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Licence to work in changing market

LICENSED TO WORK, by Barrie Sherman and Phil Judkins, Cassell, Pounds 13.99

The latest innovation to come from that small band of future-watchers studying life in post-industrial Britain is the "licence to work".

Given that there's not enough to go round, share it. But how is this to be done?

In the late 70s and early 80s when Barrie Sherman was director of research for the Association of Scientific Technical Managerial and Supervisory Staff he wrote several books with the union's leader, Clive Jenkins, on the effects of new technology.

Now he has teamed up with Phil Judkins, a broadcaster frustrated by media that have neither time nor incentive to deal with anything in detail. Their book joins a number of recent publications in recognising that Western economies cannot return to full employment without redefining both words.

This is not to prophecy "the end of work" like Jeremy Rifkin but to challenge what two other American writers, Aronowitz and DiFazio, call "the dogma of Work" in their book The Jobless Future.

However, unlike Mike Cooley - another writer on this subject from a trade union background - Sherman and Judkins demand full employment but not full-time employment. Instead, they advocate "a licence in the form of a micro-electronic smart card, allowing a person to be employed as a form of work-sharing combined with a basic minimumguaranteed or citizen's income".

In other words, a place at work is guaranteed until the quota on the smart card runs out. This licence to work would go some way toward meeting what they describe as "a combination of events unique in industrial times" in which "loss of employment across the entire range of employment possibilities has combined with a global market of transferable skills . . . technology and finance".

As a result, "individuals confront a world in which the solid certainties of their class, job, religion, morals and personal relationships appear to be slipping from their grasp".

This analysis is sustained by an array of economic argument, social observation and political polemic, including a head-on confrontation with prevailing education orthodoxy for the authors would "ban dedicated vocational qualifications from schools" (and colleges and universities).

They also attack the widespread notion that "most future jobs will be 'knowledge intensive'".

This is therefore a provocative book that should be widely read and is written to be widely accessible.

It is thus unfortunate that the authors concede, "It would of course be far better if we could arrange society somewhat differently, so that these licences were never needed".

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