July Conference: Does automation and AI benefit the workers under capitalism?

The Workers Party is holding a Day Conference on 1st July to discuss how to rebuild British industry. The Conference is for Members Only and invited guests. In the run up to Conference we are publishing a number of pieces submitted for the purposes of stimulating discussion around the theme of reviving British industry, the challenges of AI and automation and the role of vocational education.

This piece has been submitted by Jurgen Wolf. We encourage members, readers and friends to comment below.

Jurgen

Does automation and AI benefit the workers under capitalism?

Automation and AI in certain areas potentially benefits Society as a whole. The question is, of course: Who rakes in the potential benefits of automated processes? This is a matter of class power,

and Unions play a deciding role in this, namely In wage negotiations, tariffs, pay scales, and benefits are agreed (if it goes well).

Again, out of my industry: So, a machine minder / journey man like myself would get an hourly rate of say £15 at the time. Before you know it, the world changes:

To get a five colour poster set-up on the press would have taken something like 2 hours, before the actual run starts.

We were a team of three on the press, running at production speed of approx, 7.500 sheets/ph.

One year later, we got new presses kitted out with all fancy built-in, self regulating electronic gadgets. My two colleagues were taken away and replaced by a temporary helper who knew nothing. It was on me alone to bear the entire production risk at computer-controlled (and by management recorded!) speeds of up to 16.000 sheets p/h. I was bathed in sweat after thirty minutes, encountered sleeping problems and started to fear every day at work. Not meeting “production targets” would get you fired, being replaced by another poor soul that needs work desperately.

Now, such burdens were not reflected in any agreement my French Union (CGT) had ever negotiated with the employers.

Automation and AI can be wonderful things IF APPLIED to the benefit of the working class.

On another note:

Automation and AI (with all its potentially time- and work saving features) can also have a detrimental affect on craft and industrial skills, eroding the culture of being proud of one’s professional knowledge, achievements and ingenuity, degrading many of our brothers and sisters to mere push button pressers and computer operators, not to mention the social deficiencies arising from individualisation and breaking up teams and collectives.

This is blatantly reflected in the ever increasing shortage of skills in trade and craft, where more and more people have to ask Google first other than to apply their very own knowledge and professional experience.


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