New Work New Culture A Manifesto by Frithjof Bergman

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New Work New Culture A Manifesto

by Frithjof Bergman



New Work had a genuine, full-fledged beginning. It did not start with hesitant whisper high in the tress but instead with a bang. That bang was an unconventional, much publicized, very fought about proposal. It was during the recession of the very early eighties, which also was the time when computers suddenly appeared on both sides of the assembly lines. The place was Flint, the automobile town in the United States, the equivalent of what Wolfsburg signifies in Germany. There was no clear-cut announcement but rumors circulated in rapidly upwards rising spirals: there would be lay-offs in magnitudes greater than any that had ever occurred before. In response “we”, (At this point this was a group of colorfully diverse friends – some came from the union some from management, one was a priest, one another philosopher, one the assistant mayor of the town.) established the first Center for New Work. I had written about work before, among other things a chapter in the book On Being Free, and I had also written, produced and


broadcast a ten part television series with the title: “Culture after the Elimination of Labor.” So I was not wholly unprepared, but the pace of the developments was far more rapid than I had expected. On the basis of what we knew about Flint – which was much since most of the members of the Center had lived and also worked in cars for most of their lives – and a bundle of then still very green ideas, we formulated a proposal.

That proposal, partly to our own surprise, set many minds in Flint, but also beyond that in Detroit, in Michigan and in the automobile industry on fire. There were articles in the newspapers, interviews on the radio and on television, and most everybody in the town was soon caught up in the debate.

In essence we insisted that there was an alternative to the mass dismissal of workers. If that dismissal were to occur then “half of Flint would be unemployed, and the other half would be working fearful loads of over-time.” Those were the words we used. The alternative was to not split Flint in two, down the middle, but to cut across, horizontally with a far superior division. “Even after the introduction of computers there will be enough work left for everyone to work six months of the year inside the plants. But most important would be the remaining, other six months, for in those the workers would not be waiting, or sleeping on their water-beds. This is where the purpose of the newly founded first Center for New Work came in. That Center would undertake two


tasks: For one, we would do our very best to unearth the talents, and buried skills, but also the values and desires of the workers – we would find out what work they “really, really” wanted to do – that was the phrase that, before we knew it, had been turned into our emblem. But, in the second place we would also bend every effort so that in the other six months they would actually do that more meaningful and more fulfilling work, and beyond this even earn serious money with what that “pursuit” or “calling” had turned out to be.

In the intervening twenty five years a good number of Centers for New Work, altogether maybe thirty, have been established not just in the United States and Canada, but also in Europe, especially in Germany, and in Asia and Africa.

From the first day we took the view that the Job System was only one and a problematic and passing way to organize and structure work. We emphasized that the vast majority of people did not work in jobs for thousands of years, but that they worked on farms. The peculiar form of work that we call “jobs” is roughly only two hundred years old, as old as the Industrial Revolution, and even when that system was first introduced many were skeptical and announced ominous predictions. By now the Job System suffers from a manifold and virulent pathology, and the time has therefore come to organize work anew, from the ground up: the Job System is now dying and the next system, New Work has to be created.


What is New Work? This book is a long and complex answer to this question. But, here, by way of introduction is a very short reply. Central to New Work is a reversal. You can express it first in the language of means and ends. In much of the past the task to be performed, was the goal, the end, the purpose. The human being was used by others, or also by himself, as the tool, the instrument, the mere means for the achieving of this end. We, human beings, subordinated ourselves. We placed ourselves into the service of work that needed to be done.

New Work is an effort, that has now gone on for over twenty years, to reverse this: we should not be serving work, but work should serve us. The work we do should not drain and exhaust us, it should give us more strength and more energy, it should develop us into fuller human beings.


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