Fight For 15

Some pictures of the Fight For 15 strikers, from their Twitter feed yesterday

fight for 15

fight for 15 indy

Here’s John Lewis in Atlanta. He said “thank you for finding a way to get in the way”

john lewis

The older fellows there are mineworkers:

fight for 15 mineworkers

The National Retail Federation called the strikes “further proof that the labor movement (has) abdicated their role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce.”

And in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes, warning that higher wages would mean “fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives.” “You can either raise prices and lose customers, or (automate) those jobs,” said Michael Saltsman, EPI’s research director.

Threaten them with robots, Michael. Go ahead.






113 replies
  1. 1
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    If they get a hamburger robot before I get a flying car, shit’s going down.

  2. 2
    Sad_Dem says:

    It never ends. I remember a song from England’s restive days in the 1830s about how a person couldn’t survive on 10 shillings a week (the going rate for agricultural and factory workers at the time).

  3. 3
    Belafon says:

    The robots will come anyway, so it’s not really a threat. But the girl who will repair that robot might be the child of one of your workers. It would be in your interest to make sure that her parents can send her to school.

  4. 4
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    And in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes, warning that higher wages would mean “fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives.”

    Let them eat pancake!

  5. 5
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    Who the hell reads the Wall Street Journal and isn’t already against a higher minimum wage? Seems like a dumb way to spend your ad money.

  6. 6
    VidaLoca says:

    Robots. Heh. Come the day when everybody is finally unemployed and all the jobs are held by robots, who’s going to have the money to buy all the crap the robots make?

  7. 7
    redoubt says:

    Going to go with Walter Reuther on this one.

  8. 8
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @VidaLoca:

    I think the answer can be found in “The Midas Plague” by Frederik Pohl.

  9. 9
    Kay says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    It’s a fake Institute. What does he care? He’s back there today churning out some more “research”.

    We could replace him with a robot.

  10. 10
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Kay:

    Conservative propagandists will never be replaced by robots. Robots have too much dignity for that.

  11. 11
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @VidaLoca:

    who’s going to have the money to buy all the crap the robots make?

    The burgeoning robot middle class.

  12. 12
    Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937 says:

    When has it been the labor movement’s job to be a “role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce”.

    F the bossman. They’re a labor MOVEMENT.

  13. 13
    VidaLoca says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:

    The burgeoning robot middle class.

    Hell yes, and it will be one of those fuckers that get your flying car.

  14. 14
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Belafon:

    Honest question: every time I put forth the “what the hell are all these people who have been technology’d out of a job going to do now” the answer is always some variation of “robot repair!” It reminds of Silicon Valley libertarians who say that anyone who’s unhappy with their job should just start the next Facebook (or, a la Mitt Romney, borrow $20,000 from their parents.) Either we’ll have an economy in the future that’s about 95% automated robot repair, or it’s just a fig leaf for “you’re all fucked.”

    Personally, I’d support legislation that would curb the amount of automation a company can do, and I’d happily buy things that take longer to make or cost more if it means I’m helping support the human who actually made them.

  15. 15
    Baud says:

    I for one welcome our new robot pancake makers.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Fuck the National Retail Federation with rusty unlubed chainsaws.

  17. 17
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @VidaLoca: MOTHERFUCKERS!

  18. 18
    Chris says:

    @Belafon:

    The robots will come anyway, so it’s not really a threat.

    This. I just LOVE the implied statement: “It is totally within our capacity to replace you all with a fully automated workforce! The reason we’re not doing it, obviously, is that we’re wonderful and magnanimous people. But if you fail to show up the proper respect, we will do it!”

    Yeah. Sure. If you had the capacity to replace them with droids, you’d have done it already. All around the line. And if you’re developing that capacity now, it sure as hell isn’t because workers sometimes dare to strike – it’s because you’re cheapasses.

  19. 19
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:

    “My parents came to this country as just a pair of car-building robotic arms. They didn’t speak a line of code. But they scrimped and saved and put me through engineering school, and now I’m an A.I. that runs 100,000 automated cars! I worked hard to get here, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up my joules to support a bunch of lazy humans!

  20. 20
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Chris:

    Of course they don’t have the capability now. But they are working on it, because everyone seems to think it’s ‘inevitable’ or whatever. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecies.

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Trollhattan says:

    @VidaLoca:

    It’s worse than that–the Roomba has siezed a third of our house, and not even the dog is allowed in.

  23. 23
    Scott S. says:

    I’m not even sure I believe the robots are inevitable. Can you buy and maintain a fast-food robot for $20-24K? I suspect that humans will remain a lot cheaper to use than robots…

  24. 24

    @Belafon:

    The robots will come anyway, so it’s not really a threat. But the girl who will repair that robot might be the child of one of your workers. It would be in your interest to make sure that her parents can send her to school.

