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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 pkbarbiedoll (851110) on Friday December 14, 2012 @05:56PM (#42294337)

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

    • by NFN_NLN (633283)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bjourne (1034822)
      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.
      • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:19PM (#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...

        • Sweden has a very small population. Japan, on the other hand, is having considerable problems with unemployment.
    • by flaming error (1041742) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:09PM (#42294649) Journal

      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.

      • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:27PM (#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.

        • by Sir_Eptishous (873977) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:44PM (#42295349) Homepage
          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.
          • 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.

          • by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:20PM (#42296051)
            "More likely a permanent state of drugged obedience via constant virtual escapism while being constantly controlled and monitored by the omniscient security apparatus."

            You make that sound like a bad thing. But for many people, getting high and playing video games all day would be a kind of utopia.

          • by flaming error (1041742) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:39PM (#42296435) Journal

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

            What's likely I don't know, but another possibility is that, just as with other species, where imbalance occurs nature will impose a new equilibrium that leaves us with a smaller population.

            Our economic system is clearly unsustainable in ways environmental and mathematical. That means our current way of life won't last forever. Since we don't seem to be doing much to fundamentally change, we are leaving the coming transition entirely in the hands of nature.

        • by F'Nok (226987) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:07PM (#42295793)

          Not everywhere has the incredible income disparity of the US, so you're making a lot of assumptions that while valid for the US, don't apply to the rest of the world as equally.

          Probably the take away from that is that other nations are evidence that there are other ways and perhaps the US should start looking at them.

          When I go out for dinner here in Australia, my waiter isn't on minimum wage, we don't have a culture of tipping because they actually get paid enough to live.

          No, no one needs to be paid the minimum wage, and the minimum wage conditions of the US are frightening to me and evidence of serious social inequality and damage.

          The unemployment benefits in Australia are larger than a full time job on minimum wage in most states of the US. That's how stark the difference is.

          The problem is not that 'someone needs to be paid minimum wage'. Because there are nations where the US concept of minimum wage would be considered poverty.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            there are nations where the US concept of minimum wage would be considered poverty.

            The US itself is one of them.

        • by jd.schmidt (919212) on Friday December 14, 2012 @08:11PM (#42296851)

          You are trying to answer the profoundly wrong question. More or less no one now or ever has expected or demanded a totally egalitarian society. Some few have maybe dreamed of it, but no one has demanded it. Even in communist countries there was no real expectation that every member of society would get exactly the same thing, more of the case that there was an attempt (unsuccessful) to prevent anyone from falling too low.

          The issue is if you don't stand up for yourself you will get walked over.

          Consider "Right to Work" as a simple example, it is NOT the case that these laws repealed some requirement that all unions contract be exclusive by law. Those exclusivity terms were negotiated between two free groups. Instead these laws scratch out, by government fiat, parts of existing contracts and make it illegal for two parties to agree these terms. Why if you are free to join with another person and start a company, should you not be free to join with another person and start a Union

          I have a great deal of faith in people to take care of themselves given the chance. The basic problem is there is a deliberate attempt to prevent people from being able to stand up for themselves. Let’s start by removing those barriers and see what happens.

          • by Kjella (173770) on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:03PM (#42297329) Homepage

            Consider "Right to Work" as a simple example, it is NOT the case that these laws repealed some requirement that all unions contract be exclusive by law. Those exclusivity terms were negotiated between two free groups. Instead these laws scratch out, by government fiat, parts of existing contracts and make it illegal for two parties to agree these terms.

            Because you are creating a monopoly that under very similar circumstances between companies would run afoul of antitrust legislation. Market collusion is also voluntary among all the companies engaged in price fixing, would you like to make that 100% legal? Competition is not a natural state, the natural state is that someone goes all-in and captures the market and it stays captive through lock-in and anti-competitive practices. It's like claiming a one-party state is democracy because you can always choose not to vote.

        • by erice (13380) on Friday December 14, 2012 @08:18PM (#42296915) Homepage

          TIn 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.

