Book Kiruna Management Researcher Worker

A unique workplace

They’re not easy to find and haven’t been re-issued, the 4×400 pages doctoral dissertation in economic history by Ulf Eriksson, entitled “Gruva och arbete. Kiirunavaara 1890-1990” (in Swedish, translated as “Mine and work. Kiirunavaara 1890-1990”). Published and defended in 1991 at Uppsala University, Eriksson (from Kiruna) presents an impressive, predominantly empirical, labour process history from inside the gates of the Kiruna mine.

We have once again got our hands on somebody else’s copies and couldn’t help translate a section since it triggers thoughts on the particular and peculiar workplace an underground mine constitutes. Let’s face it, a mine is not a clothing factory. Just think about going down the Kiruna mine and find yourself on a road linked to a road network of about 600 km, all underground. This presents a spatially interesting challenge to the organising of work and management control. Below, Eriksson reflects upon the difficulty of identifying any clear cause-and-effect relations between the introduction and development of new technology and the way work was organised, and argues that the mountain itself shouldn’t be underestimated:

“The perhaps single most important reason for the lack of immediate and direct causality-arrows between technology and organisation was that an adjustment always had to be done to the specific nature of the object of work, that is, to the limitations set by the mountain and the ore body’s geographic and structural peculiarities for the organisation of work. This, for example, was actualised in the case of management’s possibilities to in practice direct and control the work.” (Eriksson 1991, part III: 152)

Iron Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Union Worker

Storyteller #14 – on unions and strikes

Storyteller #14 is a man working above ground for over twenty years at LKAB in Kiruna. Below is an extract from our conversation where we talk about the worker collective and the role of the union.

– That time, around 1969/70 (the time of the big strike, spontaneously started by a worker in Svappavaara, not a strike organised by the union), when they began getting power over the workers, and when the union began being damn hollowed…

– That they are too weak?

– I think they are too weak.

– You mean that the workers will find other ways, just as they did in 69, when disappointed with…

– Today, I think the workers are rather tethered with rather demanding amortisations (a house or an apartment, a ski-doo etc.). They won’t strike. I don’t think so.

– They abide to…?

– You abide, I mean considering the debt burden they have, you see? Back then, you didn’t have a debt burden. It was more about surviving the day and putting food on the table. But today, you’ve lived so damn good for so many years. Especially if we think about those born in the 1990s who have now started to work for the company. They come directly from school, all of a sudden they have monthly salary of 30.000 (SEK). Hello?!

– Plus supplements?

– Plus supplements, you understand, it’s easy to get speed-blinded. And if you’re speed-blinded you accumulate debts. These guys who are, this is the perfect thing for the company, I mean those who remain after this “clean sweep” (lay-offs), the others have to sell the whole shebang, to someone, if there are someone who wants to buy.

– Yes, it’s a lot now. I mean, we can feel that, what you talked about previously, during 1969, then there were these old, time-study men who came down, too close and then a reaction. This wouldn’t happen now, not happen now.

– I’ve been part of the workers’ collective and been through at least three strikes, I think. 99 we had a strike, 2000 ah, when was it? 2002 or something like that, and then sometime around 2007. The thing is that in the works (above ground), we’ve never been prone to strike, but…

– Why?

– I don’t know why. We’ve been quite satisfied with the situation and we’ve had it quite good here. We’ve worked our shifts, had our weeks off. But under ground, in some way, it has become, I don’t know really what it’s all about. The strikes have always started under ground. If they start them under ground and then there is no ore coming up to the works and the works stand still, it’s not until then that management start reacting: “Ah, there is no pellets. What the hell!” And who do they come to then? Well, not to the source, but to the last step in the production process: “Why do you stand still?” Well, then you simply say: “We have no ore.” But we’ve been damn good at showing solidarity up here in the works. We’ve always taken their (the strikers under ground) side. I don’t always even know why they strike.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #12 – “when the company sneezes…

…the whole town gets a cold.” This is an old saying, repeated to us by storyteller #12, working for a contractor to the Company, LKAB.

