For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The future of labor unions in the age of automation and at the dawn of AI"

by Nissim, Gadi; Simon, Tomer (2021)


The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated an already-ongoing process of massive digitalization in economic production and services. AI and robotics are getting, for the first time, autonomous and self-learning, with human-like capabilities. The discussion about digitalization and the future of work has become even more imperative. So far, labor unions were the leading institutions representing employees. However, the rising possibility of human substitution by intelligent machines puts in question the feasibility of labor unions’ policies. This development undermines their traditional power sources, which depend on the membership of masses of paid workers and on their ability to stop production. In this context, this paper aims to discuss the challenges confronting unions in capitalist democracies. Most scholarly literature on labor relations has embraced the assumption that the digital revolution will eventually bring new, better jobs. We suggest considering an alternative scenario, namely, a digital revolution that causes mass replacement of human workers and structural, technological unemployment, which might expand our point of view, particularly for designing public policy. We suggest that unions now have two crucial roles. The first is to safeguard workers' rights and interests in the transition from an economy based on paid labor to an economy based on automated-autonomous production; and second, they should transform their primary calling from representing employees to representing the social rights of all citizens, and particularly the material interests of lay people.


Technological Unemployment, Robots, Automation, Technology, Social Impacts, Unemployment, Unions


Technology, Automation

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