DETROIT, MI — “When I look at the automation and robotics in our factories, it was that double edged sword. The folks that were running those machines were being killed/worn out because of the repetitive stress and heavy parts. Drop a robot in that costs roughly the wages for the year of one operator, the operator has been replaced. That one operator can run many robots now, so he’s productive, but some of his friends are let go.” (The Source of the Healthcare Crisis in this Country, IN MY OPINION BLOG, 3/15/15)
In a conversation with a UAW activist late last year, he said the contract negotiations are about getting bigger share of “unpaid labor” into our wages. But he did not understand that the qualitative change in how cars are produced means there is less “unpaid labor” because we make more cars with less labor.
The Era of Contradiction
The assembly line allowed production to move from high paid skilled labor to low paid unskilled labor. It created the need for more and more labor to produce more and more products for sale. Poverty in this country, immigration from other countries, and migration from the South served as the source of this labor.
Labor doesn’t own the products it produces. Wages determine labor’s ability to buy some back. As the assembly line expanded “unpaid labor” grew at an astounding rate. “Unpaid labor” served to fund the expansion of the assembly line and industrial cities grew. The development of industrial unions served to deal with this contradiction as a struggle over paid and unpaid labor with individual employers.
The Era of Antagonism
The introduction of robotics into the assembly line process is replacing the contradiction with antagonism by eliminating human labor and consequently “unpaid labor”. Today less “unpaid labor” manifests itself by a 354% increase in the number of billionaires in this country.
In 1979, prior to the introduction of “robots” at Ford, GM, and Chrysler, the UAW had 1.5 million active members, including about 1 million at the big three. Today the UAW has about 400,000 active members with about 140,000 active members in the big three and over 700,000 UAW retirees from the big three.
We make more cars with 86% less labor today because of this antagonism.
Billionaires simply have nowhere to invest the “unpaid labor” that they are accumulating so they buy and sell in the stock market instead of buying labor and selling the products that labor produces.
This antagonism is creating the growth of permanent poverty and the resulting destruction of industrial cities in the “Rust Belt.” It is the basis of the wave of anti-immigrant propaganda and racist ideology that blames that poverty on the growing number of people caught in it.
2015 Contract Negotiations
Five million members of AFL-CIO affiliated unions have or will be negotiating contracts this year.
The United Automobile and Aerospace Workers (UAW) contract negotiations will be begin in June of this year as a very small, but important, part of these overall AFL-CIO negotiations with employers.
Under these conditions, the best thing that can happen in these negotiations is that we realize that we need political unity to achieve a society that meets human needs. That means developing an independent political movement.