For decades, Puerto Rican society has experienced a marked decrease in the ratio of people over 16 who are part of the work force. In 1950, for example, the rate of labor participation in Puerto Rico increased to 55.5%. But in September 2006, it had decreased to 47.2%. This is one of the lowest rates of labor participation in the world. In Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, the common statistic is 59%. At the same time, the figure is usually higher in industrialized countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Holland, and Sweden, Some specialists, like José Vázquez Calzada, have classified idleness as “the great problem” of contemporary Puerto Rican society. One of its main consequences is an increase in the economic dependence of people who don”t work on those who do. Within the dependent population, there are a growing number of people: retirees, people with disabilities, housewives, students, minors, and the unemployed. Men between the ages of 45 and 64, many of which are on disability Insurance, are among the groups that have retired sooner from the work force. As Edwin Irizarry Mora points out, (2001: 222), “the orientation of the structure of Puerto Rico”s economy more often excludes the manpower factor.” Emilio Pantojas-García has used the term “peripheral post-industrialization” to characterize the change in dominant strategies of Puerto Rico”s economic development since the mid-1970s. Fundamentally, the island went from being an export manufacturing center, intensive in manpower, to a platform of financial services and industries of high technology, intensive in knowledge and low on employment.
Other authors have approached the phenomenon from the “post-work society” point of view. This concept is derived from the works of Andre Gorz and Stanley Aronowitz on postindustrial European and American economies, respectively, where traditional occupations such as farmers and factory workers have decreased rapidly. With growing automation of labor processes and the development of an economy based on high technology, information, and services, many contemporary theorists believe that the conventional concept of work is disappearing and is gradually being replaced by leisure. For that reason, defenders of the post-work society, such as Aronowitz and Gorz, propose reducing the work day, assuring a social minimum wage, detaching self-identity from the “career”, and taking advantage of free time for personal development. According to Lopez, it is about the “emergence of lifestyles that don`t presuppose centering work or the reproductive apparatus that sustains it, for the lives and sustenance of individuals”.
The post-work society in Puerto Rico is characterized by a decrease in the rate of labor participation, the constant decline in agricultural work, a massive displacement of the population outside the island, the growth of an underground economy, the intensive application of microelectronic technology —especially personal computers— to labor processes, and the hyper-valuation of individual and collective leisure. López attributes the origin of these tendencies to the economic restructuring of the island beginning in the 1960s, particularly to the dramatic increase of federal transfers and government employment as strategies to maintain a relatively high lifestyle, even if it was artificial. The increase in consumption, subsidized by the Welfare State without a proportional increase in productivity, favored the trend to a post-work society in Puerto Rico. This allowed the rise of new political beliefs that are not based on using struggling for better wages, employment conditions, or labor rights as a starting point, just as the traditional labor movement had done. In their place, new identities and forms of association are based not on labor, but on other solidarities such as gender, sexuality, and consumption. From this point of view, wide sectors of the Puerto Rican population are developing practical -arid even subversive- alternatives to salaried work, the capitalist system, and work discipline
Undoubtedly, the concept of post-work society points to one of the deepest cultural transformations in Puerto Rio in the last fifty years. Nevertheless, there are many questions regarding the value of work in the economic context of today and tomorrow. To what extent can the enjoyment of leisure time substitute the ethics of work in a postindustrial society? Can the service sector represent the material foundation of a society that no longer depends primarily on the production of manufactured goods for its subsistence? Furthermore, how can an economy have long-term sustenance when an increasing part of the population is permanently excluded from the labor market? What speech and practices assume the role of defending civil and social rights beyond the regime of the capitalist order? How do we combat increasing labor exploitation and class, gender, and race inequalities in so-called post-industrial societies? Finally, to what extent can economic productivity, sustainable development, and individual creativity be achieved outside the labor sphere, as some post-work theorists propose?
Anthropologist, Social Sciences Departament
University of Puerto Rico- Río Piedras
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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