You can’t fight automation but we depend upon well-paying jobs…



So a day or so after I posted this, under pressure from the federal government and state officials, both sides in the West Cost port dispute reached a tentative agreement, but this post still applies.




You really can’t fight automation. I say this in regards to the West Coast shipping port labor dispute that has stalled the unloading and loading of seagoing vessels for some time now and in turn has stalled exports of American products — agriculture hit the hardest currently — and the distribution of products to American consumers — and I mean practically everything we buy from tooth brushes to cars and car parts comes from overseas.

Right now the one sticking point — other issues such as pay being resolved — is the selection of arbitrators. At present, arbitrators are appointed to help resolve disputes, and an arbitrator cannot be removed without the consent of both management and labor. Labor now wants to have a separate say. Ironically it had sponsored the appointment of one arbitrator but apparently he did not go the way they wanted him to (that happens, remember Eisenhower’s pick of Earl Warren for the Supreme Court?).

But underlying this may be the concern of the longshoremen’s union in maintaining good well-paying middle class jobs for its members and at least dealing with the effects of automation. Also ironically, it is said that the union cooperated wholeheartedly back in the 1960s when the push toward automation began.

You’ve at least seen the old movies — “On the Waterfront” — where the stevedores unload the ships by hand and where men fight to be selected for a job each day and where if someone injures himself he is out of luck.

Today the pay is excellent (although not everyone works full-time) and so are the benefits. And all that hand labor is virtually gone. You see giant cranes and instead of individual crates you see containers that move intact from the ship to a truck and possibly to a rail car and maybe back on a truck — and air is another possibility somewhere along the way. You see forklifts of course too.

I’m not up on this, but I am reading and hearing that even with all this automation, the United States is behind other places in shipping automation. And in the current West Coast slowdown some freight is being diverted to ports in Canada and Mexico.

So it behooves all involved to get this settled.

Protecting good jobs is important, not just for those who have them but for everyone else who benefits from the flowing dollars.

But you can’t fight automation. Fighting it by labor almost killed the railroads until they made the switch (no pun intended really). And I know little to nothing about railroads but was interested to hear that they have automatic switches these days and remote controlled trains in rail yards.

It wasn’t all that long ago that production people in the newspaper industry fought automation. They may have won some battles but the war was lost. Technology has all but killed the conventional newspaper.

For those who work for a living, the pressure is to keep one step ahead of technology and learn the skills necessary for changes in work.

Easy for me to say now. I’m old enough to be almost done with it all (But then again, who wants to be done with it all?).

It’s kind of a scary world out there for job seekers and workers but labor has not been done away with (yet), it is just changing.



Much of the information in this post is thanks to a listen of the Diane Rhems Show on NPR, a good show to listen to because you get thorough discussion of issues enhanced by a talented moderator, solid information with a balance in points of view, generally, or always, without the usual bombastic presentation of talking points that add nothing to the understanding of an subject. Oh, and there is generally intelligent and important input from callers too. And my endorsement is totally unsolicited.







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