Automation

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Tue Sep 12 08:11:55 MDT 1995


Scott Marshall wrote:

  Virtually all, but not all, the precision skills are eliminated.

Are new ones being created? (of course). That would then mean that the
question in this regard would be (at least) three-fold:

1) does the demand for new skilled workers in some branches of production
offset the loss of skilled workers in other branches? (probably not in
the US).

2) will formerly skilled workers be able to get other skilled jobs? (this
depends, in part, on the concrete nature of the skills involved, the
possibilities for re-training, and regional differences in labor demand).

3) will skilled workers and trade unions be able to develop a effective
strategy against deskilling and employment loss on the firm and industry
levels? (The IAM has probably the best policy on deskilling but has been
relatively ineffective in fighting for its policies, especially a "New
Technology Bill of Rights").

> This development has many impacts among them: (snip) 3) increasing net
  unemployment and job loss. ie: every skilled job lost does not equal
  another unskilled job created instead several skilled jobs lost are
  replaced by one unskilled job. Much greater productivity with far fewer
  workers.

Productivity has increased but job loss has not increased in the manner
anticipated by many economists (including Marxist economists) due to
automation. This issue has been discussed quite widely since the early
1980s, and as Rakesh has pointed out, is a theoretical issue that has a
long history pre-dating Ricardo and the "machinery effect." It is also, I
would argue, a vital question for trade unionists (especially those
employed in branches of production where the level of investment/worker
in computer technologies is relatively high).

Scott is interested in discussing automation. So am I (in fact, we have
discussed issues related to automation in a number of threads over the
last 5 months, most recently, the exchange on "flexible automation").
These are serious questions and are, perhaps, a good way to get us back
to discussing some important issues on this list.

Jerry


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