What will labor do when the robots take over and there are no jobs left to protect? This is coming; it’s really almost here…


The good news is that Apple announced that it is going to manufacture some of its computers in the United States, but just a small portion and it will not likely be Apple but a subcontractor doing it.

The not so good news on the labor front is that despite a promise by that development and other recent ones is that robots are taking over. I think I read that in some cases robots can build other robots. All this has been predicted for decades but it is finally coming to pass.

We really are fast approaching a time when there may be little for the vast majority of people to do. This is going to force some new thinking about society and economics.

And this puts labor in a ticklish position. You can be replaced. I am a truck driver. But I know there is already technology for driverless trucks that has been tested in Asia. And the state of California has passed a law giving the go-ahead to driverless cars. I don’t know how that came about. I never heard anything about it until the law passed.

Somehow I felt this is all related to the ongoing struggle of the dock workers and others in the labor force to protect their jobs.

What follows is what I have written in the past several days on the subject:


How is it that no matter how much you pay people you hear things like this quote, reportedly from a union dock worker, who a story indicated was describing the plight of his fellow workers: “a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck and struggle with house payments and bills”?

I read this in a news story this morning telling of the fact that the strike by union dock workers at LA ports is now over with a tentative contract in the works. It was really over the plight of a relative handful of clerical workers but other union members honored the picket lines. And the main issue was job security and accusations that employers were or were planning to outsource and otherwise eliminate jobs. The new contract does offer a modest wage bump, according to the story. Apparently the threat of federal mediators stepping in was enough to get things settled.

But that quote I read this morning is what struck me. I don’t doubt but that it is true. And I don’t know how much those union dock workers make. The story said the average wage for the clerks was $65,000 per year, but that figure is probably misleading (too low or too high). My quick computer research indicated that union dock workers could make up to $100,000 per year, but the exact amount of money they make is not what strikes me. Let’s just say the union jobs offer generous pay. And still, people claim they live paycheck to paycheck (not everyone; it was just a quote from one unidentified person, I realize).

And, oh, just listen to me, but maybe the problem is that a lot of people will live that way no matter what. Pay more, they simply spend more and feel they must have certain things at a minimum. And of course if landlords or even home sellers know people are making more, prices tend to go up, that is how it works in our system.

But this job action was reportedly more about job security. In the end there may be no such thing. While the dock workers were out, some of their business was beginning to go to the Mexican port of Ensenada where wages are lower.

It seems in our system there is an eternal struggle between employers and employees and added to this employers are madly searching for ways to solve the problem by eliminating the need for employees.

I know it sounds like I am going far afield in this, but I have to note that during the recent presidential campaign the Republicans in talking about their business constituency referred to them as “job creators”. But computers and robots are standing at the ready to gobble up more and more human jobs and those “job creators” would be more than happy to oblige.

The point here, and there really is one after all, is that if you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck, a large amount of your problem may be the way you spend your money and the solution may not be limited to higher wages (although that would still seem to always help), but find a more efficient way of spending what you make. And maybe learn more about money in general. The days of simply claiming the identity of “working man” may be coming to an end.

I really have no clue what happens once there are no jobs for humans. We’ll have to figure out  a different way of distributing those tokens we call money.


In one way I have little sympathy with the reportedly 500 clerical workers and the union or unions involved whose strike has shut down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and threatens to shut down ports on both coasts and is costing the industry a reported one billion dollars a day. And then in another I do.

(just a relative handful of clerical workers have got several thousand more of other union workers honoring their strike.)

Here’s the deal:

As a long haul trucker I have had negative experiences at times — just at times, mind you — with union ways of doing things.

A few years ago I was going in and out of the port at Long Beach on a not infrequent basis (I just mean time to time). If I arrived at say 11 a.m., I’d have to wait because everyone was on break. But if I got there at noon, they were all at lunch (drivers like me don’t get set breaks or lunches; we catch as catch can).

And worse yet (and this goes to the core of the clerical workers causing all the fuss), I once arrived for a load of bananas. After loading half the trailer things stopped. I found out all the union workers had walked off over a dispute that there was not adequate staffing on the clerical side (at least not what was supposedly required under the union contract). Fortunately they came back after a while and I got out of there, albeit much delayed. Is that any way to run a business? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I have nothing but good words for the work of union workers at the dock when they are hard at it. They tend to be professional and quite efficient.

And as I read it, the clerical workers are two years without a contract, and the major bone of contention is their claim that the employers want to gradually outsource many of their jobs to overseas workers as people retire. I guess in this modern era of electronics and computers and super interconnectedness (via the internet) such could be done, outsourcing of much of the clerical work, that is. I can’t imagine how they would outsource (at least out-of-the-country outsource) the forklift drivers.

This brings up a real problem. As you take away the jobs people perform in this country, how does the economy continue? Now I know extreme union rules can get out of hand, such as in the railroad industry years ago after there was nothing left for the fireman in a locomotive to do after there was no firewood to toss into the boiler or coal to shovel into the boiler, but union rules demanded that job be preserved. It was called featherbedding. And I recall a news magazine story said at the time (and I think this was in the ‘60s) that an engineer, who was still needed to drive the train, complained that the fireman who was supposed to work beside him showed up to work in his night clothes and slippers.

So, no, jobs should not be preserved when there is no longer a need for them, but they also should not be transferred overseas.

This and the fact there are just fewer and fewer things for people to do as the result of technological advancements is a vexing problem.

But it gave me something to write about. I’ve just spent the whole day sitting waiting to deliver a load. I get paid nothing for this. Hey, maybe I need a union…. Just kidding boss who signs my checks.


Many people assume that all truck drivers are members of the Teamsters Union. Most long haul drivers and even other types of drivers are not.


And about those robots — check out this New York Times column: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/


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