The world needs a new work cul­ture, not just jobs

Aus­trian-born FRITHJOF BERGMANN, a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, USA, founded the Cen­ter for New Work in 1984 to help work­ers deal with the "dys­func­tional job sys­tem". His phi­los­o­phy later came to be called the 6 months-6 months p


What is the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind your foun­da­tion? To­day, the whole world is wor­ried about in­creas­ing de­pen­dence on ma­chines and shrink­ing jobs. But this could also be an op­por­tu­nity to get away from work that can only fetch us money and do things that we ac­tu­ally care for.

The idea of New Work New Cul­ture (also called New Work) was born when I trav­elled to East Euro­pean coun­tries like Ukraine and Hun­gary in the 1970s and 1980s. I saw peo­ple in th­ese com­mu­nist coun­tries dev­as­tated af­ter in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion had taken over. It was then that I de­cided to in­vent a cul­ture that would nei­ther be com­mu­nist nor cap­i­tal­ist.Later,I for­mu­lated the ‘6 months-6 months’pro­posal.Ac­cord­ing to this, for six months peo­ple could en­gage in their regular jobs and earn money and in the re­main­ing six months of the year,they could vol­un­teer for com­mu­nity jobs like teach­ing or farm­ing. Although this sounded a bit un­re­al­is­tic, I was sur­prised to know that peo­ple ac­tu­ally wanted to be in­volved in such kind of jobs. This dis­cov­ery, nearly 30 years ago, was cen­tral to the idea of New Work New Cul­ture.

But the sit­u­a­tion in mod­ern times is dif­fer­ent and the ‘6 months-6 months’ cul­ture may not be so rel­e­vant now.To­day, tech­nol­ogy and com­mu­nity ef­forts should not only be used to speed up work and build more ma­chines but also lead to in­no­va­tions where ma­chines do the bor­ing,repet­i­tive work and hu­mans do all cre­ative work so that max­i­mum peo­ple can be em­ployed. New Work New Cul­ture, there­fore, is an at­tempt to al­low peo­ple, for at least some time, to do some­thing they pas­sion­ately want to do. What did the idea of 6 months6 months mean and has it been prac­ti­cally ap­pli­ca­ble? In the early 1980s, Gen­eral Mo­tors (GM) an­nounced that it would au­to­mate in an ex­traor­di­nar­ily thor­ough fash­ion its plant in Flint,a city in the US’state of Michi­gan.This meant that nearly half of the peo­ple from the city,em­ployed with GM,would be laid off in the process. This is when we opened the Cen­ter for New Work there in 1984, and pro­posed that in­stead of split­ting Flint—half of it be­com­ing un­em­ployed and the other half work­ing over­time—why not let all the em­ploy­ees work in the fac­tory for six months each. And dur­ing the other six months,make it pos­si­ble for them to do what they pas­sion­ately wanted to do. Later, we spoke to thou­sands of peo­ple in the US on the ‘new work’ phi­los­o­phy—some started small busi­nesses; some went back to school,while some de­cided to spend more time with their chil­dren.

The idea was that if peo­ple can be en­cour­aged,em­pow­ered and trained in skills to do things they wish to, they would leave a

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