Robotics and the future of work

By Tina Nannarone


President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants that franchise Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.,  wants to open a restaurant run by robots where “you never see a person.”

In an interview with Business Insider in March, 2016,  Puzder, referring to robots, said “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

Naquasia Legrand, a strong voice in the #Fightfor15 national organizing committee, said it is unacceptable for fast food companies to view people as disposable and threaten their ability to provide for themselves and their families. A quarter of fast-food workers have children and two-thirds of workers in the industry are women.

Legrand said, “We could have a broken hand, but as long as we can take orders, it doesn’t matter to them. If McDonald’s is willing to dish out all this money to get machines running their store, they should be willing to dish out $15 an hour for workers and keep them healthy. McDonald’s has the money to buy these machines and the money to fix them when they break down, but they don’t have enough money to pay hard working people who made the company it is today.”

Automation could serve to liberate humanity from drudgery and increase our leisure time. Instead, it is used as a threat – to increase competition for jobs, to increase surveillance and intensify management tactics, and to separate workers from the fulfillment of their daily needs and wants.

The kind of talk put forward by Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Puzder, is an age old scare tactic. When workers demand better pay and working conditions corporations threaten to replace workers with robots, leaving us unemployed with no income.  Of course, they have automated millions out of jobs whether workers make demands or not. If capitalists can use fewer workers to get the same or greater productivity by automating, therefore generating greater profits, they will do it.

Is a life with no work and no income the future that awaits us?  Not if we take charge. “If market competition pushes wages downward, then unions and organizing can push wages up. This is class struggle.”(Ricky Eisenberg, Fast Food Workers on the Cutting Edge)

In a socialist society without money transferred from the workers to the wealthy, there would be an abundance of resources for all.  If income from productivity were to be distributed evenly, each individual (including children) would receive $52,118 per year (Source, Trading  Economics, 2014 figures).

With an equitable tax system and a dramatic drop in military spending our government would be able to provide what we need in this country. We would build a national high-speed rail system, public recreation centers, affordable housing, government housing for seniors, and new schools and medical centers. We would be providing green jobs, installing and maintaining solar, wind, and geothermal installations. More people would be involved in farming because organic farming is more labor-intensive than factory farms; this would be a huge benefit to the environment. The government would provide top-quality daycare, un-crowded schools, mental healthcare, care for the disabled and elderly, libraries, and summer camps.

All of this creates good jobs — jobs to build what we need, to maintain our infrastructure and to provide for our needs as a society. We need at least twice as many teachers and social workers and funding for medical and scientific research.

Buses or light rail should be operating in every neighborhood. Instead of double long buses, smaller buses would run more often, provide better service, and provide more jobs for bus drivers. Every school bus would have two staff members, a driver and a chaperone.

And if our income reflected our productivity, we would all have more disposable income.  We would be going out to eat, getting massages, hiring babysitters, hiring fishing guides, and … you fill in the blanks.  All this economic activity would create even more jobs.

Imagine the future! What other job positions would you like to see where you work? What government services are missing in your neighborhood? What arts programs could people benefit from?  What research study needs to be done? All of these things mean jobs. There is no reason we can’t have a guaranteed income and guaranteed jobs.

The forty-hour workweek has disappeared; too many people have no work while those who have a job work 50-60 or more hours per week. If we shared in the productivity gains made over the past three decades we would be working a 30-hour week.

The person now working in Hardee’s or McDonalds making french fries could be making art, teaching children, taking care of the sick, or doing scientific research. And let a robot slave over the hot grease.

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