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Automation Is Making Unions Irrelevant

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the skynet-just-wants-to-flip-burgers dept.

The Almighty Buck 510

dcblogs writes "Michigan lawmakers just approved a right-to-work law in an effort to dismantle union power, but unions are already becoming irrelevant. The problem with unions is they can't protect jobs. They can't stop a company from moving jobs overseas, closing offices, or replacing workers with machines. Indeed, improvements in automation is making the nation attractive again for manufacturing, according to U.S. intelligence Global Trends 2030 report. The trends are clear. Amazon spent $775 million this year to acquire a company, Kiva Systems that makes robots used in warehouses. Automation will replace warehouse workers, assembly-line and even retail workers. In time, Google's driverless cars will replace drivers in the trucking industry. Unions sometimes get blamed for creating uncompetitive environments and pushing jobs overseas. But the tech industry, which isn't unionized, is a counterpoint. Tech has been steadily moving jobs overseas to lower costs."

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Title is misleading (5, Insightful)

pkbarbiedoll (851110) | about 2 years ago | (#42294337)

Automation is making human labor irrelevant, regardless of union participation.

Re:Title is misleading (2)

NFN_NLN (633283) | about 2 years ago | (#42294607)

Cool, now we can do to other industries what we've already done to our own.

Re:Title is misleading (2, Insightful)

bjourne (1034822) | about 2 years ago | (#42294615)

Automation is only making human labour irrelevant as long as it is cheaper. Low labour costs means there is no incentive to invest in automation. Which is why Japan and Sweden has the highest number of industrial robots per capita in the world. Evil unions that drive labour costs through the roof and forces poor companies to automate.

Re:Title is misleading (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#42294871)

Yeah, and as we all know Sweden is the country with the highest unemployment humanly possible and its economy is about to collapse. People are rioting in the streets and even camp outside ... no, wait, that wasn't Sweden...

Re:Title is misleading (2)

fredprado (2569351) | about 2 years ago | (#42295089)

Sweden has a very small population. Japan, on the other hand, is having considerable problems with unemployment.

Re:Title is misleading (4, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | about 2 years ago | (#42294649)

Automation is shifting repetitive, uncreative, brutish work to repetitive, uncreative, brutish machines, thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

No consolation to the workers who can't find new jobs, I know. But for the larger society, the benefits outweigh the costs.

In every change some prosper, some lose. But the same happens in every status quo. We may as well choose technological progress.

If we are compassionate, we can give the displaced workers opportunities to learn new skills.

Re:Title is misleading (5, Interesting)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 2 years ago | (#42295055)

The big problem is simply that people are used to living an advantageous life over other people.

You see this all the time with people complaining about being paid the minimum wage.

Well what is wrong with the minimum wage? Someone has to be paid the minimum wage. Those paid higher than the minimum wage simply take advantage of the labor of those paid less and get more 'stuff' in life.

The public school teacher only has a 'good job' because some waiter is being paid minimum wage so they can go out to eat on a weekend. Because some textile worker is earning minimum wage assembling clothes and the teacher can get a new pair of jeans every few months...

The position is privilege is what union workers are used to. Both in the public sector and the private sector.

Ultimately, technology is going to make us more egalitarian. There might be a few rich people in charge of the robots that provide us with cheap goods, but you know what will get to the average Joe... that they cannot complete with the average Joe's anymore.

In a more egalitarian society... who gets to live in Downtown Manhatten in the 'nice' neighborhood close to transit? Answer that question without saying one person earns more than another.

I too don't fear technology. But I do fear humanity.
Humans love to take advantage of each other.
The 'evil' banker, the teacher, the police officer, the businessman, the engineer... we all in general want to live a better life than someone else.

To truly take advantage of this technological progress, we must rid ourselves of this. That will be the hardest challenge.

We all *know* the solution to this.
Things like work sharing, decreased dependency on economy growth...
The question is how will societies transition their people to this model.
How will they convince public sector unions, doctors, lawyers... that their standard of living will be that of the average citizen?

Change of this sort is hard at the political level and social level. You're talking about changing the social situation of millions and millions of people who are used to a certain kind of living.

Forget about the displaced workers for a second.
Most of these displaced workers are in the private sector... and much of the created need is in the public sector or public related sector (healthcare, education, transit...)

At some point the lack of tax money paid by these displaced private sector workers is going to hit the pocket books of government wanted to spend on the public related sector. Wait a minute... I think this is where we pretty much are.

So no matter how many new skills you give these displaced workers, there isn't any money or perhaps even need to give them all jobs in the new field at the current going rate of those fields.

And you're back to tackling establishments in the banking sector, public sector... and taking away a life of privilege and jobs from millions upon millions of people.
Can't say that is going to be easy to transition to... and you can expect a lot of social unrest in the process.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

volmtech (769154) | about 2 years ago | (#42295303)

If I could think clearer that is exactly what I would have said. To bad I have no mode points this week.

Re:Title is misleading (4, Insightful)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | about 2 years ago | (#42295349)

I agree with much of your analysis.
However the speed of technological change, and the rate at which human labor becomes irrelevant, are quickly outpacing any kind of egalitarian drive in human society, any kind of evolution as a species regarding our interactions with one another.