    This. It might also be wise to make sure there are customers who can afford to eat in your restaurant.

  25. 25
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    Robots can’t spit in your food.

  26. 26

    @Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937:

    When has it been the labor movement’s job to be a “role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce”.

    The same day it became the Chamber of Commerce’s job to do the same thing, i.e. the twelfth of never.

  27. 27
    LanceThruster says:

    What about robot Wall Street bankers that will toil bonus free?

  28. 28
    Gin & Tonic says:

    OT, but funny as hell: Ted Nugent’s wife was arrested at DFW for a gun in her carry-on bag. An honest mistake, she just forgot it was in there.

  29. 29
    joes527 says:

    @Belafon:

    But the girl who will repair that robot might be the child of one of your workers. It would be in your interest to make sure that her parents can send her to school.

    That’s what H1Bs are for, silly.

  30. 30
    Li says:

    A just world with universal robotic labor would be a paradise, where people hardly have to work and the cost of producing anything has fallen so much that no one ever lacks for things they truly need.

    But in our world? Most of the people in charge are sociopaths that see no value in human life at all, besides how much it pads their bottom line. I suspect that our ‘betters’ would just start murdering us indiscriminately if they no longer needed us. And with robotic warriors that will kill thousands at a click of a mouse, they won’t even have to get their hands dirty to do it.

  31. 31
    VidaLoca says:

    @LanceThruster:

    What about robot Wall Street bankers that will toil bonus free?

    Those would be the ultra-high-speed computer programs that spent the last week fucking up by the numbers. “Bonus free” indeed.

  32. 32
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader: Yeah, well they’ll ask you to bite their shiny metal ass.

  33. 33
    Sad_Dem says:

    Mitt Romney has already been replaced by Robot Mitt Romney.

  34. 34
    Belafon says:

    @Spaghetti Lee: Surely (and no, I did not call you Shirley) you’ve hear the shovel versus backhoe story. You know: “That backhoe is going to put so many shovelers out of business.” “Yes, and think of how many more people it would take if they used spoons.”

    There will be plenty of places where you will be able to get human cooked and served food, and there will even be fast food places that offer it. I just don’t think McDonald’s will be one of them.

    Having seen technology change over my short 43 years, it’s not technology that’s the issue, it’s greedy bastards thinking they can cheat employees out of pay. Because, yes, technology has eliminated a number of jobs, such as secretaries (my last employer did not have secretaries, and my current employer has one for about 600 people), but it created a number of other jobs: Sys admins, software engineers, hardware engineers around digital technology.

  35. 35
    VidaLoca says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    OT, but funny as hell: Ted Nugent’s wife was arrested at DFW for a gun in her carry-on bag. An honest mistake, she just forgot it was in there.

    I’ll bet somebody just about shit their pants when they saw that thing going through their X-ray machine.

  36. 36
    Zifnab says:

    the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes

    As an IT guy, I look forward to the day when the service industry steps into the bear trap that is high skilled maintenance and repair. You think robots are efficient and reliable? I won’t argue with that. I love automation. It’s my bread and butter.

    But you think robots are *cheap*? Bwhahahaha. Anyone that thinks they can operate a piece of high performance machinery for $7.35/hr is in for a nasty shock when the bill comes due.

  37. 37

    @Spaghetti Lee: The answer is a lot more subversive, I think. The formula is approximately:

    GDP / workers = productivity.

    If you can achieve the same GDP with fewer workers and drive productivity up, that’s great. The problem is that we directly correlate productivity with hourly labor or a variant of it (piecework, etc.) and then try and shove the whole thing into a 40 hour/week model. The end result is that we can get ahead of ourselves – with productivity growing faster than GDP, which results in more workers than we have 40 hr/week slots to put them in. So, we wind up with a lot of unemployment/underemployment with the excess profits going to the executives, investors, bankers, etc. That’s one thing that income inequality is measuring – how efficiently labor is being used. And in this case the answer is ‘too efficiently’, at least, relative to what people get paid.

    One solution is to do what CA does in power regulation. Rather than the incentive being to convince people to use more power, so you have more to sell, the state set things up so the incentive is to convince people to use less power, and then the consumer and the utility split the savings. If you save $1 in power, your rate will go up (in aggregate) such that you’ll only end up saving $.50, and the utility will get to keep the other $.50 in profits. Everybody wins.

