|Lessons from the longshoremen - why we need powerful unions
Excellent article on the Longshormens strike - and the ramifications of organized labor in an increasingly mechanized/robotic workplace.
"The theory behind the dockworkers’ pay may seem unexceptional: As workers grow substantially more productive, their numbers should shrink and their pay should rise. In practice, however, the vast majority of U.S. workers who are substantially more productive than their predecessors (chiefly, those in manufacturing) have seen their numbers slashed but their pay frozen, if not reduced. Only workers with powerful unions, such as steelworkers (an industry where it takes a worker two hours to produce the amount of steel it took 10 hours to produce 30 years ago) and longshoremen, have seen their pay rise with their productivity. Time was when U.S. workers’ wages ascended at the same rate that productivity increased, but those trend lines began to diverge in the 1970s, as unions began to shrink. Today, with unions in the private sector all but vanished, gains in productivity go only to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — largely, to owners and shareholders."
"The mechanization of work that dockworkers have experienced is sure to accelerate across the economy as robotic technology becomes more sophisticated. Google has already perfected the driverless car; how long before FedEx decides to dispense with its drivers? Will the remaining workers have the power to claim a share of their employers’ productivity gains? Will the citizenry have the power to redistribute through taxes some of the employers’ wealth to would-be workers whose would-be work has been rendered redundant by machines? The comforting story we tell ourselves — that just as unemployed farmworkers found jobs in factories in the 20th century, so unemployed factory workers will find postindustrial jobs in the 21st century — has already been called into question by declining rates of employment and labor-force participation."