          In a perfectly egalitarian society, the most desirable populated areas would still cost more and you would still get less. The people who lived there would be those willing to spend the largest fraction of their income to live in the smallest practical housing. This is largely how it works today.

          There would likely be areas that are populated today that would not be in this system. If no one can afford to live there, then the space will be used for other activities that can justify the cost. Or the rent reaches a plateau so getting in become a matter of chance, connections, and subterfuge. That happens today too.

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

          I don't see how.

          When I started my current job, I busted my ass to catch up on things. When it typically took at least 3 months of downtime to get to know the system and describe it meaningfully to others, I did it in one. Now its been over a year and people have been here 5 years are sometimes asking me questions.

          Why is that? Simple pride. I like feeling like I earned the number

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ArhcAngel (247594)
        Just look at all the unemployed blacksmiths since the advent of the automobile.
      • 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 basic

        • by ghostdoc (1235612) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:55PM (#42295537)

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

          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.

          No, and I mean NO! because central wealth distribution has been shown time and again to disincentivise people from actually doing something useful with their lives. If you earn enough from benefits, and your benefits reduce if you work/produce value, then why do anything useful? And Benefit Dependency is a really nasty pernicious place to be in.

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

          Yes! Education has to change. We have to stop emphasising rote learning, obedience, testing, conformity, all that shit that creates good little worker drones, and reinvent true education. Luckily there are huge leaps being made in online education at the moment, so being able to provide everyone with a better education is going to be easier and cheaper. Hopefully we'll move away from the school system too, and integrate child education back into our work life and home life.

          • by F'Nok (226987) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:12PM (#42295887)

            No, and I mean NO! because central wealth distribution has been shown time and again to disincentivise people from actually doing something useful with their lives. If you earn enough from benefits, and your benefits reduce if you work/produce value, then why do anything useful? And Benefit Dependency is a really nasty pernicious place to be in.

            There are a number of places in the world outside the US that show this to be untrue.

            Australian benefits are greater than US minimum wage (in most states) at full time. Yet somehow the unemployment in Australia is lower and all those minimum wage jobs seem to be filled.

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

            • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.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.

          • by hab136 (30884) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:16PM (#42295977) Journal

            >No, and I mean NO! because central wealth distribution has been shown time and again to disincentivise people from actually doing something useful with their lives. If you earn enough from benefits, and your benefits reduce if you work/produce value, then why do anything useful? And Benefit Dependency is a really nasty pernicious place to be in.

            The thinking is that there isn't enough useful work to be done. Machines will do most of the grunt work, and you only need x engineers/electricians/other useful jobs per 100,000 people, so what should everyone else do? There's only so much room for artists/writers/musicians. So, since there is no work to be done, yet the person still needs to live, they need to be supported somehow.

            The alternative is: there's no work for you to do, please starve to death.

            The ratio of employed people to the total population has been slowly shrinking in the US. Currently 58.7% of the US population is working; the rest are not. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment-to-population_ratio [wikipedia.org]

            What happens when that ratio dwindles lower, to 40%, or 25%, or 10%?

            • by MtHuurne (602934) on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:11PM (#42297405) Homepage

              The thinking is that there isn't enough useful work to be done.

              There is plenty of useful work to be done: children would benefit from smaller classes, the elderly would like more attention, cities could be made prettier, there are lots of things that can be researched. The problem is that no-one is willing to pay for those things: we're always looking for lower costs, lower taxes, not higher quality of life.

            • by trout007 (975317) on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:17PM (#42297467)

              There is a natural regulator on the pace of automation. It is the interest rate. If interest rates (prices) were set on a free market with a hard currency it would be based on how much money people had saved (supply) and how much people wanted to borrow (demand). This works out nicely because any automation involves a large expenditure of money to increase productivity. If there is low unemployment and people have high wages and money saved it will lead to low interest rates. This causes businesses to want to invest in capital equipment because labor is expensive and money is cheap. On the other hand if you have high unemployment, low wages, and low savings you will have a high interest rate. This leads businesses to hire people because it's more profitable. This is a natural balance of sustainable automation.

