods and services.
- Business and economic institutions will continue to exist but the pursuit of profit will be but one of a number of "bottom line" goals. The businesses of the next wave will recognize their interdependence with and responsibility to people and communities.
- Work and the workplace will change in great big fundamental ways.
In his book, entitled, The Third Wave, futurist Alvin Toffler describes this new era as a "third wave" in the evolution of human civilization. According to Toffler, the third wave is part of a progression that began with agrarian civilization (first wave) some 10,000 years ago, was overtaken by the industrial era (second wave) some 300 years ago, and is shifting to the third wave (a knowledge and information-based civilization) has arrived and is already making its presence felt.
As we shift from the second to the third wave, we are experiencing the conflict between the two. All of our institutions - economic, governmental, regulatory, and social - are products of the second wave. They exist to serve and support second wave interests. The waning of the second wave has highlighted the inadequacies in these institutions. Many seem redundant, ineffective in a world that has become more complex, more diverse than it was 300 years ago (when the second wave began) as they seek to control and contain and maintain their communities.
Unions are among those institutions. Having evolved mainly as a reaction to second wave excesses, mainstream unions were, by the mid-20th century, co-opted into the second wave system - that allies them with government and corporate institutions, to keep the peace in the workplace. Their efforts at advancing the interests of workers have been confined for the most part to whatever their institutional partners are prepared to give them. Perhaps this is why, unions as they exist today are struggling, barely able to maintain their foothold in their traditional strongholds (industry and government) and failing to establish any real presence in the emerging technological and service sectors. The growing inadequacy of the second wave unions and the pull of the third wave is evident in the growing reform movements and the increasingly audible voices of dissent coming from within the "house (why is it a house?) of labour".
It is critically important that unions get with the third wave. The Industrial age has not been kind to workers. Lacking the ability to communicate directly with each other and the resources to get and stay informed, second wave workers became dependent on their large institutions and quickly came to serve their interests. The coming of the next wave, brings with it opportunities for workers to shape a future in which they are no longer the serving and consuming class, but equals among equals.
Nobody knows exactly what the third wave will bring. That's the beauty of it. It's coming but how it will evolve depends largely on the influences exerted by those it will affect. Workers need to influence the evolution from the second to the third wave.
The workplace of the future has been the subject of some commentary although not extensive. Common themes in literature about the coming new era suggest that we will see a more human workplace, less mechanistic, less rule-bound, more worker involvement in decision making, (some of this sounds somewhat like the employee empowerment schemes of the past few decades, but it isn't). It has been suggested that work itself will be conceptualized differently - as a vocation rather than a series of tasks. No one, however, has addressed the question "What will it be like?" What kind of work will people do? What kind of relationships will evolve in the next wave workplace? Will we still have bosses? Will we have rigid work rules? Will workers have to fight for their rights? Nobody knows what will be but a great deal is possible. The workplace of the next wave can be very different - as different as you want it to be.
The discussion around what the next wave workplace will look like has not yet extended out to the community that it will affect the most - the community of workers. Unions and their leaders appear to be focusing all of their energies on second wave institutions, methods and tools. But whatever can be achieved through these will achieve little more than to maintain workers current positions on an every uneven playing field.
Indicators of this shift are all around us already. There's a lot going on but you just don't get to hear about much of it and there are a lot of people who don't want you to see it either. The people running your business are solidly in the second wave. The methods of running the business and interacting with workers are straight out of the industrial age. Similarly, your union representatives would be the last to tell you about these changes as well. Mainstream unions are planted firmly in the second wave industrial world. Most people in them are not really consciously aware of the changes - they have a vague feeling that something is wrong, that something is not working, that the challenges facing their organizations seem to have no answers - but in keeping with second wave thinking, those are issues for others to sort out. Bureaucracies are not known for spawning innovators or creative thinkers.
We want to tell you what the corporate executives, union leaders and mainstream media aren't telling you about. What's going on, what's already beginning to change and opportunities exist for you to make a future that's good for workers. You need to be the leading third wave thinkers and doers. We want to provide you with a place where you can discuss, think about, kick ideas around - so that unlike the first two waves, you are part of the process of change and can influence that process - so you don't get left behind again.