Recently, I was a guest on a radio program, Labor Hour, where, with co-hosts Susan Stoner and Lane Poncy, we discussed the future of the labor movement. (Click) When asked what I thought was the single most important issue facing the workplace, I answered, “robotics” and the threat it poses to human livelihood. (Blog 7/31/15) Not only are today’s robots capable of replacing workers on assembly lines but as they become more versatile, they will perform an increasing role in medicine and other service industries.
Conceivably, as robots become more capable, they could surpass their human creators and begin to improve upon their engineering, as well. This self-evolving technology is bound to increase the ranks of the unemployed, making income inequality inevitable. (“The Coming Robot Dystopia,” by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh. Foreign Affairs, July/August 2015, pg. 27.)
Given that technology is racing ahead of regulation, Labor needs to change its litany regarding the workers’ hours, wages and working conditions. How to distribute wealth in a nation that is economically imbalanced is a greater issue. Tax reform is paramount or money will pool in the hands of a few, leaving have-nots powerless. As writer Illah Rezn Nourbakis points out, If the economic balance isn’t restored, we could be looking at a new form of slavery where the disenfranchised worker lives under the thumb of a government controlled by a few.
In my view, Labor has an obligation to prepare itself for its coming role: chief spokesperson for the rights of the displaced worker.