              What we have now is the Federal Reserve setting artificially low interest rates. This causes businesses to invest in automation at a time in which we have high unemployment, low wages, and low savings. This is exactly the wrong approach. It causes lots of malinvestment by automating production to increase capacity but nobody has enough money to buy these goods.

          • by jbengt (874751)

            No, and I mean NO! because central wealth distribution has been shown time and again to disincentivise people from actually doing something useful with their lives

            I would say, rather, that the typical job is what prevents most people from doing something useful with their lives today.

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            The average person in the USA, last figures I saw, had an IQ of just 103, now that is the average which of course means half are below that....what would you do with them? Throw them in a camp? make up a war and have a draft so they could be used up as cannon fodder?

            You simply can't educate your way out of this, it just won't work. For decades those people could still feed their families, live decent lives, either by working in a factory or some other manual labor and the simple fact is those jobs are gone,

      • by vlm (69642)

        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.

      • by blue trane (110704) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:37PM (#42295245) Homepage Journal

        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.

        • by bondsbw (888959) on Friday December 14, 2012 @07:01PM (#42295645)

          Giving everyone a basic income would provide them a safety net, encouraging risk-taking and innovation. Whoever does succeed contributes more back to the societal safety net.

          But some people don't try. They don't want to try. If given a choice between a free shack and a nice home they can work to afford, they will choose the shack. How do we get them to contribute something positive to society, and to take the risks that the safety net is intended to promote?

          • by OneAhead (1495535) on Friday December 14, 2012 @08:29PM (#42297023)

            I think you underestimate the impact of greed, strife and group-think. It's basically what consumerist/capitalist society is built on. You bombard people the whole day with advertisements that all carry the same message: If you buy this, you will be happy. [Take-home message: money creates happiness.] You will be superior to your neighbor who doesn't have it. Or go ahead and don't buy it, but you will be ridiculed and feel inferior and unhappy. These messages fall on fertile ground: they trigger people's instinctive tendencies to appear superior as to attract a better mate. Few people can resist these base tendencies, leave alone the tsunami of adverts enforcing them. If this wasn't true, rich people would retire to enjoy life once they hit the $10M mark.

            Surely, there will be some freeloaders, but so what? All they're doing is sidetracking themselves from society (and who knows, maybe one or two of them will turn out to be great artists). As long as that free shack is not overly luxurious, the number of freeloaders won't be too big, and society can handle it. That's why all these socialist countries in Northern Europe with their elaborate social safety net and unemployment benefits show no signs of collapsing (no, Greece is not in Northern Europe and is not a good example; what really brought Greece down is corruption and uncontrolled spending and also corruption and a bit of corruption.) Working-class people will be complaining in the pubs about the freeloaders, but in truth, they're really not a threat as long as their numbers are kept low by motivating them to get a job.

            Here's also the big distinction between Communism and modern-day western-European Socialism (or let's use the less ambiguous term Social democracy [wikipedia.org]). Communism does not sufficiently allow/motivate people to "become more" than their neighbor, thus denying human nature; therefore, it is doomed to fail. On the other extreme end of the spectrum, you have the laissez-faire doctrine of economic liberalism, as embodied in the US by ultralibertarianism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism - yes, that's all the major present-day US political movements with the (largely irrelevant) exception of the greens. This is also doomed to fail: throughout history, wealth has always found a way to aggregate, and a society that is not set up to effectively counterbalance this aggregation will eventually destabilize itself (ie. the poor and powerless will riot against the rich and powerful). As a result of all US political movements going full throttle for laissez-faire economic liberalism, income inequality in the US is at its highest value since a long time (and so is money's political influence). In my opinion, this is the single biggest threat to the USA and everything it stands for. The stable point lies in-between communism and laissez-faire capitalism. Progressive taxes are a large part of this because they promote a large middle class layer - people who have spending power (as opposed to the poor) and are motivated to spend all their money (as opposed to the rich). The associated turnover of money is the water that flows trough the waterwheel of a healthy economy.