The reality is, in the next 50 years much of the human race, especially in the developed world, will become irrelevant to the "machine world" that will replace human labor. The systems in place to support the lifestyles of those in control won't need the millions of permanently un-employed, and they won't foot the bill for some kind of social welfare system to keep them quiet.

More likely a permanent state of drugged obedience via constant virtual escapism while being constantly controlled and monitored by the omniscient security apparatus.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | about 2 years ago | (#42295435)

I don't disagree with you at all :)

Much of my post was about 'truly taking advantage of the technology'.

I do fear humanity, as I said in my post, and I think what you say is a perfectly plausible outcome.

Re:Title is misleading (2, Funny)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#42295087)

Just look at all the unemployed blacksmiths since the advent of the automobile.

Re:Title is misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295231)

Modern "blacksmiths" are called engineers.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#42295097)

If we are compassionate, we can give the displaced workers opportunities to learn new skills.

From a purely economic standpoint, compassion has little to do with it. Either find new work for them or be prepared to support them. Or, see how civil insurrection looks on a balance sheet.

As we move towards a post scarcity society some questions are raised that can only be answered by something closely resembling central wealth redistribution. Not full blown communism but the guarantee of a reasonable standard of living for everyone, with the opportunity to get more if you want to. Much of Europe is basically operating on this principle at the moment, and as time passes I feel we'll see a higher standard emerge.

As such, it's pretty much essential that we focus on figuring out how best to help people learn and reach their potential.

Easy to say. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295115)

In every change some prosper, some lose.

That's real easy to say when you're not the one losing.

"Some people lose, but it's for the good of society. Fuck'em."

When folks lose hope and can't find work, they start protesting and torching cities.

When we focus on just the technology without understanding the social problems that may ensue and how to help those to adjust, we are headed down a very dangerous path for our society.

Re:Title is misleading (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295133)

Automation is shifting repetitive, uncreative, brutish work to repetitive, uncreative, brutish machines, thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

In theory.

But you forgot one tiny, vital thing:

This here's AMERICA, baby! Wooooo! Ain't NOBODY say we done gonna do no noble shit for no other people! I gots me my twenty-eight kids ta look after! And how you think my liquor budget's gonna hold out if'n I gotta take some bullshit booklearnin' classes ta get me a damn JOB?!? Nope, this here's what one o' them amennments is for, just like Uncle Teddy* said! We all gots to go take back wut's rightfully ours from them smarty-pants intellectual-types who sit in front of computers all day, starin' at numbers and shit! Hell, I do more of that, and I look at pictures! And a picture's worth a thousand words! Some o' them words gotta be numbers, right? So git goin'! The womenfolk best stay behind and get dinner ready, 'cuz me and the boys, we goin' out to be JOB CREATORS!!!

*: Nugent.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42295145)

Automation is shifting repetitive, uncreative, brutish work to repetitive, uncreative, brutish machines, thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

LOL mostly "uncreative, brutish work" just not so much repetitive. And especially "un/underemployed" which is no badge of nobility.

No consolation to the workers who can't find new jobs, I know. But for the larger society, the benefits outweigh the costs.

Let them eat cake. Until the revolution, anyway. If there's one lesson of the 1900s, if the czars were smart enough to issue food stamps, they'd still be in charge.

Re:Title is misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295163)

The benefits don't outweigh the costs because those replaced workers still need to pay ever increasing prices to food, shelter, and anything else they need. Using machines doesn't make the prices go down, they make the company's profits go up. This provides the company with more money to by smarter and smarter machines. The people making the machines keep their jobs (me, yay), but machines replace more people than those who are employed to make them.

Re:Title is misleading (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295319)

It's also idiotic... because who buys the stuff? It's the lower/middle class people that buy the vast majority of things. You replace their jobs with robots... they don't have any money to buy things and your economy grinds to a halt.

Nice work greedy fucks - kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Henry Ford - for all his bad qualities understood this - he paid his workers well because they used their spare income to buy his cars. Robots don't buy the cars they build.

Re:Title is misleading (4, Interesting)

blue trane (110704) | about 2 years ago | (#42295245)

We should challenge the economics that says we can't create money and give it to people. In fact we created $16 trillion (enough to pay off the entire national debt) in two years to bail out financial unions (source: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=9e2a4ea8-6e73-4be2-a753-62060dcbb3c3 [senate.gov] ).

The best option (that I can think of, at least) is to give everyone a basic income (an idea that goes back to Founding Father Thomas Paine in his 1795 Agrarian Justice [constitution.org] ), and stimulate innovation and technological progress with challenges from both biz and govt (X Prize, DARPA challenges, Google bug bounties, Netflix prize, etc.). The resulting increase in knowledge advancement will raise our survival fitness fastest because knowledge empowers us to better predict and adapt to sudden catastrophic changes.