    So rather than measure wages, measure productivity and split the difference with the worker. If workers can be twice as efficient (due to robotic pancake makers), then the workers get a 50% raise and the company keep the other 50% (right now they’re keeping close to 100%). The incentive is still there, but there’s now also an incentive for the worker to increase productivity, because they don’t lose out. Now, this balance out the inequality in one way, but the increased productivity, when it gets ahead of itself, leaves a lot of people out of the system, which we accommodate through various welfare mechanisms.

    Instead of doing that, split things a bit differently. Give 50% of the productivity gains to the employer, 25% to the worker, and 25% in reduction in hours. The worker still makes more money, because we’re not measuring hourly wages but overall. So the worker reduces their time to 35 hours per week, or does so effectively by getting guaranteed paid vacation time, sick time, family leave, earlier retirement, more than workers get now etc. The hours that are reduced then need to be filled by another worker, which keeps under/unemployment in check.

    A big part of our problem is that we’ve identified a 40 hour work week as some sacred fundamental constant of the universe. There’s no reason we can’t have a 30 hour work week if we can be just as productive. I mean, we rejected a 50 hour work week from that very argument. The only cost is to profits for the folks at the top, which of course they’ll have none of, but that day will come eventually.

  38. 38
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @LanceThruster:

    What about robot Wall Street bankers that will toil bonus free?

    Won’t the cocaine gunk them all up?

  39. 39
    Belafon says:

    @Chris: The last sentence is what I meant to imply. They are not coming because they are better, or even because they will do their job without complaining. It’s because the companies are cheap.

  40. 40

    @Scott S.:

    I’m not even sure I believe the robots are inevitable. Can you buy and maintain a fast-food robot for $20-24K?

    The breakeven price point is a lot higher than that. Remember, it’s going to be able to operate the kitchen 24/7- OK, maybe 16/7 given some time for maintenance, etc- so it’s replacing all the wages you’re paying to all your cooks. Also, too, it’s a capital investment that can probably be amortized over 5 years or so. Depending on how it works, it may need less space than a human cook, so you may be able to shrink your floorplan. Overall, I’d expect it to make economic sense if you can get it in the million dollar range.

  41. 41
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    @👾 Martin: Or we can kill the excess people in permawar, your other strategy.

  42. 42
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @VidaLoca: I see what you did there.

  43. 43
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    This week’s special at McDonald’s is sponsored by Adult Swim

    “Robot Chicken McNuggets”

  44. 44
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Belafon:

    I don’t see why there isn’t a middle ground between ‘be as inefficient as possible’ and ‘be as efficient as possible’. At a certain point, technological advancement moves from assisting people to replacing them: “It’s not, we’ve found a more efficient way for people to work”, it’s “we’ve found a way to work without any people involved.” And short of a meteor strike/EMP pulse/nuclear war that boots society back hundreds of years, I’d say the latter is a bigger danger right now.

    Do you think the number of engineers and repair people that have replaced secretaries and such is a 1:1 ratio? Even if it was, I doubt it will be with fast food. Even if McDonalds needs to keep one robot repair person employed full time per restaurant, that’s still one job where there used to be 10 or 15. And what are those people going to do? Are we really going to argue that everyone has the time, skill, and money to go to engineering school? These single parents, older than 30, usually, trying to raise 3 kids on minimum wage? Don’t piss on my leg, etc.

  45. 45
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Roger Moore: Then, since it handles food, it’ll have to be cleaned daily, by people, whom you have to pay.

    Long time ago I worked in a production facility that handled dairy products. Pretty much an entire 8-hour shift every day was devoted to disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the handling equipment.

  46. 46
    MomSense says:

    Can’t survive on $7.35!! Brilliant!

  47. 47
    VidaLoca says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Pretty much an entire 8-hour shift every day was devoted to disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the handling equipment.

    Solving this nasty problem is what deregulation is all about.

  48. 48

    @👾 Martin:

    A big part of our problem is that we’ve identified a 40 hour work week as some sacred fundamental constant of the universe.

    Employers haven’t. They’re doing everything they can to undermine it: cheating overtime, bending and breaking rules about exempt classification, etc. The current environment is a lot more likely to move toward a 45 or 50 hour week than a 30 hour one, at least for full time employees.

  49. 49

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:

    Or we can kill the excess people in permawar

    Starvation is much cheaper.

  50. 50
    Emma says:

    @Sad_Dem: How would we know the difference?

  51. 51
    Belafon says:

    @Spaghetti Lee: Did you miss the part where I went after the greedy bastards?

    But, with your comment, are you planning on standing athwart history, yelling stop? I watched the little city I moved to on the edge of Dallas try to do that. After about 8 years of that, they’ve had to spend extra to try to catch up with what they should have done earlier. History didn’t stop.

