Harvard University

Trends In Technology And Labor Relations

SECTION 1: Forces behind technology and innovation


The twentieth century was one of the most technologically driven centuries in history. It was marked with diffusion, and transformation of technologies in almost every sphere of life. This has resulted in greater interdependence between nations. However, there are still some countries left behind. The essay seeks to examine the reasons or triggers behind these discrepancies. It will also examine some of the factors that caused the technology boom in the twentieth century and some of the likely causes in the next fifty years.

Forces behind technological innovations in the 20th Century

Technological innovations in the twentieth Century range from mechanized farming, industrial developments and product enhancements. There are various explanations for these changes depending on the areas one is focusing on. For instance, in the early twentieth Century, mechanized farming was adopted because several countries had acquired vast amounts of land and their territories had expanded. This meant that the ratio of farmers to land was quite low, there was a need to look for more feasible methods of farming hence the rise in mechanized farming. (Gardner, 2002)

Industrial developments were triggered by social trends among many other reasons. First of all, consumers in the western world became quite busy. They were also increasingly affluent and there was more demand for industrially manufactured goods. These consumers required goods on time and they needed to access them conveniently. Consequently, manufacturers had to look for methods that could accommodate these pressures. There was more specialization and commodities were now created in a larger scale. All these changes necessitated the employment of technology and innovation (Glass, 2006)

Possible triggers in the future

As the world’s consumption rates are increasing day by day, there is increasing concern about sustainability. Many experts agree that current consumption trends may not leave enough resources for future generations. This is especially in relation to exhaustible resources such as fuel, food, water and wood products. As a result, it is likely that most technological innovations in the future will concentrate on sustainability. Most of them will focus on nature or will be produced in such a way that they enhance environmental sustainability. If current industrial trends are anything to go by, then chances are that the future will embrace greener technology. For instance, the automobile industry is currently producing hybrid SUVs. The outstanding feature about the latter vehicles is that they consume much less fuel due to engine modifications. The world may replace current vehicles with the latter type. (Glass, 2006)

Additionally, there are numerous companies that are struggling to stay afloat in the competitive market place today. As a result, some of them are employing technological innovations in order to enhance their competitiveness. It is very likely that more companies will use technology to stay ahead. Therefore, competition will be an important trigger of technological innovations in the next fifty years.

Disparities between some parts of the world in relation to technological advance

While the world is becoming increasingly interdependent, one cannot ignore the fact that there are still some countries that have been left behind in the field of technology. Telephone networks, computer applications and manufacturing developments differ tremendously across the globe. The major reason for these differences is poverty. Some countries, especially those in Sub Saharan Africa are plagued with massive crises. They are still trying to deal with basic problems such as lack of food, disease and low literacy rates. Consequently, such countries may not worry about embracing the latest broadband technologies or other innovations. (Glass, 2006)

The next question that one needs to ask is what the reasons behind wealth disparities in the world are. Many sub-Saharan countries are plagued with insurmountable levels of corruption. Politicians consider power as an avenue of self enrichment. There are also cultural and religious tensions between inhabitants. Some of them have reached levels that caused war between them.


Technological innovations in the twentieth century were sparked by the need to be more time efficient, greater consumer power and changing social trends. The future will be characterized by more emphasis on sustainability and competitiveness. (Gardner, 2002)

SECTION 2: Trends in labor relations


There are numerous reasons why workers can smile in the future. Labor relations have come a long way from the docile role they played back in the twentieth century at that time, workers ere considered as instruments and their needs did not take precedence over production. However, current workplace relations are centered on the fact that every worker is a resource. Consequently, if their needs are met adequately, then the employee will be satisfied and will contribute towards competitive advantage.

Reasons to be optimistic about the future of labor relations in the western world

Given the facts mentioned above, it is very likely that workplace relations in the next fifty years will improve greatly. Employers are now taking their human resource as a valuable asset. This means that the more they improve the workplace environment, the higher their returns. (ICEM, 1996)Employers are now coordinating with their employees; they are giving them opportunities to own shares in their respective companies. This is a trend that will be amplified in the future. Additionally, more employers are engaging with their employees by allowing them to make decisions affecting the company. This is something that will grow in the future. Employers have also realized that training and development can boost their work force. This is making employees more competent and confident in their jobs while at the same time boosting production.

Employees are also getting more informed, most of them have access to vast amounts of information concerning their rights as workers. This means that they have the capacity to sue companies. This trend is likely to spread throughout the world especially in African and Asian countries where workers may not voice out their discrepancies freely or openly.

Since the world is becoming more global, then chances are that there will be more influential workers’ unions. In the past, employers used to consider trade unions as an impediment to their progress. They believed that trade unions would look out for worker’s interests and leave employers out to dry. Even if this view persists in the future, trade unions will become more vigilant in the future. This is because there is overwhelming support for them in the media. Large companies that disallow their workers to participate in trade unions activities are getting negative publicity. The latter issue hurts revenue streams for such companies and this may eventually force them to embrace the phenomenon. (International Transport Workers Federation, 1996)

In relation to the above, trade unions may eventually become transnational. Various countries have differing traditions and technological adoptions. Consequently, workplace relations that are considered mandatory in one country may be a mere luxury in another. But because of technological advancements, workers in seemingly oppressive regimes may gain access to workplace practices in other countries. Their means that they may want to partake of those benefits and this may prompt them to join forces with those respective countries. It is likely that this will result in international trade unions. Such groups will be fundamental because they have greater abilities to exert pressure upon existing government structures. Their activities can be likened to the work conducted by international organizations like the United Nations. They have been responsible for making many changes in the social, political and economic arena of member countries. The same can be said of workplace relations in the next fifty years.


Labor relations will be friendlier to the worker in the next fifty years so there is a reason to be optimistic. This is because there is greater diffusion of technology in every day life and this will roll over into the future. More employees know their rights and are willing to fight for them too. Additionally, employers believe in satisfying their employees’ needs so as to boost competitive advantage. The future may be characterized by influential trade unions, internationalization of trade unions and better workplace practices.


Gardner, B. (2002): American Agriculture in the 20th Century; Harvard University Press, pp 43

Glass, B. (2006): Technology of the 1900s; National Museum of American History Journal

ICEM (1996): The union response to global capital, Pluto Press, pp 68

International Transport Workers Federation (1996): Transport workers: Beyond 2000; London, ITF Progress Report, pp. 7-8

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