Automation: a Challenge to the American Labor Movement

Automation: a Challenge to the American Labor Movement

Basic changes are taking place in the American economy and the American labor movement. They signify a crisis of historic proportions.

Among these changes I would include automation, the wider application of electronics to industry, the use of computers for programming, the development of new power sources, etc. To take full advantage of these changes, many large companies have undertaken the construction of new plants. The location of such new plants, generally away from the older, unionized areas, is posing serious problems. Moreover, we find that often these new plants tend to be smaller than plants built before or during World War II and this too has serious consequences for the industrial unions.

For the labor movement perhaps the most significant result of these developments has been its by-product effect on the labor force. The shift away from the old type of machine operations to automatic flows and processes has a profound effect on the demand for labor. More and more engineers, technicians, or computer clerks are being employed in American industry, and fewer and fewer production and maintenance workers are required.

I think the relationship between this increasing number of white collar technical and professional workers and the trade union movement as it exists today, goes to the very heart of the future of organized labor in the United States. And it is not merely a question of numbers, for involved too is the social and political role of the trade union movement in American life.