    It’s coming, and I’m afraid thinking that you can stop it isn’t going to do much good in this case. It will be better to make sure more people can get the type of education necessary to get jobs that are better than McDonald’s, and set things up so that fewer people would need to work at a cheap place like McDonald’s or Wal-Mart.

    Wait until the robots completely replace grocery store employees. Actually, I can see it: Conveyer belts in the roof, with tubes and robot arms moving items into the correct location. You could even have help stands at poles where you could ask the screen where an item is. Hell, at least you could find one of those screens.

  52. 52
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:
    Personally, I’d support legislation that would curb the amount of automation a company can do, and I’d happily buy things that take longer to make or cost more if it means I’m helping support the human who actually made them.

    Well, I carve my own salt out of wood.

  53. 53
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Roger Moore:

    And on the flip side of that, one of the big complaints of the strikers is that their companies won’t let them get anywhere close to 40 hours a week, because then they’d have to start treating them less like slave labor. So take minimum wage for a year and cut it in half. If I’m not mistaken, the Bullshit Budget that McDonald’s put out a few weeks back assumed two full-time minimum wage jobs to break even. They won’t even give their own people one full-time job.

  54. 54
    gelfling545 says:

    So only the industry’s deep concern for keeping their employees employed is keeping them from automating? Right.

    As for raising the price, the extra 5 cent or however much charge on your happy meal is really unlikely to drive customers away. The thing is, if there’s an extra 5 cents to be made, they want to make sure it comes to corporate.

  55. 55
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Belafon:

    Well, I’m afraid I take a dim view of the ‘It’s not the technology, it’s how people use it’ argument. In this case, the greedy bastards in question are fervently hoping for the technology only so they can be greedy bastards with it.

    It will be better to make sure more people can get the type of education necessary to get jobs that are better than McDonald’s

    Isn’t part of the problem these days is that higher education doesn’t get you as much as it used to and that the value of diplomas has been vastly inflated? It doesn’t matter what kind of education you have if the jobs aren’t there.

    But, with your comment, are you planning on standing athwart history, yelling stop?

    Pretty much. The idea that anything is ‘inevitable’ in terms of society and economy is bullshit. It’s all about what we’re willing to accept.

  56. 56
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Honest question: every time I put forth the “what the hell are all these people who have been technology’d out of a job going to do now” the answer is always some variation of “robot repair!” It reminds of Silicon Valley libertarians who say that anyone who’s unhappy with their job should just start the next Facebook (or, a la Mitt Romney, borrow $20,000 from their parents.) Either we’ll have an economy in the future that’s about 95% automated robot repair, or it’s just a fig leaf for “you’re all fucked.”

    Not to mention actual hardware repair is a talent, not a skill that can be just be taught or else all the poor would be car mechanics and the like.

  57. 57

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    They won’t even give their own people one full-time job.

    Or a schedule that lets them get a second one.

  58. 58
    Zifnab says:

    @Roger Moore:

    The current environment is a lot more likely to move toward a 45 or 50 hour week than a 30 hour one, at least for full time employees.

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/201.....-part.html

    “Over the last six months, of the net job creation, 97 percent of that is part-time work,” said Keith Hall, a senior researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. “That is really remarkable.”

    That doesn’t sound like 40-50 hour work week to me.

  59. 59

    @Zifnab:

    But you think robots are *cheap*? Bwhahahaha. Anyone that thinks they can operate a piece of high performance machinery for $7.35/hr is in for a nasty shock when the bill comes due.

    Robots are dirt cheap, because they’re mostly fixed costs. Even if it costs $700/hr to repair, provided it can do 100 hours of work for every hour of repair, you’re probably at least breaking even. If it can do 200 hours, you’re be ahead, eventually. If it costs you $40/hr to operate it and it’s 5x more productive than you without the robot at $10/hr, then you’re going to come out ahead.

    But robots really make their bank in secondary benefits – more consistency, higher quality control, reduced risk to workers, the ability produce things that humans cannot which enable new products and markets. Robotic welders aren’t necessarily that much faster or cheaper than human welders (and often have a master welder supervising them), but they are dead consistent. Faulty welds are far less common with robotic welders, which means testing is cheaper, you have fewer parts to discard/repair, and so on. You’re making more money per weld, which makes that master welder/robot combo cheaper than without the robot.

