Terrano made an important contribution to Charles Denby’s 1960 pamphlet Worker’s Battle Automation. It remains remarkably contemporaneous in our age of Artificial Intelligence. In the last section, “Which Way Out,” Denby explains that he had “submitted this writing to Angela Terrano, a production worker in the electrical industry, who writes a column in News & Letters called ‘The Working Day.’ I asked her to comment on ‘Workers Battle Automation’ and to draw any conclusions she wished to draw on the question of Automation.”
“Here is what she replied: Why Do People Assume?”
“Why do people assume that Automation is the way people will want to work in a new society? Why do they assume that all that matters is that the workers will be in ‘control’? Will ‘being in control’ of the machine lighten the work, or make it less boring? To me the engineer who starts his thinking with ‘Let’s face it, automation is here to stay,’ blocks his thinking. Let the workers say what they think is good in automation and which they want to keep. Once the factory, that ‘House of Terror,’ still dominates our lives, I cannot see that the question of who is in control changes things, really changes them from the ground up. For example, what happens to the question of how people will work? Won’t work be something completely different?
“If work will be something different—tied up with life itself—it cannot be the same as automation that uses men as part of its operations. I don’t care if the worker made the first screw and nut, and builds something from the ground up—I don’t believe it becomes interesting or fascinating because the worker participated in it from the start. Knowing the science that goes into that machine has to mean a lot more than just making operating it more bearable. The machine replaces men. It does the same monotonous operation over and over. So how does it differ from the boring non-automated production line operation that many men did before automation, and that a few, or one, does now under terrifying speed-up?”
Inez Rogers was a Marxist-Humanist in her heart and bones.
Editor’s note: Workers Battle Automation is available free online at News and Letters Committees’ website: https://newsandletters.org/shop/on-workers/workers-battle-automation/ Working Women for Freedom is available for sale here: https://newsandletters.org/shop/on-workers/working-women-for-freedom/