            *gets off soapbox*

            • by bondsbw (888959) on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:18PM (#42297491)

              Surely, there will be some freeloaders, but so what?

              Your country must be more civilized. Where I live, the freeloaders are everywhere.

              One major problem is that the "system" is beyond the ability to control. The government provides assistance in all forms, but somehow that is never enough. Our government provides food, shelter, clothing, and emergency health care to the freeloaders. That's never enough though... now they need cell phones and laundry service and food/care for their pets and transportation and better living conditions. (Did I mention that despite the government assistance, they don't take care of themselves or their kids, so now there are more health care costs, etc.?)

              If you do work, you don't get much or any of that for free. You start at $0.00, and work for your money. Then you pay taxes, and buy those things I listed. By the time you pay for health insurance and everything else that puts you on the same level as a typical freeloader, you are left with little money to spend as you want. You work 40 hours per week, yet barely live any better than those who work 0 hours per week.

              So why slave away at a thankless job, away from my family during the day? I could be spending more quality time with my family, being lazy or doing whatever I can do without paying money for it... all while having all my needs and many of my wants provided for by the government check.

              • by OneAhead (1495535) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:01PM (#42298227)

                Your country must be more civilized. Where I live, the freeloaders are everywhere.

                Now you're sounding like the populist politicians and the bitter working-class people complaining in the pubs. What you need to do is show statistics indicating that your government's budget is being brought onto its knees by unemployment benefits. I'm not saying there exists no country for which this is the case, but I'm pretty sure it isn't the case for any of the Northern European countries I was talking about, contrary to pervasive public perception.

                You start at $0.00, and work for your money.

                In order for the system I was talking about to work, the unemployment benefits should be far enough below the minimum wage to motivate a large enough percentage of people to work (which means relatively high minimum wages). In practice, it is not that simple, and there will always be groups of exceptions. But this condition is largely fulfilled in most functioning welfare societies, again, despite pervasive public perception to the contrary. If you will argue that it isn't the case for your country, by all means, but please do provide a statistic. Keeping in mind that anecdotes are not a statistics; as I said, there will and should be groups of exceptions.

                Your "you start at $0.00" brings us to a fascinating (if somewhat offtopic) aspect of the discussion. There is a political fringe group in the European Union that argues that everyone should receive the same basic unemployment package, whether they work or not. The package would allow people to have a healthy life, but not much luxury (small dwellings, no car, not all the latest newest gadgets,...) If you want to bring some luxury into your life, get a job. Labor would be very cheap for the employer because they don't need to pay you a full wage, only the difference between the baseline and a more wealthy lifestyle. The government would get all the money to pay everyone's baseline from very high VAT. This VAT would apply to imported goods, but not to goods that are exported and sold on other markets, which again would make manufacturing very competitive. Now I haven't performed or encountered a full economic analysis of this scheme, and I'm taking these people's claims that the scheme is vetted by economists with a huge grain of salt. So I don't know what to make out of it, but here are a couple of random thoughts:
                - Very high VAT would spawn a flourishing black market. The economic force behind this black market may (or may not) be strong enough to make the whole scheme collapse.
                - Possibly a more feasible way to get the money would be a combination of VAT and tax on production. I strongly suspect a working combination would be a VAT rate close to present-day welfare states, and the remaining tax on production would make your industries just as competitive as present-day welfare states (not very competitive but hanging in there, that is). You're just swapping labor costs and tax on labor for tax on production, and the outcome would not be all that different.
                - The most interesting part of this cranky scheme comes in when one considers a future society with advanced AI and robotics, in which a lot of work can be done by robots. A large percentage of people would be unemployed; it seems logical to somehow pay them from the money made by factories that are largely human-free. Otherwise, what good is human-free production if nobody can buy the goods?
                - Hypothetical counterpoint: people will always find a way to offer a service that other people will want to pay for, and no amount of technological advancement will change that. Think of the massive entertainment industry, which was largely nonexistent (or at least way smaller) in pre-industrial society.