    Now, that doesn’t apply everywhere, but when the pieces come together, it’s a slam dunk, and over time the pieces come together in more and more markets. Apple switched from conventional part assembled chassis – usually metal+plastic in their phones and laptops to a single piece of aluminum milled via CNC machine. It was incredibly expensive to get set up, and it shifted labor from lots of low-skilled to a moderate amount of medium skilled (fewer workers but each making more), but it also allowed Apple to make products (iPhone 4/MacBook Air) that the competition really couldn’t match and it resulted in a huge growth for the company. There’s no question it was an incredibly cheap solution, because simply scaling the old manual labor wouldn’t have enabled the new devices to exist, but the automation not only introduced new classes of products, but also lowered the amount of labor needed to build each part. Notably, this shift is helping to move production back to the US not because of the wage gap, but because with fewer workers needed, Apple can actually staff their production lines in the US which has a much smaller available, and less mobile labor pool.

  60. 60
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    I can’t tell whether you’re making fun of me or not.

    What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t matter if something is teachable or not, it matters whether there’s room for it in the economy. Even if everyone on the planet was supernaturally given complete computer expertise, the demand for computer repairmen wouldn’t change. One of the reasons I hate Reaganomics is the ‘supply creates its own demand’ assumption; demand matters too. The big cause for this recession has been a cratering of demand, particularly for consumer goods, because fewer and fewer people have the money to create demand.

  61. 61
    Zifnab says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Not to mention actual hardware repair is a talent, not a skill that can be taught

    Um… what? I’m pretty sure you’re not born doing car repair. In fact, I’m almost certain that there are full blown academic institutions and apprenticeship programs dedicated to teaching people automotive repair. So, I’m hoping you’re being sarcastic here.

    Education is expensive. Business capital is expensive. The reason you don’t see hobos just up and starting their own car repair depots is because job skills and office space don’t come for free.

    Now, maybe they should. Perhaps investing several hundred billion dollars in job training, subsidized business loans / commercialized real estate, and the associated guidance programs would be money better spent than just dumping it all down another round of corporate tax cuts or super-duper defense budget projects.

    But let’s not pretend that car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and the like spring from the soil fully formed.

  62. 62
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Zifnab:

    but you think robots are *cheap*? Bwhahahaha. Anyone that thinks they can operate a piece of high performance machinery for $7.35/hr is in for a nasty shock when the bill comes due.

    Or lay it off when then the economy is in a downturn.

  63. 63
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques:

    Well, not lay it off per se, but I’m sure they could shut it off, pack it up, and put it in a warehouse until things picked up again.

  64. 64
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Zifnab:

    Um… what? I’m pretty sure you’re not born doing car repair. In fact, I’m almost certain that there are full blown academic institutions and apprenticeship programs dedicated to teaching people automotive repair. So, I’m hoping you’re being sarcastic here.

    After twenty ones years as a hardware repair tech I can safely say not everyone can do it. Sure you send them school for training but not everyone has the patience to trouble shoot complex and intermittent problems or the kind of mind to keep tract of the inner workings of complex systems while the customer is screaming at you why it’s not already done.

  65. 65

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Isn’t part of the problem these days is that higher education doesn’t get you as much as it used to and that the value of diplomas has been vastly inflated?

    Certainly not when any non-management job that pays well instantly justifies passing out H1B visas as if they’re candy.

  66. 66
    Zifnab says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Even if everyone on the planet was supernaturally given complete computer expertise, the demand for computer repairmen wouldn’t change.

    Yes, it would. More people with computer expertise means more demand for computers. More computers mean more computer maintenance. And more required maintenance means more jobs.

    There’s a gap in this formula, of course. You can’t just give people knowledge. They need actual hardware to work on. But setting that bit aside, supplying people with job skills can, in fact, create its own kind of demand. As offices have gone digital, the demand for computer repair has skyrocketed. There are computer repair stores in nearly every shopping center I’ve ever visited, and that wasn’t the norm 20 years ago.

    There is always more work to be done. The goal is to get money into the hands of the people who need work done. In theory, Reagonomics achieves that by giving business leaders (who have, ostensibly, been creating the demand by building a large complex business) extra money for hiring. In practice, obviously this hasn’t worked. But the core idea – giving money to people that have demands – is actually quite sensible when not being co-opted for the purposes of enriching the already filthy rich.

  67. 67

    Even if a company can make a robot pancake flipper for free, it still won’t replace a person who can mix the batter, make the pancake, make the fries, make the burgers, make the fish, serve the customer, take the money, clean the equipment, sweep the floor, etc. etc.

    I am not worried.

  68. 68
    Patricia Kayden says:

    Kudos to the scores of low wage earners who risked their jobs to strike. I hope something good comes of all these protests.

    With the help of ALEC, Republicans are passing anti-worker laws at the state level.

    http://www.politicususa.com/20.....leave.html

  69. 69

    @Zifnab:

    There’s a bifurcation. People who have full-time jobs are being asked to put in more hours for no more pay. People who have part-time jobs are being denied enough hours to require they be paid benefits. You wind up with 19 hour a week workers and 50-60 hour a week workers and not a lot in the middle. We need some kind of labor law with teeth that will prevent both types of abuses.

