This week a group of Facebook users called for a “Robot Boycott” concerning the rise of automation in the face of the recent crisis of employment. The page calls to “return jobs — such as cashiers — back to human beings where they belong!”
With unemployment hovering around 10%, and the rates for youth unemployment hovering around 50%, the idea that corporations would eliminate jobs is appalling.
Jobs such as cashier positions are usually what young people use as stepping stones into the working world, and without these jobs readily available it’s making it very hard for young workers to attain any kind of experience needed to rise to more elevated positions.
This plague of automation is not limited to cashier positions either. Anyone who rides some form of public transit knows that ticket booths are disappearing and being replaced with automatic ticket vendors.
Even more frightening is the possibility of these machines replacing more skilled workers. Prototypes for robot nurses, robot receptionists and robot teachers already exist and have been tested in Japan.
While they claim that the aim of these machines is not to do away with teachers and nurses but instead to provide an alternative, the end result should be obvious to anyone.
Automation not only takes jobs away from workers but it also places a heavier burden on the workers that remain. Whereas a cashier before may have operated one register now one cashier can be responsible for half a dozen or more. The workers are responsible for refilling receipt tape, making cash drops when the robots are too full and other general maintenance tasks. Stores that have six robot cashiers are eliminating six jobs a shift and considering that workers are also being asked to work later and later those six registers can eliminate 16-20 workers.
It also places a new burden on consumers who are expected to fill the labor gap by swiping and bagging their own purchases, not to mention depositing their money into the machine via dollar scanners, which we all know are tons of fun to use.
The worst part of it all is that we as consumers have all just fallen in line in awe of the new technologies not realizing that we are being manipulated into working for these corporations without expecting anything in return. In our haste to quickly check out we are actually acting against our own self interests as workers.
The proponents of these new technologies would argue that technology constantly eliminates jobs and streamlines productivity, after all where would we be without sewing machines and wheat threshers? These technologies eliminated positions for seamstresses and field workers, however they also made the job easier and faster making working people’s lives much easier. These new technologies however make no one’s lives easier, in fact they make workers lives much harder both by squeezing more labor out of them and by lowering the wages to perform these tasks.
So are we running the risk of a future like the Matrix where machines have taken over the world and are hunting down humans? Probably not, but we just may be facing a future where there are no customers for the robots to serve because no one will have money to spend because a robot took their job.
Join the boycott, click here.