Is a machine after your job?

 In Labor and Unions

The automation in the workplace has always made the working class people to be fearful of losing their jobs. In fact, anxiety about the effects of capitalist technology on labor is as old as capitalism itself. For example, the Luddites, one of the worker groups in England, feared that machines would replace their jobs and therefore opted to destroy weaving machinery in the 19th century.

Destroying and creating new jobs

In a capitalist society new technologies are only introduced for the purpose of profit maximization. In most cases, the competition amongst individual capitalists drives technological innovation. Competition forces capitalists to invest in new technologies to try and get ahead of their competitors.

However, when automation is introduced in the workplace, most of the time some jobs get destroyed. The automation reduces the work formerly done by human labor, especially the work of low skilled workers and, to a lesser extent, also middle skilled workers. But automation can also create new type of jobs. The computerization, while decimated the jobs of typists has expanded work not only in computer hardware and software, but also in mobile phones and games consoles.

Moreover, the automation not only threatens jobs or in some instances creates new jobs, it is also designed to increase control over workers. With automation the managers can be able to track the performance of workers better than before. Already, artificial intelligence is being used at Amazon warehouses to track every move employees make. Amazon’s systems count how many times workers go to the bathroom.

Machines and human labor

The machines including robots cannot completely replace humans, either at work or elsewhere. The tasks that can be performed by robots or machines remain limited. For more complex tasks, robots have to be controlled or monitored by humans. For example, in 2016 Mercedes-Benz replaced some of its robots with humans as they are more flexible. Indeed, part of the reason for the limitation of robots or machines is their lack of flexibility. Even though, some robots do not just carry out pre-programmed instructions but learn and modify output, humans remain far flexible than robots. Robots cannot learn from others and most importantly they cannot think like humans, as they lack imagination, emotion or consciousness and cannot deal with uncertainty or unpredictability.

The point is that the complete replacement of human labor by machine is an absolute fantasy. Human labor is the only source of all value or wealth.
Without the intervention of human labor wealth or value cannot be created.Machines and tools do not create profit— they have to be put to use by workers. In a society where robots produced everything and human beings were out of work, there would be no profits for the capitalists. If the robots or machine completely replace human labor, clearly this will spell considerable dislocation and crisis for capitalism.

There will be intense crisis of under-consumption and capitalists will cease
to be capitalists – without workers there can be no capitalist class. Marx said “If the whole class of the wage-laborer was to be annihilated by machinery, how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labor, ceases to be capital”. The introduction of technology has never been about completely replacing human labor. This is because capitalism completely depends on workers to survive, the workers produces good and services, but at the same time they buy these goods and services.

Socialism and automation

In fact, the threat to jobs is not the machines, but capitalism itself. With or without the introduction of machines, under capitalism people lose jobs. In a socialist society that is not based on profit, people released from one job in one sector of the economy could easily found work turning out a new range of goods and services elsewhere. Under socialism, the introduction or
use of machines will be for the benefit of everyone, not for profit. Under
socialism automation will enable us to cut our working hours leading to an ever increasing amount of leisure time.

In the meantime unions need to ensure that no worker is retrenched due to technological changes at the workplace.

Capitalist introduce technological changes as a result of the permanent
completion that they are locked into with other capitalists in the drive to stay ahead of each other in the race to see who can make the most profit in a particular industry.

It is this world that we have to bring down and replace with a socialist future in which technological change will be used to make all lives easier and not used a weapon to make peoples futures insecure.

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