GM employees picket outside of the General Motors Renaissance Center as the UAW GM Council Meeting is being held in Detroit, Michigan. The UAW is meeting to discuss a proposed tentative agreement with General Motors.

GM employees picket outside of the General Motors Renaissance Center as the UAW GM Council Meeting is being held in Detroit, Michigan. The UAW is meeting to discuss a proposed tentative agreement with General Motors.

The strike between General Motors and the United Auto Workers revealed how both sides are trying to stay relevant in a 21st century disrupted by new technology, automation and global trade.

Automation has clearly disrupted the auto industry. But does it really help the corporate bottom line?

According to this commentary in The Quint:

The dominant business motivation for introducing new technology is to reduce costs. Robots, or more broadly software, don’t leave for another job, go on strike or need bathroom breaks – let alone a paycheck or benefits.

But there is ample historical and current evidence that simply viewing technology as a labor cost-saving tool leads to over-investment and weak returns.

Just ask General Motors what it got for its nearly 50 billion dollars in robots in the 1980s in its futile effort to catch up with Toyota’s more efficient production and labor relations systems. The answer is not much.

What if new technologies could bring middle-skill jobs, like manufacturing, back to the United States? And how can workers, companies and the government help transition our labor force into a high tech future?

Produced by James Morrison.

1A Across America is funded through a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.

Guests

  • Tracy Samilton Energy and transportation reporter, Michigan Radio
  • David Welch Detroit bureau chief, Bloomberg News; @DavidWelchBN
  • Elisabeth Reynolds Executive director, Future of Work task force, MIT.

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