Sunday, 2 January 2011

We want the miners out!

In the TV drama series 'The Indian Doctor', the dastardly coal mine manager of the south Wales pit village in which the drama is set manages to convince the miners - or to allows them to conclude - that the reason the eponymous GP has set up a chest x-ray programme for them is not because he wants to discover how badly their health is suffering from coal dust inhalation, but because he is colluding with the coal-board to have the mine shut (in fact the manager has been compromising safety to make more money and is on the brink of promotion).

Several miners as well as the manager point out that the village cannot survive without the jobs the mine provides, and thus the miners apparently willingly gamble their lives for a livelihood. Although the manager is portrayed as a nasty piece of work throughout, I think the audience is invited to agree that there is a dilemma. On the one hand coal mines are dangerous places, but on the other they also provide jobs - jobs that are harder to come by as technology takes over some roles and makes mining more efficient.

Setting aside any arguments about the pros and cons of coal, in a resource based economy resources are extracted as efficiently as possible, which means technological advances are sought after and deployed wherever they can save humans doing work. This is especially vital where there are real and present dangers to humans working on recovering the resource. The technology may either aid those humans that have to go into the mine (if a machine can't do the job), or it may go into the mine in place of the human, but either way, the technology brings efficiency.

We can't do this is our current system because we have invented the rule that people have to work to get things and therefore we have to find work for them to do. Workers will therefore resist and/or campaign against the efficiency that technological advances can bring.

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