We start by challenging the fundamental assumptions of popular economics, one of which is that government can only spend what it takes in. This assumption has been violated by the history of the United States, which has had a national debt since its very founding. Lincoln printed some $480 million greenbacks to raise money without increasing taxes or borrowing it. Japan runs a 230% debt-to-gdp ratio and has a currency they keep trying to devalue. Dick Cheney was right: Reagan proved that deficits don't matter.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

sg_oneill (159032) | about 2 years ago | (#42295269)

Automation is shifting repetitive, uncreative, brutish work to repetitive, uncreative, brutish machines, thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

Yeah thats what they said in the 1800s. We've had a hundred years of trying it. Its not working. Instead technology has been pushing wealth into ever more concentrated hands because it means less and less people need to be paid to produce stuff.

But heres the question. Who in society is not a worker, except for the rich?

And how does someone become rich, except by working?

So if if less people are now able to become rich, and the rest are becoming jobless and redundant, how exactly is this going to benefit the wider society?

Capitalism and automation are not a compatible combination with the welfare of the wider society.

But is the wider society ready for an alternative to capitalism?

Re:Title is misleading (1)

Feyshtey (1523799) | about 2 years ago | (#42295395)

Automation is shifting repetitive, uncreative, brutish work to repetitive, uncreative, brutish machines, thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

Shouldnt we encourage the repetitive, uncreative and brutish workers to remain in repetitive, uncreative, brutish jobs?

Re:Title is misleading (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#42294813)

If automation and technological progress has advanced to the point where the majority of us need not toil to create all the goods and services we want and need, perhaps its time to consider exploiting the vast potential of the idle in some way.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about 2 years ago | (#42295129)

Or perhaps its time to recognize that working your ass off just to barely survive is no longer necessary in modern society.

We could seriously cut labor hours to 30 or maybe even 20 hours a week with full employment, and still be able to provide the necessities for everyone as well as moderate levels of entertainment and low end luxury goods.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#42295313)

Yeah, or maybe we could recognize that in order to feel fullfilled and needed, some people like to work 50-60 hours a week - and let them.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

jxander (2605655) | about 2 years ago | (#42294845)

Unions tend to be more prevalent in fields where automation will flourish. Physical labor, assembly line work, machinists, etc

Surely we'll have robot code monkeys at some point down the line -- or maybe we'll go away and be replaced with a very small shell script -- but that day is further off, and thus less news-worthy.

Re:Title is misleading (2, Interesting)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#42295307)

Unions tend to be more prevalent in fields where automation will flourish. Physical labor, assembly line work, machinists, etc

Unions are prevalent in fields that require less specialized skills (not lack of) meaning there is a broader cross-section of people qualified to do a given task. Because of this owners (This isn't confined just to corporations) tend to feel they can pit potential candidates against each other for the job with it going to the individual willing to do it for the least amount. When unions first came about in the US this practice was rampant and stifling enough people they rose up against it. As with most good intentions many Unions eventually became the master and just as evil as the overlords they were created to overthrow. "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely" - Lord Acton [phrases.org.uk]

When I cannot turn on a light switch because it will lead to the unemployment of the "electrical engineer" something has gone terribly wrong.

Re:Title is misleading (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294851)

Yes, I've heard about the leisure society for decades. We don't seem too eager as a society to reap the benefits our combined energy and technology resources, we'd rather cling to the old work week model. We simply create new jobs and new needs to pretend that we still need to work.

Re:Title is misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294925)

And once we have robots that can be used in the service industry, we won't need human workers at all.

Re:Title is misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294947)

As the population of the earth continues to expand, businesses are trying to find ways to reduce the number of people they hire through automation and if not then outsource those employees with workers in other countries, and the unemployment rate will continue expanding. And despite these businesses claiming that their is no workers here with the skill set they need, they're here, they just can't afford to work for what someone in India will work for.

There's a tipping point here where when unemployment is high enough, that businesses have automated as much as they can and out sourced as much as they can, that their local business where they are based on, starts to drop because not enough of the population is employed to spend money on their products. And then they go out of business.

Gradually the level of income goes down because the money is now flowing out to other countries and not staying inside the country that the business was in. Then the level of living starts to go down. Not enough taxes are collected so social programs are cut back.

And then the country you were in is now a third world country.

Pondering: outline of what I'm thinking, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295001)

Automation is making human labor irrelevant, regardless of union participation.

And that's something I've been pondering.

The usual response is that those workers should "get retrained" in something else. But what?

Medicine? Nursing? HVAC? Welding? But are there enough jobs for everyone to go and retrain for those careers? .

And what about the folks who aren't academically talented and where a manufacturing job is pushing their abilities?

Yes, I'm well aware that these same concerns were brought up during the industrial revolution. But those workers were able to move somewhere else because automation wasn't everywhere; and it wasn't very sophisticated. Now, automation is creeping just about everywhere and it's becoming rather intelligent - enough that it's superior to humans. The person of average or less abilities are going to be unemployable - unless they get that job at Walmart or Target.

Which means many of those workers will be going down the economic food chain into retail and food service types of jobs. And even then, burger flipping is going to become automated in more places.

I see more and more people being side lined economically. You could just say "that's capitalism" and too bad. But the thing is when you have many unemployed, you get social unrest. And there's the waste of human capital.

Obviously, it's much more complex than that but that's the gist of it. And i was told back in econ that automation boosts standards of living but I'm seeing the opposite for the rank and file.

tl;dr - many of those displaced by automation may not have a place to go - and more than likely their standard of living will go down.

