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What kind of automation is good for workers?

The Workers Party of Britain is not opposed to technology, far from it.

Capitalism has brought into being a system of production that can free mankind from the shortages of food, clothing, housing, indeed all the necessities of life, from which mankind suffered for thousands of years. But production under capitalism is governed not by a desire to supply the things we need in an equitable manner, but rather by the profit motive alone. It is this desire to maximise profits at all costs which is driving the moves to automation.

In a research paper entitled the ‘Digitalisation of the automotive industry’ in 2016, KPMG and the SMMT outlined that “By fully embracing digitalisation, the automotive sector stands to gain £6.9bn every year by 2035. The cumulative total benefit to the economy could be £74bn by 2035. This is a significant prize…”

The KPMG paper outlines the moves taken by governments (principally the imperialist states; the US, German, British and Japanese) to push for extensive digitalisation of the production process in collaboration with their respective academic institutions and industry. The report envisages a world where robots and automated production processes are effectively planned and regulated by “predictive analytics, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence powered by algorithms that have become sufficiently sophisticated and validated through real-world examples… now able to make decisions and predictions based on this real time data. In the future, the advent of deep learning – a high performance, dynamic way of computerised decision-making that can learn patterns automatically and more accurately with the more data you give it – will enable further augmented decision-making.”[i]

This future world has a sensor on every box to inform another sensor (hundreds of miles away) that it needs to start 3D printing a few more plastic plugs. Other sensors will note when the new plugs are ready and a photo electric sensor somewhere in Slovakia will then despatch a robot-controlled Google driven lorry to bring those parts ‘just in time’. Sensors on robots and no doubt sensors on people will be able to ensure that profits are maximised and with all these sensors organising production and many robots actually undertaking the production process itself, there won’t be much room left for working men and women. With more workers forced out of work, there will be less money coming in to buy the things the sensors are churning out. The people will be impoverished and the prisons will be bursting and in the words of Lord Byron workers will be “nefariously guilty of lawfully begetting children whom, thanks to the times, they are unable to maintain’.”

Our party is therefore opposed to moves by monopoly capitalism to impoverish the workers in this way, and demands action be taken to protect jobs and livelihoods for ourselves and future generations. That doesn’t make us anti-technology, in fact the introduction of new technology should be accompanied by a demand by Unions and workers to re-skill, retrain and re-employ workers as engineers or designers. In the final analysis, only a socialist government that organises production to fulfill the material needs of the people can solve the contradiction between capital and labour, but we must make demands for a well trained, technically advanced workforce under present conditions to keep Britain from falling any further behind.

Members Voice: Paul Cannon


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