– You use to say that when LKAB sneezes, the whole town gets a cold, so in these more difficult times we’re also influenced. We’ve had to lower our prices and all contractors have been summoned to LKAB to lower their prices.

– Yes, we’ve heard about this and even read about it in the media.

– Yes, it’s widely known.

– How are they in the negotiations then?

– It’s our owners (of the contractor) who are involved in that, I’m not part of it, but it’s surely a matter of give-and-take. It’s obvious that LKAB reads our annual accounts so maybe they draw their conclusions. We must also make money in order to develop so…

– So they can check your profit margins?

– Yes, absolutely, I believe they do, and through that they can say that ‘you could reduce this amount’. I think they do this, they are smart.

LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #9 – first line managers

Storyteller #9, a man, started working for the company before the famous worker collective strike in 1969/70. Working in a variety of positions, he reflects on the current, tough requirements on the first line managers in the company.

– …the first line managers have, first of all, upper management who pressures them from above. Then they have coworkers who pressure them as well. They are placed between two fires. […] Then it’s demanded that I to do more and more. I don’t have time for my coworkers. I’ve been a manager myself, I’ve always said that the most important role for the manager is to take care of the coworkers, give the coworkers the opportunities to do a safe and good job, give them the best possible conditions. That’s my obligation and my most important work task as a manager. But if I can’t be a manager for my coworkers, that I have to do administration and a lot of other stuff so that I don’t have time for coworkers, that’s the frustration a lot of these managers feel. They think, ‘I can’t do a good job, I’m not a good manager’.

Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #6 – visibility and organizational change

Storyteller #6 is a man who have worked above ground for 20 years, previously as a worker, now as a manager. His story is one about visibility and organizational change.

– When you change from under ground to above ground … (is that a change from ‘we’ to ‘them’?)

– That there are different practices of work, or?

– ‘We get the stone up, but you…’

– [—] Everybody works together and has different ways of working. You’ve always heard that it’s much freer under ground, and everything that’s tested by management is always tested here (above ground, first). They (under ground) have it better in this sense. They escape everything new that has to be tested.

– How do you mean exactly?

– All these different things, when they’re moving people (new ways of organizing groups) and situational changes, it always ends up last down there, so they avoid this.

– Guineapigs?

– Yes, that might be so, but it’s easier (for them).

– What do you think is the reason for this?

– [—] We’re easier to get at, to see and to test on. When people start to work under ground it seems as if they stay put (with their groups, their tasks). Up here it seems as if they’re shuffled around, people shift with each other, and a lot of other things. [—] At one place, where I worked for ten years, I had at least ten different managers. So, it was kind of an entry point for managers, but we were quite autonomous. For a while we were without a manager for six months. We didn’t need a manager, it worked perfectly.

Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #5 – management

This story about management is told by a man who have been working in the mine for a quarter of a century, both under and above ground, previously as a worker, now as a manager.

– I have my own theory: that it’s more trustworthy, for those (workers) who have to change, when a (a leader with experience of working in a mine) comes. ‘He’s one of us, so he knows what it’s all about’. Lately, I’ve learned to listen to those ‘down there’ (as in the hiearchy and as in under ground). Don’t be up here and go down and tell them that ‘now we do it like this’. It’s much better to try to ‘draw the map’, what are our goals, to get them to understand this also, without explicitly telling them (how to do it). Describe the problem, also from their point of view: ‘How shall we do this then?’ Most often, it does not turn out as I would’ve liked to have it, but it gets close enough.

– You are more reliable, or?

– I’ve seen many managers that have entered, having been assigned management roles (while lacking experience), and then they’ve quickly been ‘dribbled’ away by the personnel.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #4 – work and culture

Our storyteller #4 is a man, born and raised in Kiruna, a long-time miner, but who has now left LKAB. Below is a short but rather layered story on work and culture:

– There is a kind of escape tendency at LK(AB), people are curious about trying something new since LK is rather controlled. It’s a big company, there are a lot of meetings, there are unbelievably many protocols, and it shall… There are not many ways to take own decisions and so on, so it can be a bit tiresome to work in such an organization if you want a little more speed and action. But then again, as I use to say, LK is a thousand companies in one.

