What About This . . .? 4.27.2017

By Wayne William Cipriano

It is  not immigration, it is not off-shoring, it is automation that is a threat to those Americans who rely  on so many industrial vocations.

Have you stood in a long cashier’s line at a grocery store or some other large retailer and looked over at the automated checkout stations?  Heard the lure of quick action?  Even strolled over and given one a try?  You gotta do what you gotta do, but if you come from the part of the country where my relatives live, union country, you keep those trips through the automated checkout stations to yourself.  My family is big on unions and the effect that “low labor” or “no labor” jobsites have on the “workingman.”

What about the new Wendy’s auto food drive up stations?  I confess I have not seen one but I heard they do about the same thing as the automated checkout stations: take minimal training jobs away from humans.

How many times do you call a business and trudge through a never-ending menu that uses voice-recognition computer software that ignores your voice?

What about Uber, that new taxi service that pretty much anyone with a car can join and be a driver pdq?  Seems like an easy way to make a few bucks without a lot of training and pretty safe from automation?  Not so fast, Bunky.

How long will it take those self-driving cars we’ve heard about to incorporate that voice recognition software and, without a human driver, pick you up, ask where you want to go, misunderstand your instructions, take you to the middle of freaking nowhere, and refuse to move until you have paid for that useless trip?  If you don’t like that, call our automated complaint line and leave us a voice mail.

And if self-driving cars are on the way, how far behind them will we find self-driving trucks putting the Teamsters on the street collecting unemployment?

Done well or not, how safe is whatever we do to earn a living and feed our family from being automated to a degree that some machines overseen by a few humans replace many, many humans?

My cousin Larry’s first job out of technical school was with the helicopter manufacturer Sikorski.  He trained as a machinist and made a very nice paycheck.  Later in his working life, however, his job became not to operate machines, not even to oversee machines, but to serve machines!  Larry worked on an automatic turret lathe, and his job was simply to replace lathe tools that wore or broke.  Not only did he not supervise the machine, his instructions were very explicit:  he was not to interfere with anything the lathe did.

Larry joked that he looked forward to the time that the lathe would just sit there and smoke and rattle and he would just sit there and watch.  But, it never did smoke and rattle and one day the several lathes that each required a servant like Larry were somehow linked together and required only one machinist / servant for the entire line.

Larry is retired now, living a secret and rewarding lifestyle.  His son, who trained as a machinist as well, is having a lot of trouble finding work in his field even though he is more intensely trained and more technologically adept than Larry ever was.  Those jobs are just not there.

Remember when Teamsters were the kings of organized labor?  When their skills were so necessary to bring raw materials to manufacturers and take finished goods away?  When a Teamster-supported labor action by any union assured negotiations?  As time went by the Teamsters supported fewer job actions by other unions which consequently lost bargaining power, then members.  And then workers, now individuals, experienced wage stagnation, benefit reduction, job vulnerability, and ultimately replacement by automation.  And now, self-driving trucks will replace Teamsters faster than we can imagine.

It is not immigration (legal or illegal) that will take jobs from present workers, some of whom are very highly trained, willing to work hard and learn quickly.  And that much faster from the untrained or less-trained.  It is not off-shoring jobs to less expensive, more eager to work, but often less trained work forces.  It is automation that will lower the cost of goods, ease the burden of boring, repetitive, easily trained labor, and remove all those jobs from the hands of human beings.

What jobs are safe from automa-tion, what training will protect humans from replacement?  Before you smugly declare that a machine could never replace you, think about those Teamsters.