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Threat of machines worries union congress

Dec 10 2014 17:00
Terry Bell

Cape Town - The world faces the prospect of massive job losses as human workers are increasingly replaced by computer-based automation or robots.  

This was a crucial point raised at the UNI Global Union World Congress in Cape Town in debates on the future of leadership and the world of work.

In an introductory input, guest speaker Jay Naidoo, the first general secretary of Cosatu, noted that humanity faced a crisis.  “The knowledge revolution has had a bigger impact than the industrial revolution,” he said, pointing out that two thirds of work was now in the informal sector.

A number of delegates mentioned how jobs were being lost to automation and machines and workers in some sectors were being forced into retirement.  This was a world that was volatile and insecure and workers and their unions should be planning ahead now to cope with this new world of work.

A German delegate claimed that even high quality jobs will be jeopardised, pointing to developments at international retailer Amazon.  The way ahead, he said, was to ensure democratic and participatory structures.  “We must determine our future or capital will,” he warned.

However, representatives from the 600 000-strong Unionen Union in Sweden that organises “professional workers” felt that the threats of digitisation could be balanced by new potentials.

This required greater stress on education.

Moments from the congress:

Ready for International Justice Day for Cleaners at #UNI2014

A photo posted by UNI Global Union (@uniglobalunion2014) on


COSATU GS Zwenlinzima Vavi gets a rousing reception at #UNI2014

A photo posted by UNI Global Union (@uniglobalunion2014) on

The whole room rises up to pay respect to living legend Ahmed Kathrada at #UNI2014

A photo posted by UNI Global Union (@uniglobalunion2014) on



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