– At LK?

– Yes, it’s like every work-shift (group) is different from another. Some could be really committed and do a great job whereas the next work-shift could be the opposite. So you could never say that “at LK, it’s like this or that”. And then there are so many different occupations so it’s, LK is very, very broad, if I put it like that, both in terms of commitment and in all other ways. […] I get a little bit irritated with people, back then when I worked at LK, (who said) that “at LK you don’t do anything, you’re just sleeping” and so on. Then I knew how hard I worked. Those I knew worked just as hard too. Then there are also those who do nothing, who really tries to do nothing, puts a lot of energy into doing nothing.

Kiruna LKAB Management Union Worker

Different stories about the collective

Early on in the project we talked to workers and managers that had worked at the Kiruna mine for a long time. Among the topics discussed was whether or not there is a worker collective today; in a deeper sense than in terms of union membership. A collective who can collectively agree that they have had enough and from that act in unison.

At the time the story we heard (thus interpreted) was a story that sung along the chords of individualism; young people today are more individualistic, want to earn good money and go do fun things in their leisure time. They want pleasure, which does not rule out that they can work hard, it means that they have individual life expectations on and off work.

Recently, however, we’ve come across another tune. The experienced workers we’ve met recently counter this view, arguing that if pressed, there is still a very strong collective, comparable to the generation of 1969 (the famous Kiruna strike). One reason for this shift in tune and song might stem from the fact that the present time is precarious. The iron ore market are down, focus is on cost reductions (from expansion to defense), efficiency seeking re-organization, lay-offs etc. This implies increasing pressure on workers and what we may hear is actually the first signs of that enough is enough.

Kiruna LKAB Management Supplier Worker

Precarious times

Working life in the mine is not turbulent at the moment, not at all, but due to the current re-organization it’s very precarious, uncertain, insecure, unreliable, unsure, unpredictable…

This is not only the case for blue collar workers and white collar workers in service positions who are unsure of where employments will be cut (cause there’ll be cut downs), but also for managers, particularly middle managers. At LKAB in Kiruna, we’re told, all current management positions are made provisional, temporary, until further notice. One middle manager wrote to us about these precarious times, paraphrased: “Nobody knows who will end up where. The confusion is total.”

Talking to suppliers, even they feel these precarious times. One supplier told us that it’s like everybody is waiting, like a wet blanket over the town. We heard about a sub-contractor for the first time asking a contractor if it was possible to put the invoices on hold for a while.

Again, what happens in the mine, how the labour process is managed, always spills over into society. From the inside and out.

It is also interesting how the thesis about precarious work (as in Guy Standing’s “The Precariat”), often linked to the increasing use of different short-term employments creating a new class of people having to deal with chronic uncertainty, sneaks into a work environment that to a significant degree is permeated by permanent employments. From the outside and in.

Kiruna LKAB Management Music

End of the road? Part 4

We’re not allowed anymore to go inside the gates in Kiruna, to meet workers and managers during their work-time. This is the message from both LKAB:s top management and the chairman of the board, a message that is unfortunate for the project but that we, of course, will respect. The song “Outside the Gates” is an emotional response to this decision, but as the first line goes: “This is not an unhappy song!”

Below you find the lyrics and the audio file, but first we briefly summarize the arguments put forth by different parties that led to the decision:

From top management
The project is not sanctioned by LKAB.
The project is not aligned with the company’s goals and strategies.
We have tricked ourselves inside the gates by approaching lower-level managers.

The board of the company
Agrees with top management.
Don’t see why a state-owned company should have any special demands for transparency, for accommodating basic research. On the contrary, we are told that LKAB is just like any other company, competing on the market.