  70. 70
    beltane says:

    Do robots eat fast-food? Someone should design a fleet of robots that will buy stuff from McDonald’s and Wal Mart because I don’t see how these types of business survive in the worker-less, ragpicking, shanty town future our overlords have planned for us.

  71. 71
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @Zifnab:

    More people with computer expertise means more demand for computers.

    I don’t get this argument. Most people who have computers have just one, maybe two (one for work and one for home), because that’s all they need. Why would they suddenly want a third computer just because there’s a bunch of new people with computer repair expertise. What would drive them to purchase a new one? Are people holding out on getting a third computer now just because they’re worried there aren’t enough people to repair it if it breaks? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    Over the last 25 years, sure, the demand for computer people has shot up as computers have become more prevalent, but that’s still a case of the people with computers having a demand for repair, and people gaining the skills needed to meet that demand. What I’m saying is that just showing up with a supply of something (knowledge in this case) doesn’t create its own demand. The demand has to come from the people who actually want that thing.

  72. 72
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Enhanced Voting Techniques: and to follow up on that; let’s consider what were talking about fixing here – robots. That means the tech will need to know mechanics, electronic hardware, electrician, networking, optics and something about computer operating systems. Since it’s food preparation that means cooking too, so we’re talking about at lest a baby engineer here with a lot experience that Scrooge McDuck won’t wanna’ pay for.

  73. 73
    jamick6000 says:

    hope all our brothers and sisters stay strong. Is there a strike fund or something people can donate to btw?

    Also, a DJ on a classic rock station in between songs this morning mentioned the strikes. He said that they want the minimum wage increased to $15/hour and that none of the stores closed because owners found plenty of workers to fill in for the strikers who were happy to make $7.35 an hour. I almost fell over.

  74. 74
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    @jamick6000:

    none of the stores closed because owners found plenty of workers to fill in for the strikers who were happy to make $7.35 an hour.

    Unemployment being what it is, I’m not surprised. The strikers should get in touch with these people and show them how getting a higher minimum wage would help them, too.

  75. 75
    Zifnab25 says:

    @👾 Martin:

    Robots are dirt cheap, because they’re mostly fixed costs.

    Fixed for the manufacturer, maybe. For the owner, anyone with a car can tell you why that’s not true. Complex machines like computers and cell phones can have all sorts of associated software costs and maintenance.

    If it costs you $40/hr to operate it and it’s 5x more productive than you without the robot at $10/hr, then you’re going to come out ahead.

    True. But you’re assuming that you can increase your business by 5x simply because you can increase capacity by that much. My laserjet printer can run off page documents far faster than writing by hand. I can copy PDFs far faster than I can print and bind them. But if I’m in the book-selling business, that only gets me so far if only 10,000 people will ever want a copy of my book.

    The fast food industry isn’t going to be increasing its customer base five-fold just because it can churn out tacos or pancakes 5x faster. If you can’t increase your customer base, you’re just paying a burger flipper $40/hr.

    But robots really make their bank in secondary benefits – more consistency, higher quality control, reduced risk to workers, the ability produce things that humans cannot which enable new products and markets. Robotic welders aren’t necessarily that much faster or cheaper than human welders (and often have a master welder supervising them), but they are dead consistent. Faulty welds are far less common with robotic welders, which means testing is cheaper, you have fewer parts to discard/repair, and so on. You’re making more money per weld, which makes that master welder/robot combo cheaper than without the robot.

    But this is why the food industry is so uniquely ill-suited for this kind of mechanization (and why it hasn’t happened yet). There’s only so much value add in flipping the perfect pancake. In some ways, there’s a value loss when your food comes out of a big metal box, simply because of aesthetics.

    I’m just going to have to call the food industry’s bluff here. Service workers have a healthy margin to collect on before wages exceed the benefits of mechanization.

  76. 76

    @Zifnab:

    I’m pretty sure you’re not born doing car repair. In fact, I’m almost certain that there are full blown academic institutions and apprenticeship programs dedicated to teaching people automotive repair.

    There’s both talent and skill involved. Yes, you need training to know the parts, what can go wrong with them, and what to do for each failure. But there’s also a natural talent involved. Some people have an intuitive idea of how machines work and how the break, and other people are just hopeless.

  77. 77
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @jamick6000: Now remember Mr DJ that you too could be replaced by a robot so to speak — a no DJ “Jack FM” format…

  78. 78
    Zifnab25 says:

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Over the last 25 years, sure, the demand for computer people has shot up as computers have become more prevalent, but that’s still a case of the people with computers having a demand for repair, and people gaining the skills needed to meet that demand. What I’m saying is that just showing up with a supply of something (knowledge in this case) doesn’t create its own demand. The demand has to come from the people who actually want that thing.

