The End of the Work Panics – History, Analysis and Societal Responses

P35-Ph330: Thursday 14 June 10:00 – 12:00.

Keywords: end of work debates, history, legal and political responses

Recent debates about sustainable working life in Nordic Countries and other OECD countries include a strong dimension of pessimism due to perceptions about technological change and process globalization and fear that they will destroy employment opportunities in many industrial sectors.  This pessimism about the future of working life and employment is not a new phenomenon. Luddites, Karl Marx, many in the midst of depression in 1930, Andre Gortz, European trade union movement in late 1970s and early 1980s, Jeremy Rifkin in 1990s and several scholars in this millennium has predicted that technological change will make workers obsolete.

Automation panic was all around Europe in late 1970s. The answer of European labour movement was to demand shorter working hours and share available work more equally between workers and avoid unemployment. In Nordic Countries economic democracy and employees funds (löntagarfonder) were part of tool box of trade unions and Social Democratic parties to share the fruits of automation not for few but for all. 

The doomsday of work is again amongst us. Is this time different because never before there has been e.g. artificial intelligence, internet of things, robots, new materials, metadata, 3D-printers, self-driving cars, platform economy etc.? According to many reports and calculations we are heading toward major disruption of society due to diminishing opportunities to earn a decent living as paid employee.         

In past technological, organizational and structural change of working life has always been closely interwoven. Connection of these changes have been part or nearly connected to economical fluctuations and to demand of labour. Answers and adaptions to these changes have often been specific to time and country. On the other hand many debates, initiatives and solutions have been transnational. International organizations have spread knowledge and ideas. In Nordic Countries the web of political, bureaucratic, business and civil society ties have been particularly tight.   

To understand better opportunities and obstacles to adapt to a new wave of changes in working life this session looks back to earlier panics concerning the problem created by the prospect of end of work. We call researchers from all angles and disciplines of working life studies to deliver analysis about debates, legal and political responses, solutions offered by International bodies, governments, political parties, trade unions, employers’ organizations, companies, NGOs and other actors in society to societal problems created by scenarios of diminishing demand for labour.

Comparative, transnational, glocal (global-local) and national perspectives are welcome. Papers including insights about segregation of labour market, gender and regional aspects of these panics and answers to these panics are also in demand and wanted.

We are not actually interested in if these panics were scientifically well founded or real. More interesting is the ideas, the answers, the adaptations, the outcomes, the new laws and the agreements created and made to fight against dystopias of societies without working class or workers.

Organizer/contact information:

Tapio Bergholm, University of Eastern Finland:

Session 13 The End of the Work Panics – History, Analysis and Societal responses Files

White-collar unions and the emergence of employment transition agreements in Sweden

Thursday 14 June 10:00 – 12.00


  • Olle Jansson, Jan Ottosson

Is safety making us lazy?

Thursday 14 June 10:00 – 12.00


  • Ingrid Esser
  • Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University

Responses to automation and computer panic

Thursday 14 June 10:00 – 12.00


  • Tapio Bergholm
  • SAK

Changing skill requirements:

Thursday 14 June 10:00 – 12.00


  • Tomas Korpi
  • Swedish Institute for Social Research