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Automation Is Making Unions Irrelevant 510

Posted by Soulskill
from the skynet-just-wants-to-flip-burgers dept.
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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Automation Is Making Unions Irrelevant

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  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:13PM (#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.

  • by datapharmer (1099455) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:17PM (#42294841) Homepage
    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.
  • Re:Union perspective (Score:3, Informative)

    by peragrin (659227) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:21PM (#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.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:54PM (#42295519)

    There's a lot of horse-trading going on, yes, but they nonetheless succeed in maintaining relatively good worker protections and benefits. Consider how much better [remappingdebate.org] German car companies treat their unionized German workers vs. their nonunionized American workers.

  • by F'Nok (226987) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:15PM (#42295967)

    There are underemployment issues in most economies and there always has been, it's just that 20 years ago those people were completely invisible, and today some people will talk about them.

    The situation in Japan is no worse due to automation, the issue Japan does have is an ageing population.

    The relatively severe ageing problem Japan will have is certainly an issue, but it has nothing to do with automation, or the assertion that they have high unemployment.

    They don't have high unemployment, they have a high number of people unable to work due to age and a low birth rate resulting in a negative population trend.

  • by F'Nok (226987) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:20PM (#42296041)

    Not in British English.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:21PM (#42297519)

    Perhaps it's a little more complicated than forcing people to work with the threat of poverty?

    This is one reason Scandinavia's taken the path it has: the societies have bet (correctly, imo) that in the modern world, the quality of labor you get solely from threatening people "work or die!" is relatively low, and that labor forms an increasingly irrelevant part of a country's total GDP. What actually drives the economy are people who have some additional reason and motivation to work, and skills to do so at a higher level than basic drudgery. So there is a high minimum wage (around $18/hr in Denmark), and the entire unemployment system is geared towards retraining people (with free education) to fill high-skill jobs where there's a shortage of labor.

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