    The demand comes from people who are skilled enough to use the computer but unskilled enough to repair it. I’ve got a fair amount of computer skill, but I’d still send in my laptop for repair if it had a cracked screen or a broken keyboard.

    Likewise, there’s always a market for newer and better software. Microsoft is still very much in business, despite the fact that Windows 95/ Server 2000 were perfectly serviceable for an OS. People line up to buy the iPhone 5 before the warranty is out on the iPhone 4. If we were all still living on land lines, that market wouldn’t exist.

    There is always more work to be done and always people happily to pay for marginal improvements, customizations, and frill features. Again, its just about getting money into the hands of people who want to do the spending.

  79. 79
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Starvation is much cheaper.

    Yes, but the profits if you’re a munitions manufacturer are much greater.

    The overall impact on society is a distant second to the personal bottom line of me, myself, and my glorious Galtian ego.

  80. 80
    Belafon says:

    @Spaghetti Lee: Except which came first: The demand for a personal computer or the existence of one? The demand for light bulbs or the existence for one? The demand for an iPhone or the existence of one?

    A good number of industries have grown from creating their own market.

  81. 81
    Zifnab25 says:

    @Roger Moore:

    Some people have an intuitive idea of how machines work and how the break, and other people are just hopeless.

    People develop that “intuitive idea” through thousands of hours of computer operation. There’s a learning curve for everyone. Some of us just get that learning curve out of the way early, and therefore appear “talented” simply because we got the exposure sooner or got more of it.

    Now, there are some people with out-and-out learning disabilities that go beyond computer hardware or car repair. But we’re talking about actual mental handicaps here, and those will exist for the individual in any conceivable field. What do we do with handicapped people? We give them the same support we give children and the elderly.

  82. 82
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Zifnab25:

    The fast food industry isn’t going to be increasing its customer base five-fold just because it can churn out tacos or pancakes 5x faster. If you can’t increase your customer base, you’re just paying a burger flipper $40/hr.

    Not to mention if the menu changes that robot better have the pricey flexibility built into the design or the restaurant is now stuck with a door stop with a bank payment to pay for and has to buy a new robot.

  83. 83
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @Zifnab25:

    People develop that “intuitive idea” through thousands of hours of computer operation. There’s a learning curve for everyone

    I have worked with techs that after ten years were just piss useless, were only good for pressing buttons and only had their jobs because because the company had to hire someone.

  84. 84
    beltane says:

    @Zifnab25: I know someone who works at a highly mechanized food processing plant. The machines involved are highly complex and fragile. Aside from requiring employees with a certain skill level to operate them, these machines need a well-trained (and well-paid) team on mechanics on hand at all times lest production cease due to breakdowns.

  85. 85
    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    The reason you don’t see hobos just up and starting their own car repair depots is because job skills and office space don’t come for free.

    @Zifnab: Current cost for a CARB-compliant automotive paint booth, assuming you can get a permit from the state at all: $250,000.

  86. 86

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    I think a better way of thinking of it is that any technology needs a level of support infrastructure to really take over. Many people aren’t going to be willing to use computers if they have to do everything themselves. When home computers had to be built from a kit, only a handful of dedicated hobbyists were willing to get them. When you could buy one from IBM but had to maintain it yourself, some people were willing to buy them if they had a good justification. When enough people used computers that almost everyone had a friend they could call for tech support, they became a lot more popular. Now that you can take your ailing computer to BestBuy and have the Geek Squad fix it for you, there isn’t much barrier to owning one anymore.

    That said, the infrastructure can only go so far. You can’t push a technology without a good use, no matter how much infrastructure you build for it. And there’s an obvious feedback, where more ownership creates a market for more elaborate infrastructure. You wind up with a typical technology growth curve, where there are a few brave early adopters, a build-out in popularity as the infrastructure improves, and finally a plateau where just about everyone who wants or needs the tech has it.

  87. 87
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @VidaLoca:

    The six Waltons that are left holding all of the cash. Gee, that was easy!

    I’m glad to see this finally happening. Our local McDonald’s is staffed with people who would normally be retired and it’s a damned shame that they can’t afford to properly retire and enjoy the few remaining years they have left on this planet.

    Letting robots do all of the work and laying everyone else off would be brilliant. There’s nothing like having millions of people, broke, homeless, starving and milling around looking for something to do.

    I’m sure those wealthy gated communities will keep the hordes out.