Re:Title is misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295191)

And witout worker... robot don't buy product... the 1900 Ford's inversion factor: more paid to worker, more worker buying Model T car.

The rich, the robots, the rest of us (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294351)

Who will be left with any real income to buy all this stuff?

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294595)

You've hit on the real heart of the matter here. We have way, way too many people on this little blue marble. Back in the days of manual labor and agriculture, we needed people - the more, the better. With everything mechanized and automated, there is no need for this many people. In fact, the extra people are nothing but unproductive dead weight, a net negative rather than a positive. The free market deals with this by diminishing their value, lowering their income, in an attempt to excise the cancer. Due to humanitarian reasons, we cannot just send them to death camps, but the market is doing the best it can. At some point, after peak automation, we will not need a population of the size we have. Some would argue that there need be no population at all - a Skynet scenario, I guess. I think that's taking things too far, but a much smaller global population of strictly scientist and engineers is a necessity and a logical conclusion to the technological curve. At that point, the idea of money can go away, and the idea of working for the continuation and betterment of lifestyle and the elevation of society and culture (the 'Star Trek' model) can take over.

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#42294953)

Who gets to choose? The rich are going to survive? While we "grunts" get to perish?

I foresee a problem. Who's going to do the working?

Star Trek is a cute fantasy, but that's pretty much it. Human is, by default, lazy and will, given the chance, waste his life in front of daytime TV. There might be a few who actually want to "better" things, but they are few and far between. The rest just want to get powerful (and thus rich) to enjoy life better.

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295125)

Borrowing from Cracked's Afterhours segment, Star Trek isn't about betterment of the population, but of finding something to be interested in. They are scouring the universe for entertainment.

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#42295201)

So, essentially, space ships are the TVs of the future?

Another illusion going *pop*

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294609)

People designing, implementing, and maintaining all this automation? Plus a lot of other jobs that can't be automated, at least not in near future. Fewer menial labor jobs like pick up box, set it on top of another box for 8 hours going away is a good thing IMHO. And by going away it doesn't matter if they go away somewhere else, or go away because of automation. That's just a matter of what is cheaper at this moment.

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | about 2 years ago | (#42294725)

"When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich."
--JJ Rousseau

Re:The rich, the robots, the rest of us (2, Interesting)

UPZ (947916) | about 2 years ago | (#42295181)

"When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich." --JJ Rousseau

Not if the rich have drones dropping bombs on you. The realty is that are increasingly headed towards a future where we are becoming obsolete - both in terms of our labor and brain. Either we find something else to put on the table to keep playing the game in a capitalistic economic system, or change the capitalism game itself. Once the rich have their drone armies, do you think they will really need/care about the rest of us?

The working man continues to get fucked (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294393)

News at 11.

Union perspective (5, Insightful)

Livius (318358) | about 2 years ago | (#42294405)

The fact that unions think they are there to protect jobs, rather than do them, is the root of their problems.

Re:Union perspective (3, Insightful)

Livius (318358) | about 2 years ago | (#42294543)

And it does not help that they focus all their attention on workplaces that are easy to unionize, and not on occupations that are genuinely underpaid or otherwise exploited.

Re:Union perspective (2)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#42294673)

That's a bit of an inherent feature, isn't it? Unions only exist in workplaces where a union is successfully set up, therefore they are more likely to exist at workplaces where setting them up is easier to do.

Fairly U.S.-specific as well. In Scandinavia, most workers are covered by a union, because the legal environment for how they get set up is much different.

Re:Union perspective (2)

CodeReign (2426810) | about 2 years ago | (#42294603)

Eloquently put. I agree with unions that protect people from harassment and collectively bargaining for better wages however there are unions that actively block useless people from being dismissed.

Re:Union perspective (5, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | about 2 years ago | (#42294699)

That's frankly OK with me in the bigger picture. It is better to have two parties fighting over power (unions vs corporations) rather then having one party (corporations) running unchecked.

Re:Union perspective (2, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | about 2 years ago | (#42294931)

while I agree with you. the problem of having people in a union who can't ever be fired for not doing any work makes the concept of a union look bad.

There are teachers, truck drivers, etc who should be fired because they are just plain worthless at their jobs. But can't be because the union protects them. Okay if managment wants to lay off 200 people to give themselves a bonus this year (and lots of companies do something similar) then great that is what a union is there for. If bob shows up late leaves early and never does his job correctly and can't be fired because the union is protecting him that is to far the other way. I know guys who work hard put in the extra effort then join a union and work half as hard to get paid more. And they brag about how much less they have to do now they are in the union.

Re:Union perspective (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | about 2 years ago | (#42295455)

Okay if managment wants to lay off 200 people to give themselves a bonus this year (and lots of companies do something similar) then great that is what a union is there for.

If management wants to make that decision, why should they unions get to veto it? If management wants to make a shortsighted decision, that's their prerogative.

Re:Union perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294911)

Do you also have a problem with justice systems as well? Because they allow criminals to go free all the time due to the same reasons. Requiring that the burden of proof be high to convict or in the case of unions to fire is the only way to protect the innocent. It is a cost that most sane and intelligent people think is worth it. It's better to have a few slackers than to have innocent people fired or discriminated against and better to have a few criminals go free so that no innocent person goes to jail.

