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Thursday, February 29, 2024

AI Wants Our Jobs…All of Them

AI Advances Threaten Livelihoods


Right now, there are people in industries across the United States working very hard to raise their families, but who are openly worrying they have…maybe…one year left before AI takes their jobs.

In Nevada, for instance, where beneath the sheen or this year’s big Super Bowl bash Allegiant Stadium workers were fighting for livable wages — other service workers up and down the rest of the Las Vegas Strip have been waking up every day wondering just how much longer they’ll have their good union jobs now that the robots have arrived.

There’s not a whole heckuva lot to cheer in the face of that.

Everywhere you look nowadays, automation and AI continue to be treated like unassailable forces of nature far beyond anyone’s control — and not the result of a very specific, well-orchestrated, and easily understandable campaign by filthy rich corporations to wring even more profit out of the unwashed masses.

And I dunno about you, but it makes me sick to my stomach. Is it any wonder that depression rates in the greatest nation on earth have reached record levels, and are now some 10 percent higher that they were in 2015?

Of course the corporate capitalists are gonna capitalize — and I don’t think that’s really what’s making me sick. At least not the whole reason.

What really grinds my gears and sticks in my craw is something Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future” told me almost a decade ago, when I asked him if we could expect the American public to rise up at some point, plant their flag, and declare automation has gone too far and will not be allowed to go any further.

“I wouldn’t put too much hope in that,” Ford said. “It would be nice to think that people would rebel and not use the technology on that basis. But the fact of the matter is, when you’re wearing your consumer hat and not your worker hat, you look for the lowest price.”

And therein lies the crux of this problem. Capitalists are, indeed, gonna capitalize — but it’s up to the rest of us who work for a living to resist them. We have that power. We do not have to buy what they’re selling. We are more than consumers — we are citizens and we need to stop selling our souls for…what? More “convenience?” “Ease of use?” I worry, because, keep it up everyone — and we’ll ease ourselves right out of existence.

Local 863 Teamster George Boada, 45, criticized this same kind of consumer passivity and general abdication of responsibility at a 2021 rally held outside the offices of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority in downtown Manhattan. Members of the Teamsters and other working class warriors were there to protest Amazon’s mad plan to build a massive transportation hub at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Talk about monopolizing the industry, driving down wages, and putting a stake through the hearts of “mom & pop” shops.

“People don’t realize,” the married dad and grocery store worker told me on the sidewalk. “As soon as you click that button there’s a warehouse employee putting together your order; there’s a driver at 3 o’clock in the morning racing to get it to you; there’s someone out there fighting through traffic to deliver it. “You need to think of those people [being exploited] — and not just sit down and say, ‘Oh, this great —click! I got what I wanted.’”

No doubt about it, the corporate class is as crafty and cunning as they come. The stick is always available to crack open as many skulls on the streets as needed. But they’ve got lots of carrots, too, to accomplish their goals of unquestioned dominance.

Some of the best-paying positions available on job boards across the Internet involve teaching AI how to become even better adept at putting our fellow human beings out of work.

Left alone, isolated and frightened, many will succumb to this kind of pressure. Too many. More’s the pity because there is no bottom to this.

And all that old-timey jazz about Henry Ford and the rest of his industrialist cohorts realizing back in the day that they needed to pay workers just enough to buy their products — is old hat. 

That doesn’t totally apply anymore. With AI, they don’t need as many of us the way they used to — and any labor leader out there who doesn’t understand this and refuses to fight back, outta be stripped of their scepter and crown and run out of town on a rail.

Automation and AI in Action

Speaking of rails, who’s more notorious for trying to automate human beings out of their livelihoods in the endless pursuit of ever-more profit — safety concerns be damned — than our latter-day railroad robber barons?

Just last month, 55-year-old Northfolk Southern train engineer Chris Wilson was killed working at an Alabama rail yard. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating Chris’ terrible death. 

But last summer, Railroad Workers Union spokesperson Mark Burrows complained to Work-Bites about remote control operations in train yards, and how it’s something that “should never have been allowed to be brought into the industry.”

February also marks the one-year anniversary of the massive multi-car train derailment and ensuing chemical disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. Eyewitness to the fiery wreck and toxic gas explosions described it as an “apocalypse.”

In discussing that lingering catastrophe with Work-Bites, Burrows pointed out how, despite rolling through three separate detectors, the Northfolk Southern freight train carrying loads of extremely “hazardous materials” through the unsuspecting countryside last year, was allowed to barrel ahead on a flaming axle for miles.

“Investigators said the temperature of the failed wheel bearing increased by 215 degrees in a span of 30 miles (48 kilometers),” the AP reported, “but did not reach the temperature threshold that railroad company Norfolk Southern had set for an alarm to go off until just before the wreck.”

“By then it was too late,” Burrows told Work-Bites. “In the last several years, they have now taken that decision-making and responsibility from the [train] crews — to somebody at a desk in an office who monitors.”

Today, two of the largest profit-driven health insurance companies in the U.S. — United Healthcare and Humana — are currently trying to fend off class action lawsuits from patients insisting the companies are using to AI to — guess what? Deny claims and withhold necessary medical care to people who need it most.

Just last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent out a memo warning the profit-driven health insurance industry that algorithms or AI cannot be used in their privatized Medicare Advantage plans to determine and deny care. The CMS basically said AI is a tool and “should only be used to ensure fidelity” with established coverage criteria.

Wow — I hope the CMS is being too hard on them!

Sure, AI can be used as a helpful tool in the hands of working people. You might already be using it at your job. But who really feels comfortable about resting it firmly in the hands the bosses signing your paycheck? The same bosses who can, and very well might, decide to fire you at any time.

The corporate class is so hot on AI software that they’ve started giving it away to their employees — you know, as a tool to make their jobs easier and to increase productivity. Uh-huh. Kinda like the same way the drug companies made is so easy to get oxycontin — the same way the first hit on the streets is always free.

And who the heck even wants to interact with AI? I understand why the bosses and hard-pressed employees might reach for it to pump out more content and correspondence — but who wants to be on the receiving end of all that? Who really wants to be talked to that way?

I sure don’t. Already, any correspondence addressed to me — but clearly the product of some high-precision formula aimed at “connecting” with as many people as possible on some email list somewhere — immediately gets trashed. You don’t have time to know who you’re writing to — I don’t have time to read it.

All technology has its consequences — and only some of it is unintended.

Some years ago, I had a conversation with the training director at UA Plumbers Local 1 in New York City who welcomed apprentices having a “handheld computer” in their pockets that they could use to quickly summon up blueprints and schematics.

At the same time, however, he also expressed grave concern about the ubiquitousness of those very same devises, and how the constant scrolling was actually undermining the traditional learning process that’s always taken place between master and apprentice. They simply weren’t bonding the way they used to at lunchtime, the training director told me, and it was hurting the master’s ability to impart a lot of critical institutional knowledge to the apprentices because the kids couldn’t peel their eyes away from their screens long enough to shoot the breeze at break time.

The bottom line for working people is clear: profit-driven automation and AI is destroying our livelihoods, compromising our health, and crushing our spirits. It truly is an existential threat. But it’s not an unfathomable force of nature — it’s just the latest scheme to help the rich get richer. The good news is none of us has to passively accept any of it. By acting collectively in solidarity and community with one another we can reassert our sovereignty and fight back — and we can win.

Joe Maniscalco is a journalist and freelance writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in a variety of news outlets ranging from the to He's spent the last decade covering workplace justice issues, the American Labor Movement and steadfastly avoiding well-paid corporate media gigs.