The CIO Faces Automation

The CIO Faces Automation

One of the most singular advantages we derive from machinery
is in the check which it affords against the inattention, idleness,
or the knavery of human agents.
CHARLES BABBAGE, The Economy of Machinery, 1832.

The unequivocal statement can be made that creative talents
can’t be automatized. But the operations analyst doesn’t find
man actually called upon for creative ability in manufacturing
operations. The analyst is willing to go farther and say that
man’s creative desire is a troublesome factor when man acts on
the basis of creative ability in lieu of following instructions.
PHILIP R. MARVIN in Automation, April 1954.

From 1947 to 1953 the output of the electronics industry in the United States increased 275 per cent. Over the same period employment of labor in the industry increased only 40 per cent. At the end of 1954, when electronics production was about equal to the peak of 1953, nine per cent fewer workers were employed and the average work week had fallen almost an hour. Commenting on the situation last March, Al Hartnett, secretary-treasurer of the International Union of Electrical Workers, CIO told his membership that while it could be a boon, automation also also offered the possibility of “… a disaster of the first magnitude.”

The CIO Oil Workers, surveying the impact of automation on the industry, dolefully reported that while refinery production rose 22 per cent from 1948 to April, 1954, the number of production workers had fallen from 147,000 to 137,000. Joseph Beirne, CIO Communication Workers’ president, reported in April that mechanization on the operating end of the telephone industry had eliminated some 17,000 jobs in 1954 alone. Describing the trend, Hartnett of IUE declared: “automation is not merely an extension of machine production. It is instead as great a revolution as machine production itself. While machine production displaces some workers, automation could displace MOST workers.”

Such dramatic examples, recently given increasing publicity, have aroused the unions to the problems of the “era of automation.” One man doing the work of 100 for Raytheon, or 35 for Chrysler, or 15 for Dow has, despite its exaggeration when abstracted from a total plant process, shaken the organized labor movement into a concern for the possible social and economic consequences of automation.