Re:Union perspective (1)

peppepz (1311345) | about 2 years ago | (#42295337)

That's their job and function. Have you ever heard a lawyer ask a judge to declare his defendant guilty, because he feels he deserves it? Would you pay for such a lawyer?

Unions are the defenders of one side, and only of that side. Such defense is needed because without unions, the weak part (the workers) gets abused, in the ways we witnessed in Western countries during the industrial revolution, which are exactly the same we see in non-Western countries today: child labour, miserable wages, a discrete chance of dying on the work place.

Unions protect jobs just fine (3, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | about 2 years ago | (#42294417)

they just stopped worry about protecting workers. The real power of unions is all in government employee unions who hold an undue amount of influence over those who set their pay. Even FDR knew the pitfalls of that.

What is going to end unions is the unrepentant greed amongst the public employee unions who expect taxpayers to shut up and put up. Well a few states are well on their way that a few cities have gone, bankrupting or using financial crisis to void ridiculous promises and payouts.

Some of the worse retirement payouts and age at which they can retire is just silly to the point of sickening.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (4, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 2 years ago | (#42294551)

The real power of unions is all in government employee unions who hold an undue amount of influence over those who set their pay.

You assume that most Fedeal workers are well paid and still have a great retirement plan. This is not the case.

Take a look at the GS wage charts, and what a government retirement is today (no more than a 401k).

It's not as "sweet" as you think.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 2 years ago | (#42294907)

You should join a union.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1, Insightful)

Phrogman (80473) | about 2 years ago | (#42294559)

Yep get rid of all the unions and we can go back to the good old days of companies hiring "Strike-Breakers" to beat people to death because they don't want to work for slave labor wages. That'll be fun. /sarcasm off

Unions served to get some essential rights for workers from the rich industrial barons who didn't give a fuck about those who slaved for them. For a while they served very well.

Now the rich and powerful are destroying the unions in the name of increased profits and will again fuck their employees. Its an Employers world right now, and they get to make the rules - unless you are in high demand in a few rare industries, government or management. The loss of union power and collective bargaining will NOT be good for North America. I guess this is what they mean by "trickle down economics" eh?

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (3, Insightful)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#42294741)

Let me ask you: do you really think that companies would get away with beating their workers if unions were to disappear? If not, why bring it up?

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#42294913)

They did for decades, why not again? Sure there's more media coverage these days, but when you're hiring someone to pretend to be someone else while doing your dirty work, you've already abstracted the 'coverage' aspect out.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (2, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#42294791)

Unions served to get some essential rights for workers

Horses and buggies served to provide essential transportation. The question is not whether unions were once beneficial, but rather whether they are beneficial today.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#42294955)

The problem is when a system is so successful that the beneficiaries no longer see the downsides that they get lax about making sure the system isn't watered down.

Are some unions impractical and obstructionist? Sure. Same goes for corporations. Why aren't we calling for the abolishment of corporations too?

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295161)

Do you consider yourself benificial for the company you work at? Remember unions are there for the robots also. Consider what is a union, but a collection of "workers" who work for the benefit of "wages", but do you have to be subservant to accept the yoke of wages?
The corallary is why have workers? What does the employee do for the company?
I thought that henry ford settled that problem long ago when he sponsored the Nazi regium and the others of the upper class in america went along with him.
Just as the "communist" always woundered what they ment by that term, workers are further unionizing their companies, because of the better product flow and productivity gains of using the brain of the worker we are going back to servitude. We are encouraging the slavery of the mind and the soul just to live another day. How disheartening. How shortsighted are you fools. How bad was your education and the morales you grew into.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1)

owski (222689) | about 2 years ago | (#42295339)

Yep get rid of all the unions and we can go back to the good old days of companies hiring "Strike-Breakers" to beat people to death because they don't want to work for slave labor wages. That'll be fun.

I don't understand, what can unions do to prevent this above current laws and law enforcement? Are you really suggesting that if unions went away companies would start beating their employees to death for going on strike? I understand that it has happened in the past and that unions were involved in bringing public and law enforcement attention to the issue, but I can't envision a scenario where this would return solely if unions ceased to exist. The fact that unions cover such a small portion of the workforce would seem to indicate that the continued existence of unions isn't necessary to prevent employer on employee violence.

Most federal workers are not unionized (1)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | about 2 years ago | (#42295051)

Only about 31% of US federal workers are unionized. The majority of these are in blue collar jobs. I used to work for the federal government as a computer programmer and none of my fellow IT workers were in a union. Given how it's against the law for federal employees to strike (look up what President Reagan did to the air traffic controllers if you don't know), most federal workers view union membership as a waste of money. I can tell you from what I saw at my job that the only thing the union could do if you were going to be laid off or fired for just cause was to delay the inevitable. You would still lose your job, but they might delay it for a year if they fought against the action. The post by Shivetya is just another example, at least in the USA, of people having big misconceptions about federal jobs.

