Archive for the ‘of engineering and engineers’ Category

The generation of skilled (construction) workers.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

NYT recently reported that “a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that 88 percent of commercial construction contractors reported moderate-to-high levels of difficulty finding skilled workers, and more than a third had to turn down work because of labor deficiencies.” Like all other sectors construction in India is also largely labour intensive and productivity is not primarily driven by technological or process improvements. But this fact aside, the general picture is very likely similar in India with the generation of skilled steelworkers, carpenters or masons retiring and the new generation is not trained enough for the kind of work society needs today and is not interested in construction work.

The planning framework suggested in the previous post must therefore include an industrial and construction workforce development program. In manufacturing, work can be divided into minute repetitive small tasks but on the worksite, the nature of work keeps changing to varying degrees as the project progresses – so the intensive division of labour ad hence making do with unskilled workers is very difficult. The alternative to a skilled construction workforce is delays in project completion (i.e. waste of time and material and human resources) and/or unsatisfactory quality of work.

Climate considerations in contemporary public work tenders

Sunday, September 12th, 2021



The current pre-tender public works procedure looks something like this: a primary investigation by the concerned department is undertaken to assess the financial and technical feasibility of the proposed project with approximate estimates, which when gets the consent of the department goes for a detailed investigation that if gets the technical approval comes out as the document for tender and work contract – including drawings, bill of quantities and specifications.

Nowhere in this two-stage investigation and approval process, ecological feasibility is examined as an independent factor in the work project. But this stage is quite crucial as the project once notified for tender almost never gets terminated and extensively revised for environmental reasons. Which is understandable because at this stage a lot of material resource, manpower, and political calculas has already been mobilized. Therefore, climate and environmental activists should focus on the policy framework determining the initial approval of public infrastructure projects.

Such a framework must become the law of the land – like the Climate Change Act 2008 in the UK. But given the fact that India is reluctant to even revise its climate goals that is a very difficult task. And even such a law with strict emission targets will not be sufficient to govern particular projects because the impact of a single work, especially small projects like single lane roads, is usually very low even over the infrastructure’s lifetime. But the cumulative effect of all projects in a region or of a megaproject with various sub-projects – like Sagar Mala do have a massive greenhouse impact.

Hence the need for planning. Planning will not only make the ecological assessment and hence the construction of a range of public infrastructure (and possibly private infrastructure) within the biophysical limits of the planet but also give the opportunity to make more just and equitable infrastructure – where the relationships of various projects and their relationship with society and classes within it is better scrutinized.

Infrastructure for a free society?

Friday, August 27th, 2021

It is a curious fact that anarchist-communists have so far given merely scant attention to the issue of infrastructure in a free society. Kropotkin famously focused on fields, factories, and workshops but not on flyovers, canals, and water pipelines. Reclus gave passing remarks on the importance of modern transit systems to a cosmopolitan free world. Since then, activists and scholars of the workers’ control movement have focused on manufacturing and recently on services and logistics.

While 100% of the built environment that humans and many other species now inhabit is constructed by underpaid, unappreciated and forgotten workers on sites using largely tools and apparatus developed, improved, and perfected over millennia by the working intellectual-craftspeople.

While also, the infrastructure sector is one of the largest contributors of GHGs and at the same time one of the best tools for emission mitigation and social adaptation. Infrastructure reflects and perpetuates social inequalities. And at the time of terminal global economic downturn, it is the sector getting the most attention in corporate board rooms and parliaments. All this calls for more and serious attention to the engineered world around us and its future.

An engineers contribution to class struggle.

Saturday, August 21st, 2021

I learned yesterday that Mike Cooley had passed away almost a year ago. Ever since I came across his work in the mid-2010s it has shaped my social thinking and activity in definitive ways. He along with Seymour Melman and Tony Mazzocchi was a pioneering example of what the intersection of engineering, labour organizing, demilitarization, and radical environmental and health activism ought to look like.

The value of this intersectional politics has increased multifold during our period of chronic emergency – from covid to daily and diverse impacts of climatic collapse, from dismantling of standard employment structures to the historic rise in unemployment. Mike was instrumental in preparing the Lucas Plan. A corporate plan that aimed to transform the war economy to civilian economy and produce socially useful products under worker control.

Mike summed up what socially useful production sought to achieve like this: “We have, for example, complex control systems which can guide a missile to another continent with extraordinary accuracy, yet the blind and the disabled have to stagger around our cities in very much the same way as they did in medieval times.”

Now we have vehicles that can “see” but the disabled, because they are not a profitable market, still await the 21st century. This is not due to technological insufficiency or unavailability but due to capitalism’s preference for profitable and wasteful production, just like it was not profitable for capitalist institutions to fund preventive research on the coronavirus when epidemiologists started warning in 2016 or even produce ventilators or hospital beds.

If the military spending and the incalculable cost of what our society has to forego to sustain it continue to increase at the same pace there is no way to transform our economy to an even a version of capitalism that can prevent irreversible dive toward uninhabitable earth.

But we can neither progress towards producing and constructing what the degrading environment demands nor cut military budget nor prevent job loss because these are not technocratic matters that some right kind of corporate or political leadership or some technological breakthrough can realize. As Mike always noted that these demands are a direct threat to corporate and political managerial power over society. They can only be won by power struggle – by class struggle.