Our view
It’s basic research, which is why we cannot allow it to be controlled by anyone.
We meet, and have responsibility for, individuals; not artificial bodies such as corporations (or other organizations).
We’re not studying the company, but the labor process (that involves several other organizations).
Top management simply don’t like the project.

Click below for the audio file with the song (lyrics below; you might have to reload the page for the file to show):

Outside the gates – again (black piano keys and pouring rain)

Lyrics and music: Tommy Jensen
Piano, keyboards, vocals: Tommy Jensen

Backing vocals: Alica Minina

This is not an unhappy song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it’s in a minor key
And dressed-up in lo-fi style

It is a realistic song, yet somewhat hard
Hard to beat, hard to accept
But that’s part of the messiness in research

This is not a blame and shame song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it is about relational breakdown
And oozing of how corporate power interferes

It is a personal song, about failed dialogues
Hard to beat, hard to accept
Human interaction matter

Outside the gates we struggle where to go next
Outside the gates it feels as the project disappeared
Inside our minds we have to adapt
Inside our minds we have to overcome
What has now become a radically different endeavor
Calls for the “science of muddling through”
But what says that this is bad and disappointing?
Maybe there are other gates to be entered

This is not a complaint song
Don’t think twice about that
Just because it is mellow and slow
And sung with a low voice and hunged head

It is a hopeful song, full of promises
Hard to beat, hard to accept
Yet breakdowns
Leads to new questions

Book Researcher Review

Enacting a mining corporation

We’re reflecting on “Enacting the corporation: an American mining firm in post-authoritarian Indonesia” (University of California Press, 2014) by anthropologist Marina Welker.

Although in intervals, we read. We prefer to read books, preferably good books. Not all good books happen to be relevant to Organizing rocks, though, but reading Marina Welker’s book reminded us again that we should start sharing good readings on our blog (a review of Stuart Kirsch’s “Mining capitalism” is on its way), hopefully inspiring others to pick up these books!

Welker focuses on the American company Newmont Mining, at its headquarters in Denver, USA, and at its Batu Hijau Copper and Gold mine in Sumbawa, Indonesia, following social relations and material practices tied to the company’s “ameliorative disciplines” (as CSR and environment). She sets out to “show that people enact corporations in multiple ways, and that these enactments involve struggles over the boundaries, interests, and responsibilities of the corporation” (p 1). We read it as a resistance to static, simplistic and reductionist accounts of corporations’ role and responsibilities. Both radical corporate critics and neoliberals tend to reduce the idea of the corporation to a homo economicus profit machine, but although an idea with some currency on a higher level, in practice, it is very difficult to identify such a pure enactment of the corporation.

For us, as rather eclectic organizational scholars inspired by Erving Goffman, Zygmunt Bauman, John Law, Annemarie Mol (great to see her in Welker’s book), Richard Rorty, Barbara Czarniawska, and many, many others, this is not a novel idea, but that doesn’t mean that our field celebrates complexity, ‘contextuality’, materiality and contradictions! On the contrary, we see Welker’s study as more important than ever given the complexity of the role and responsibilities of the corporation in our ambivalent times. Tracing the corporation across time and space, from Denver to Sumbawa, from the archives to ‘here and now’, through social relations and material practices, Welker shows that “enactments are provisional, context-specific, and variously successful and resonant” (p 6). Albeit with a different phenomena in focus – the labor process – we are trying to do something similar with Organizing rocks.

Particularly interesting is Welker’s discussion on how two main competing and co-existing enactments of the corporation seem to be at work: the patronage model and the sustainable development model. The patronage model is where “the company acts as a surrogate state providing jobs, tangible welfare, and infrastructure to local communities” (p 69), as sitting on a “pot of money”, in our Swedish case a model very much practiced and expected by local people in Kiruna of the owner of the Kiruna mine, LKAB. The sustainable development model is to some extent neoliberal “as it embraces programs that cost less than those of the patronage model and transfers responsibility for community welfare from the company to community members themselves or the state” (p 71), also as a kind of help to self-help, of developing a set of entrepreneurial skills (the role of the state, however, might differ here from the neoliberal model). This model is recognizable in how top management at LKAB enacts the role and responsibility of the corporation, particularly in its treatment of suppliers and in its role in the move of central parts of Kiruna, where they to some extent try to move away from the patronage model.