Re:Unions protect jobs just fine (1)

ExploHD (888637) | about 2 years ago | (#42295131)

Except that public employee workers are generally paid less than their counterparts in other industries and the pension system has been paid into for every year of their work anyways. The problem stems from from three things:
1. Public employees being laid off, therefore reducing the pool paid into the pension system.
2. Retroactive changes to the pension payouts that had the optimism of a 90's internet IPO
3. "Fraud" by high level public employees, who can get away with it because of their connections in city hall and poorly written union contracts. Really no different than corporations moving money to the Cayman Island's to avoid paying taxes, it's perfectly legal but what has been the cost to this country? Or how about upper management in corporations getting paid in stock, which when sold, would be taxed as capital gains(15% in the USA)? Still perfectly legal, but now they're paying less as a percentage of their income than you are in taxes.

Yep, the robots will eventually take all our jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294423)

But what then? Robots don't make good customers, they don't shop, they don't browse.

Eventually maybe we'll realize that people's needs are worth meeting, rather than treating them as an enemy for being leeches, we'll realize that even the meagerest poor person has something to contribute.

Or we'll just write them off as the wealthy inherit the earth.

Re:Yep, the robots will eventually take all our jo (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#42295095)

History tells us that you can only oppress a sizable amount of your population if you can either convince them that it's good the way it is (some sort of bullshit akin to a "god given place in your life") or if they still have something they could lose. Well, we can say with some certainty that nobody really gives a shit about the former (could that be the reason why the overzealous religious right wants to push the cult of zombie Jesus, in the vain hope that people return to actually believing it should be that way?). So you have to keep people fed and sheltered somehow.

Once this last straw isn't met, all it takes is a leader.

And the root cause is .... (3, Insightful)

kenaaker (774785) | about 2 years ago | (#42294451)

What the discussion will come around to is "What is the purpose of human society".

The survivors will come to a different conclusion than the initial participants in the discussion.

Fortunately, my career is predicated upon... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294507)

...human weakness and greed, so I will always have work.

You've missed the point. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294529)

Unions aren't simply about "protecting jobs". More importantly unions have been about protecting the worker. Don't forget about work place safety, 40 hour work weeks, and collective bargaining. Those are all products of unionized labor. All of which are far more important than simply "protecting jobs". Unions are about having jobs worth protecting. You also seem to conveniently neglect the existence of major unions whose labor force is not easily replaced with automation carpenters, plumbers, nurses, restaurant, etc. Oh and by the way IT people have unions too.

Re:You've missed the point. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294957)

Unions are about protecting unions and enriching the people who run unions. Unions are about getting people to believe that paying them makes there jobs worth protecting.

Nirvana is when humanity does what we want to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294533)

Automation is key to making human labor irrelevant. Society will be able to let people slack through life without working, as we get closer to a labor-free life.

It used to be that labor was 24x7 for people when we were scavenger-hunters-gatherers. Then we progressed. Now we have to work 8x5. This is not a law of nature. We will get to a point where some people work more than others, and some people work 0x0. This is progress, a good thing. Nirvana is when humanity work 0x0 and humans spend our time at what we want to do, not what we are forced to do.

Re:Nirvana is when humanity does what we want to d (4, Informative)

datapharmer (1099455) | about 2 years ago | (#42294841)

actually that is hardly correct. While it is hard to distinguish "work" from non-work activities in a hunter-gatherer society (thus your 24/7) if we use standard methods to delineate these activities you will find that most hunter-gatherers dedicated only 12-18 hours per peek to work-comparable activities. That is overly broad, but don't think you've got it so great. You work a lot more to watch tv than our ancestors (and some current cultures) do to watch the stars. It is all a matter of perception and values.

Interesting... (0)

Poorcku (831174) | about 2 years ago | (#42294565)

You just sound like all those blacksmiths who complained that the car will destroy the horse shoe industry. And it did! :) And that wasn't that bad either.

Re:Interesting... (2)

pellik (193063) | about 2 years ago | (#42295333)

You just sound like all those blacksmiths who complained that the car will destroy the horse shoe industry. And it did! :) And that wasn't that bad either.

Yes, but the discussion isn't about an industry that can be replaced with another industry, the discussion is about removing most of the jobs from all of the industries.

Re:Interesting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295365)

What happened to those blacksmiths? My guess they died in poverty. So they had all the reasons to complain.

Who's left to defend anybody? (1)

Papabravo (1278230) | about 2 years ago | (#42294569)

I never defended unions because I was never in one. Now that they are going away, who is left to defend anybody against the plutocrats?

Re:Who's left to defend anybody? (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 2 years ago | (#42294835)

The reason that unions are going away is because they never protected anybody against the plutocrats. They were just a vehicle that union leaders used to join the ranks of the plutocrats.

Well... (0)

thestudio_bob (894258) | about 2 years ago | (#42294571)

I for one, welcome our new robotic non-union overlords.

Fix! (0)

Mullen (14656) | about 2 years ago | (#42294587)

"Michigan lawmakers just approved a right-to-work law in an effort to dismantle union power, but humans are already becoming irrelevant."

There, fixed that for you.

The solution is clear... (1)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#42294703)

Start unionizing robots! Well, at least that will keep the union bosses employed.