                Again I'm neither in favor or against this scheme, and I'm not sure of the truth value of all the above arguments. At this point, I just see it as a fascinating thought experiment. I guess I'll make up my mind once more information is available.</offtopic>

      • by sg_oneill (159032)

        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

      • by Feyshtey (1523799)

        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?

      • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:57PM (#42295567)

        thus freeing humans to pursue nobler interests.

        Yeah, we'll have plenty of time on our hands to pursue interests like huddling around trashcan fires, stealing food, and begging for change.

    • by symbolset (646467) *
      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.
      • by Nadaka (224565)

        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.

        • by symbolset (646467) *
          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.
        • by Alioth (221270)

          The thing is - it just doesn't end up happening. The first bits of automation decades ago was supposed to cause a massive unemployment problem. The coming of the microprocessor was supposed to mean by the mid 90s we would all have to be working no more than 20 hours per week to keep enough people employed. Look up a TV programme called "The Mighty Micro" (all of it is on YouTube) - it was a 6 part series made in 1979 about the then upcoming microprocessor and what it would mean. They made this prediction in

    • by jxander (2605655)

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ArhcAngel (247594)

        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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @05:57PM (#42294351)

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

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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.
      • 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.

        • Human is, by default, lazy and will, given the chance, waste his life in front of daytime TV.

          Some humans are lazy and will, given the chance, waste his life in front of daytime TV.

          Fixed that for you.

          Not all of us are. Some of us found what we enjoy, and do it even when not being paid for it. Of course, I would prefer that I had enough funds to do exactly what I want, when I want, but I can guarantee you that I would NOT be sitting in front of the TV.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:13PM (#42294725) Journal

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by UPZ (947916)

        "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?

  • Union perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Livius (318358) on Friday December 14, 2012 @05:59PM (#42294405)

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

    • by Livius (318358) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:06PM (#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.

      • by Trepidity (597)

        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.

    • 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.

      • by Kenja (541830) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:11PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by peragrin (659227)

          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

          • I think working less hours and getting paid more should be all of our goal. I'm not a member of a union but I'm quite thrilled with how successful I've been at that balance over the years.

            The fact of the matter is that one employee today is doing twice as much as an employee 50 years ago but their wages don't reflect that.

            Our goal should have been to work ourselves all into unemployment. We should be working at most 30 hour weeks on average and enjoying the fruits of our combined cultural accomplishment

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:00PM (#42294417) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:06PM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Phrogman (80473)

      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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by operagost (62405)
        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?
        • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) *

        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.

        • 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?
    • 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
    • by ExploHD (888637)
      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
  • by kenaaker (774785) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:01PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:04PM (#42294507)

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

  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.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 digitalaudiorock (1130835) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:16PM (#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??

  • by Alomex (148003) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:23PM (#42294981) Homepage

    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.

    • 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.
  • Tech jobs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:30PM (#42295119) Journal

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

    ...with often less than satisfactory results.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:35PM (#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.

  • 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?
  • Heck, automation is making procreation irrelevant. Ugh.

  • ... 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 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

  • .. 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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by enriquevagu (1026480) on Friday December 14, 2012 @06:47PM (#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.

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday December 14, 2012 @09:47PM (#42297727) Homepage
    Maybe it's just a news overload today, but I read that as "Ammunition Is Making Unions Irrelevant", and wondered just what kind of contract negotiation tactics had brought that realization on.
  • by Ozoner (1406169) on Saturday December 15, 2012 @12:40AM (#42298809)

    In the USA the Unions are demonised and consequently they do not have a constructive role in society.

    In Europe Unions are generally respected and work together with Employer's to improved both Productivity and Working Conditions.

    One key point is your definition of "Productivity": In America, improved productivity means more money for the super-rich. In Europe it means a better return for the whole of society.

    You reap what you sow......

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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