Echoing what we recognize in our project then is that: “From a cosmopolitan CSR perspective, sustainability occupied the moral high ground; but in the local moral economy, a patronage approach formed a political and practical necessity” (p 102). A bit harshly but very vividly put by a Newmont manager advocating more of a sustainable development model: “After the spaceship landed, everyone wanted to get on it. What they didn’t understand was that it was going to leave and wouldn’t be taking them along.” (p 104) LKAB and the Kiruna mine have a longer history (a marriage) with the town of Kiruna, but dealing with finite resources, there’ll be a day when the spaceship leaves Spaceland.

Reading the book we get several other associations and without spoiling your own reading there are excellent stuff on social distance (leaving HQ in Denver vs. leaving the Newmont’s Townsite in Sumbawa), the diffusion of corporate and capitalistic values (from HQ in Denver, in local ‘entrepreneurial trainings’ in Sumbawa), corporate strategy of transparency (where being transparent backfired on the company), supplier relations (hiring locals, unskilled vs skilled jobs, making the contracting process more competitive and suppliers more ‘individualized’), the complexities of alliances of interest (between company representatives and local community and NGOs), how local communities are affected by a mine (pollution, a gated Townsite), and the complex role of the state (as regulator, business partner, owner, responsible for building infrastructure etc.). The book can also be read with an interest in qualitative and participatory research methodology.

Regarding Welker’s empirical material, she has tremendous access to the mining company, spending six months at Newmont HQ and one and a half year in Sumbawa, inside and outside the gates (this issue is something that has been debated here on the Organizing rocks blog). Welker states that she has “independent funding for my research and no contractual restrictions on what I might publish” (p 7). That sounds almost too good to be true when having access to ‘the corporate inside’, but reading the book, we don’t get the feeling that Welker has had to compromise on her intellectual integrity. She is careful in her account when it comes to individuals, which resonates well with the research ethics guidelines we also follow. Later in the book, however, she states: “I believe they [the managers letting her in] saw the potential for an experiment in enacting Newmont as a transparent corporation” (p 34). So, there might be something here (see also Emily Eaton’s blogpost from February 8, On Cozying up to corporations, and Stuart Kirsch’s response on March 24, Mining capitalism and corporate ethnography), but then again, there’ll always be interests and they always have to be handled. Welker reflects explicitly on this and also seems to have sold the idea of ‘no contractual restrictions’ to Newmont and perhaps other mining companies can pick up on it. We’re still struggling with this issue in the Organizing rocks project. It would be interesting to learn how Newmont’s executives have received this book.

In sum, Welker’s book is s a very impressive and enjoyable read. She is reflexive considering her epistemology, navigates among literary giants and recent research, writes in an accessible style (she’s very much in the text, we love it!), reveals an impressive empirical material, and, most important of all, has an important message about scholars embracing rather than reducing the complexities of how a corporation is enacted and the consequences of this for its role and responsibilities in society. We’re glad she focused on mining!

A final reflection: “If the corporation is multiple, then our analytics must be multiple as well” (p 218), yes, but we read this in a research monograph and although it proves to be a very good injection to our own thinking, what about “multiple” in terms of how research is communicated? When do we get to see the “Enacting the corporation” movie and hear the song?


Book Kiruna LKAB Management Media Union Worker

Working hard or hardly working?

On March 18, local newspapers report that two workers at LKAB:s iron ore mine in Malmberget (125 km from Kiruna) have been caught furnishing a secret sleeping room at work. On March 26, they are fired. Two other workers chose to resign.