A Union's Primary Goal Isn't to save Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294711)

Saving jobs is not the primary role of a union---at least these days. Their role is to ensure benefits and fairness in the workplace.

Companies with jobs that can't be outsourced or automated are slashing salaries and benefits simply because they can. Companies think "there's a glut of unemployed IT people ? Cut the benefits and salaries of the existing employees. If they walk we can hire new people cheaper." With a union in place a company is going to be careful---it's easy to replace a few, but not an entire department.

And such practices are not limited to just unskilled, or semi-skilled workers. I've seen it even with professional occupations as well.

Re:A Union's Primary Goal Isn't to save Jobs (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 2 years ago | (#42294869)

The primary role of a union is to raise money to support Democratic Party politicians, with a close second being to allow union leaders to live the same lifestyle and have the same income as a corporate CEO.

isn't that *American* unions? (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#42294739)

The U.S. is an odd place in many ways, on all sides: how the unions operate, how employers operate, and how labor law operates (which in turn influences those things).

In Germany's export-manufacturing sector, automation hasn't really made unions [economist.com] irrelevant. Nor has it in Denmark's. But unions there are a bit different, as is the overall political climate. In particular, large employer confederations and large union confederations negotiate more frequently, and on a more consensus-oriented basis.

Re:isn't that *American* unions? (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#42295141)

Germany maybe isn't the best example you could field. Essentially, it's government and lobbying groups sitting together to find out how to circumvent worker protection laws for the sacred holy cow of a low unemployment rate.

What about non-factory jobs?? (4, Interesting)

digitalaudiorock (1130835) | about 2 years ago | (#42294811)

The whole premise of the article seems to assume that unions are exclusively about 1950s-like factory jobs. How about all those low paying service jobs out there? I don't see too many robots stocking shelves at Walmart. In decades gone by, in a large part due to unions, a guy who was willing to get up every day and go sweep floors at a factory could actually survive. Today's equivalent, those low paying service jobs, pay so little you're almost better off not working at all.

That's why unions are under attach these days...because a large chunk of corporate America is still dependent on a few jobs that they can't automate or outsource and, if unionized, might actually pay a fair wage...and we can't have that now can we??

Ayn Rand Wins (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294829)

All the eaters can die. Then we'll have a few fit producers and lots or robots. It will be paradise.

Re:Ayn Rand Wins (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295213)

Yeah, just like they showed us in WALL-E [imdb.com] !

Less labor unions, more government (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294979)

I think labor unions and strikes are a historic relic that should go away. However, they need to be replaced by an aggressive tax regime whose stated purpose is to even out wealth and income differences. The industry and the economy take place under the protection of democratic governments, and the government has an obligation to redestribute wealth it has helped create. We may have to recognize that a large percentage of the population is not meaningfully employable. They should be able to rely on "dividends" from the government, that is, negative taxation, to support a decent standard of living.

It may be that the current market economy works against the benefit of the nation as a whole. So far the game theoretical assumption has been that individual greed works to the advantage of the whole society. Offshoring and automation may be symptoms of flaws in the assumption. The macroeconomists should present tweaks or alternatives to market economy--after all, most of the economics Nobel prizes have been won by American scholars.

Re:Less labor unions, more government (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295083)

I think the unions should just be replaced with a more detailed minimum wage law. Instead of one blanket minimum wage, have minimum wages for various occupations. Base pay should always be based on merit, not seniority. If you're saving for retirement on a regular basis, seniority benefits accrue automatically anyway.

In any event, unions should only be there to negotiate fair pay. When they start negotiating other aspects of the business that's what's really messed up. You know, Hostess had to deliver bread and cakes in separate trucks. Teachers are negotiating on how they should be evaluated. GM's unions actually used to negotiate on what models would get built. Absolute bollocks! It should only be about fair wages, nothing else. No politics, no telling the business how to run. Just pay. NOTHING ELSE.

Re:Less labor unions, more government (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295311)

I don't disagree. However, a minimum wage doesn't help the unemployable live and save for retirement. It also doesn't prevent extreme wealth accumulation. Neither can the unions anymore! That's why the government must step in and guarantee every citizen a fair share of the national loot.

Capitalism, markets, wage labor and pursuit of wealth are treated as axioms in the political discourse. We need to understand that those are tools to achieve an objective. If America is losing its middle class, new tools need to be developed and put in place to make sure that the middle class stays and predominates the society.

Don't over generalize (3, Interesting)

Alomex (148003) | about 2 years ago | (#42294981)

Unions are still strong in Europe and they too have labor saving robots. The key difference is that both union and management philosophies seem to be different there. Managers have a social conscience and unions do not oppose every effort to increase productivity.

Re:Don't over generalize (2)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 2 years ago | (#42295199)

Thank you! Despite the summary's assertion to the contrary, my problem with unions isn't whether or not they can protect jobs. It's that they don't police their own membership, and instead make it very difficult to get rid of the worst workers. If unions put more effort into providing value for employers, as you say, there would be more unions. As a worker in the US, I want nothing to do with any union,from what I've seen they take money and do little except campaign for a rigid and inflexible workplace.

Unions are destroying jobs. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42294995)

Unions are destroying jobs. Sorry that I'm sitting on the fence on this one.

