MILLIONS of workers in Britain face the prospect of seeing their jobs replaced by machines in the next ten years, according to a report based on studies carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) into the impact of new computer technology on the economy and employment.
More than six million workers are reported to be worried their jobs will disappear, replaced by machinery, while the Bank of England recently predicted that up to 15 million jobs across the country could be destroyed over the next decade.
So serious are the implications of 15 million workers suddenly being thrown out of a job, that the House of Commons home affairs select committee has launched a commission on ‘workers and technology’, drawn from business leaders, trade unions and academics to investigate how to deal with a crisis that they fear ‘could risk social disruption and further exacerbate the gap between rich and poor.’
So far, the ideas being floated for consideration by this commission are ways to support workers through the transition – the transition being from paid employment to the misery and poverty of being thrown on the scrapheap of unemployment and having their benefits cut in order to ‘encourage’ them to look for non-existent jobs. In fact, the figure of 10 million could easily be on the low side.
The IPPR has estimated that a staggering 44% of jobs in the UK could be automated, which would represent in excess of 13.7 million people thrown out of work. The revolutionary implications of such mass unemployment have not been lost on the capitalist class.
Chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper, said: ‘It is vital that action is taken now to make sure technology creates new better jobs and that all workers benefit from new technology.’ She went on: ‘We have to make sure that automation and the digital revolution don’t widen inequality and that everyone gets the help and support they need to get on … We need to ensure that automation is an opportunity and not a threat for British workers.’
Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, was even more explicit when he warned an international meeting of bankers last April that the automation of millions of jobs, causing mass unemployment, wage stagnation and the creation of huge inequalities, would inevitably lead to the ‘growth of communism within a generation’.
Carney threatened his audience that ‘Marx and Engels may again become relevant.’ Just how relevant Marx is today can be judged by his penetrating assessment of a struggle that broke out in Germany in 1844 amongst the Silesian weavers who rose up against the introduction of machinery used to cut their wages to poverty levels.
The young Marx wrote of this uprising: ‘Not only did it destroy machinery, the rival of the workers, but also the merchants’ records, their property titles.’ Marx saw that these workers, dismissed by everyone else as being mere opponents of new technology and just ‘machine breakers’, were in fact aiming their blows at the very heart of capitalism – private property and production solely for the profit of the bosses – and not just against the ‘industrialists, against the visible enemy’ but were ‘also directed against the banker, the invisible enemy.’
It was this expression of class consciousness that led Marx to the scientific conclusion that the working class is the only revolutionary class in society. Marx saw clearly that under capitalism every advance in machinery and technology would only be used to extract more profit for the bosses and bankers while condemning workers and their families to unemployment and poverty wages, and so driving workers to the conclusion that capitalism, not just machinery, is their enemy.
Only through the abolition of private ownership of the means of production can automation become a means to free workers from the tyranny of capitalist wage slavery, by advancing to a communist society based on, as Marx wrote, ‘From each according to his ability to each according to his need.’
There is no alternative for the working class, as Carney rightly fears, but to take the power and smash capitalism. This demands the building of the revolutionary leadership of the WRP to take this struggle to victory.