On March 20, we arrive in Kiruna, and the first person we meet is the man delivering the rental car. He is born and raised in Kiruna, and used to work in the Kiruna mine when he was younger. About miners sleeping at work, also in the Kiruna mine, he just laugh: “Everybody knows!”.

Yes, we’ve also heard this from our many conversations with workers, managers and others in Kiruna, although we must state that we have never seen one of these sleeping spaces ourselves. We have, however, met those who said that they can point such a space out to us. Reactions in social media also reveal that “sleepworkers” seems to be a well-known phenomenon, although this is questioned by the company’s information manager as a way of talking without necessarily knowing that this phenomenon exists in practice.

Both a union representative and the company’s information manager state that sleeping during formal breaks is okay, but not when you’re supposed to work. Perhaps we have to be self-critical, the information manager adds, how this particular case could be allowed to happen.

Several questions are actualized by this event. Assuming that sleeping at work, to a large or small extent, is a real phenomenon,

  • why bring this to media, at this particular time? On March 20, the CEO is in the papers talking about difficult years to come. Does this have anything to do with going public with the sleepworkers?
  • where is management? The workers are revealed and fired, but what about managers? If this is well-known by people outside the gates, it must be known by managers as well. It seems that only the sleeping workers are held responsible and what message is thereby sent to workers (and managers and external stakeholders)?
  • how is it that sleepworkers’ efforts are not made visible? Their efforts should be missed by management and made visible when performance is measured, no?

Underground workers we’ve met talk about the importance of a good work morale and that those workers who work should be at work, nobody else (see the first video with Ronja from October 22, 2015, and the one with Göran from October 15, 2015, for example). We recently heard from an underground worker that they now work harder than ever in order to handle the pressure to increase productivity. In Swedish: “Vi sliter som aldrig förr”. But still, some workers are not.

Swedish sociologist Roland Paulsen, in his book “Empty labor” (Cambridge University Press, 2014), states that: ”sleeping employees represent a theoretical challenge to the supposed rationality of wage labor” (xiii). Empty labor, as “everything you do at work that is not your work” (p 5), is not only very common but also very under-researched, particularly if we see beyond collective ideas about idleness and workplace resistance and zoom in on how and why individuals manage to not work at work. After all, empty labor “can be a trap; it can be a way of coping, a personal pleasure, or a type of sabotage, depending on the organizational context and the subjective intent of the employee” (p 41).

Does sleepworking imply that organizational rationality has to be re-thought, so as to make room for (but not necessarily accept) sleepworking as part of a rational phenomena of organizations, or does it infer a stronger focus to defend the current, dominant discourse of organizational rationality? We lean towards the former (and towards studies – and others – that take such a perspective seriously).

Book Nature Researcher Stuart

Mining capitalism and corporate ethnography

Below, please find a text by Stuart Kirsch, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, author of (among many other texts) Mining capitalism (University of California Press, 2014):

“Response to Organizing Rocks blog

Many thanks for engaging with the discussion in Mining Capitalism about corporate ethnography. The question of attachment to the subject or object of scientific research is even broader than our immediate concern: we tend to develop long-standing commitments to that which we study. For example, many of the wildlife biologists I know have gone on to become active conservationists to ensure the survival of the species they study, and archaeologists and historians may see their role as actively preserving the memories of societies and individuals that might otherwise fade from recognition.

But within corporate environments, empathy isn’t the only risk. Corporations possess powerful modes of disciplining employees, which extend to internal reformers and whistle-blowers. Internalizing and domesticating critique is what lets corporations claim that while critics may have been right to target them with environmental criticism in the past, it is no longer necessary to do so as they’ve already taken these messages on board, and consequently have reformed their operations to address concerns about sustainability. Hence the popular corporate oxymorons of “sustainable mining” and “clean coal” promoted by the industry.