I'm not in a union and never would be. Personal choice.
My sister is in the TWA with over 20 yrs, yet due to senority, she gets only 2 weeks of vacation annually and those have been the worse weeks possible - week after thanksgiving, for example.

My college roomate is in an engineer union. He's been getting 3% raises every 18 months for 25 yrs. He's actually lost money by working in that company all this time. In my first few years, I was getting 10-15% raises every 12 months. Paying for performance works for people who can actually perform. THAT is what unions are afraid about.

The only union jobs that will remain will be for those low skill and apprentice-type jobs that cannot be sent overseas - delivery drivers, truckers, whatever the Teamsters do, perhaps farm workers. Things where location is cricital, not skill.

Highly skilled AND motivated workers will leave the union to start their own concerns where they can keep more money, but also have more responsibility.

There was a time when unions were needed and they helped to shape our industrialized workforce. Like the 2-party system and fax machines, unions are behind the times, out of date and need to go away.

minimum wage supports automation (0)

llZENll (545605) | about 2 years ago | (#42295023)

If the minimum wage were abolished there would be plenty of people happy to work low paying jobs. As it stands welfare, the minimum wage, and healthcare are enforcers of automation. The root of cause is government policies. The more they try to help, the more it hurts, it is impossible for a bureaucrat to get anything right when each policy effects thousands of things in unimaginable ways, after 100 years of this bullshit you end up with a system so broke and supported by the non-working masses that there is only one way it can end, a revolution.

Robotic consumers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42295107)

If I could just make a bot to buy my shit I would be set!

Tech jobs (3, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#42295119)

> Tech has been steadily moving jobs overseas to lower costs.

...with often less than satisfactory results.

US unions are bizarre (5, Insightful)

stenvar (2789879) | about 2 years ago | (#42295225)

Michigan lawmakers just approved a right-to-work law in an effort to dismantle union power,

Right-to-work is the law in many European nations with strong labor unions.

The widespread use of closed shop and union security agreements is a US aberration and has nothing to do with union power in general, it has to do with protecting the power of a few powerful and politically connected organizations.

The promise (1)

no-body (127863) | about 2 years ago | (#42295263)

a couple of decades ago was that once "we" have computers, "they" will do the work, "we" won't have to work so much and have more time for other things. A bright future ahead.

And - yeeeih, it's happening all over! People work less, more and more work is done by machines.

Should be all fine and dandy, unions totally unconsidered - right?

Irrelevance (1)

RudyHartmann (1032120) | about 2 years ago | (#42295287)

Heck, automation is making procreation irrelevant. Ugh.

You can't move a coal mine overseas but... (1)

Invisible Now (525401) | about 2 years ago | (#42295323)

... you can automate it.

Service workers are the only group with a chance to defend their unions. (but watch out for those proposed McDonalds robo-flippers) Nurses, teachers, fireman, DMV workers, etc can't be offshored.

But imagine the uproar if DMV and other government backshop workers were offshored to India. Your taxes processed in Bangalore. LOL (or not)

This debate emerged many decades years ago (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about 2 years ago | (#42295359)

This debate emerged many decades ago. Here is one example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASEA_IRB [wikipedia.org]

"The ASEA IRB is an industrial robot series for material handling, packing, transportation, polishing, welding, and grading. Built in 1975, the robot allowed movement in 5 axes with a lift capacity of 6 kg. It was the world's first fully electrically driven and microprocessor-controlled robot, using Intel's first chipset."

What is reported now was also reported then, for fear of losing jobs. Robots fears are nothing new.

Isn't Metropolis from 1927 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolis_(film)) [wikipedia.org] and Frankenstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein) from 1818 about this too in a way.

Technophobia.

Humans tend to work around these issues.

Of course they should be protecting workers... (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | about 2 years ago | (#42295391)

.. The problem with unions is they can't protect jobs.

And there lies the problem with unions. Why are they protecting 'jobs'? Shouldn't they be protecting the workers in those jobs? Trying to force employers to keep useless jobs is just going to drive that employer into bankruptcy. Who gains from that?

Automation is good (5, Insightful)

enriquevagu (1026480) | about 2 years ago | (#42295417)

Repeat with me: Automation is good. It makes we, human kind, more productive. With the same human work, we can get more benefits for ourselves, so on average our wealth improves. The people that do not need to do manual and repetitive jobs can move to a more creative work which produces more benefit for mankind. Gutenberg's printing was good. e-mail was good, despite removing works in the Post office. Hydraulic excavators are good. And all of them reduce the number of jobs, and unions cannot and shouldn't try to prevent this. Fortunately, we are no longer relying on picks and shovels to dig tunnels.

The problem is not with automation, which is good for mankind as a whole; the problem is with the distribution of wealth. We are facing a serious problem, in which those who have the machines (capital) become much richer by producing the same as before, and those that lose their employments become poorer. I certainly believe that this problem will aggravate with time, as more jobs are out-dated by technology, and "the system" cannot provide an alternative way to earn a living.

One option might be to move to a system in which everyone has a basic "social earning", enough for a living, while those with a work would earn more money. However, this imposes serious trouble, such as obvious abuse and unfairness. I see the problem, but I don't foresee a clear solution.

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