Moreover, it is hard to imagine that ethnographers are capable of avoiding these forms of soft power entirely, even though we may try to convince ourselves of our independence. An interesting point of comparison is the relationship between the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry. Most doctors and researchers will say that they are not influenced by their financial relationship to ‘Big Pharma’, although they are less confident that the same holds true for their peers. Consequently, there have been significant reforms within the medical establishment to manage these relationships over the past decade, which mandate disclosure and attention to conflicts of interest.

While some of these measures trickle down to the social sciences through various oversight mechanisms, including ethical procedures established by institutional review boards, these policies are established primarily by people in the medical and natural sciences, and therefore may not be sufficient for our needs. Yet social scientists remain confident they can successfully navigate these relationships without any significant impact on their work, much like the majority of physicians prior to these reforms.

One of the ways this affects research on the mining industry is the often negative and sometimes dismissive reaction to social movements and nongovernmental organizations that are critical of industry practices. Close affiliations with mining companies — including driving around in company vehicles, wearing their hardhats, bunking in their facilities, and eating in their mess — may also alienate researchers from these NGOs, who are skeptical of social scientists who appear to have been captured or co-opted by industry. Furthermore, the mining industry has the resources to marshal data that is seen to trump anything produced by their under-resourced critics by virtue of their superior access to data and apparent thoroughness. Ironically, however, external critics tend to have a better track record than the industry in predicting future impacts from mining operations, which tend to be far more optimistic than is warranted.(1)

But I completely agree with the posters that we have to interact with and interview mining company personnel, and understand that getting access to mine sites and environmental data produced by mining companies is an essential part of doing research in this arena, even if this requires us to wear their hats on occasion. My only caveat is that we need to remain vigilant to the risks of cooptation and corporate discipline in these encounters, reservations that we all appear to share.

(1) See, for example, the study by Kuipers and others (2006) that shows how environmental impact assessments conducted by mining companies systematically underestimate their their impact on water quality (Kuipers, J.R., A.S. Maest, K.A. MacHardy, and G. Lawson. 2006. Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines: The Reliability of Predictions in Environmental Impact Statements. Prepared for Earthworks. 195 pp. Available online at:”

The picture heading this blogpost is of Johan and Tommy in the visitors mine in Kiruna, Sweden.

Management Music Worker


“No hands in the mine” – a Utopian tale driven by technological advances, but also very much a real thing, something that is happening in the world of mining. It is thus not something that only belongs to the visionary, it is also very strategic and concrete. Over time, there are less hands in the mine as miners are replaced by machines or moved to control rooms above ground, joysticking the machines.

A research group at Johan’s university in Luleå estimates that we might see the first fully automated mine in about twenty years and Sweden is in the forefront. Click here for a news flash of their research (unfortunately in Swedish).

It is also, of course, a story of tensions, well-covered in social history in general and management history in particular. Technology development, and technological processes, and their relations to manual labour have many facets. And indeed, many facets have been revealed by social scientists and arts. Automation might make work less hard and risky, but it might also make it less humane, more mundane, and even play a part in the deskilling of labour.

In the song below, a few different perspectives of this story is covered. The song itself is meant to be moving (different chord structures for the same basics) while also being rather monotone. Iggy Pop’s “Mass production” was a great inspiring peace. Enjoy the song by clicking on the file just below (you might have to reload this page for the audiofile to show!):


Lyrics: Johan Sandström
Music: Tommy Jensen
Instruments and vocals: Tommy Jensen

Science says hey
Twenty years from now
The underground workers
Are call-center miners

Company says hey
Twenty years from now
The hands to control
Are holding the stick

The operator says hey
But can’t be seen
A whisper in the dark
A cyber voice

The manager says hey
It’s safety first
From stones on head
To the paper-cut miner

”Proximity detection” in a global mine
Manual labour in an automated mine
Facing the unknown in a standardized mine

”Proximity detection” in a global mine

The mine says hey
More human flexibility
More human adaptability
Too much technology

Automation, automation
No hands in the mine
Automation, automation
No minds in the mine
Automation, automation
No mine without hands
Automation, automation
No mine without minds

Automation, automation, automation