  88. 88
    Lawrence says:

    Does the upside down hotfoot robot torture device in Return of the Jedi seem weirdly specific to that kind of droid? Are they inherently less obedient? I’m going with Alton Brown’s “never have a one use gadget” here. These questions will ultimately be important to robot management theory.

  89. 89
    Jebediah says:

    @Zifnab:

    But let’s not pretend that car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and the like spring from the soil fully formed.

    As one point of anecdata, my brother is now an auto mechanic. But when he was born, he was just a regular baby. (In between, he worked in New York and London for UBS. I am very happy that he is in an honorable profession now.)

  90. 90
    Tyrone Slothrop says:

    Kay, you consistently write posts upon subjects about which I know very little, and of which I’d likely be unmotivated to explore on my own initiative, and you do so with passion and insight. I just wanted to acknowledge that, and to thank you for helping to educate me on many of these local matters with a potential import that reaches beyond their own particular region.

  91. 91

    @Spaghetti Lee:

    Isn’t part of the problem these days is that higher education doesn’t get you as much as it used to and that the value of diplomas has been vastly inflated?

    No. Just the opposite. The problem is that the demands on workers has grown significantly faster than education has been able or willing to keep pace. Time was that an entry level clerical job required that you could type at a given speed and maybe operate a 10 key along with basic math skills. There was a lot of data entry and getting information from point a to point b. Not a lot of critical thinking needed for the job, and there was a certain protection from having a small army of workers where if something slipped past one worker another would probably catch it. Over the 20 years since I was hiring those kinds of people, we’ve cut the workforce in half and doubled the workload. Computers and databases and online services handle most of the clerical work that I might have had a person dedicated to doing (like making scheduling group appointments). That job doesn’t exist any longer. Instead, what’s left are the bits that the computers aren’t good at – all of the critical thinking jobs, the work of programming those systems, and so on. And more than that, keeping track of a fuckton of information because everyone is doing 4 jobs instead of one.

    Almost anyone with a high school diploma could have done the old job. The new ones are hard to find people who can do them – even with a degree. Not everyone can mentally track that much information, or put a bunch of disjointed bits of data together to draw a conclusion, or weigh 6 different options for how to solve a problem and pick the best one and know why it’s the best one. A sociology degree would have been excessive training for this work 20 years ago, not because sociology is relevant, but because the process of getting the degree required the student to demonstrate a slate of other skills and abilities which I do need. Art history would have worked equally as well. Today those same degrees, even if they do a much better job of teaching sociology or art history, are hit-or-miss whether they’d deliver me someone who can do this work. Anyone in the sciences is likely better equipped, though because there’s more of an emphasis on drawing conclusions from data and open-ended problem solving, and that’s most of what’s left of the work now that the clerical bits have been stripped away.

    The nature of the work we do has changed quite a lot but not all aspects of how we educate people has kept pace. Now, I’m not advocating that we turn every degree into clerical drone prep, just that we should be realistic about what role that degree has to the workplace now. Unfortunately the mistake many students fall into is thinking that a masters degree in sociology is the solution to the problem, when it’s unlikely to actually help.

    The one overarching problem I see is the move to standardized testing out of some notion of ‘efficiency’. It’s absolutely gutted students ability to think critically. Standardized tests mandate a clear, correct answer. There’s not a lot of work that most of us do that have a clear, correct answer. This is a triple-whammy because coincident with NCLB and the school reform movement hammering away at standardization, we had a massive erosion of at-home skill development – sewing, metal and wood working, cooking, those kinds of things that do teach many of those skills, and then the shifting of those subjects out of K-12 to make room for other subjects. You know you’re really fucked when 50% of the students entering an engineering program don’t know what a philips screwdriver is when you ask for it. That means they never really had the experience of trying to produce something or to solve a problem and going through the messy process of making it all happen. Little tiny problems of how do you drill this hole when the throat on the press isn’t large enough? And you need to solve that. It forces you to think in new ways, and a lot of kids just don’t get enough practice doing that any longer.

  92. 92
    Jay S says:

    @Thor Heyerdahl:

    Yeah, well they’ll ask you to bite their shiny metal ass.

    Or “accidentally leak” machine oil, hydraulic fluid or cleanser on your food, and then blame the maintenance robot.

  93. 93
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    @Tyrone Slothrop:

    Agreed. If there is any FPer here who ‘brings it’, it’s Kay. Her writing is full of detail and informative.

    Thanks Kay! :)

  94. 94

    @Zifnab25:

    There’s more to it than experience. Developing first-rate skill in repair requires that you fundamentally not be afraid of the equipment you’re repairing or of failing and making things worse. You can develop confidence, but only if you have enough confidence to start out with to get over the initial hurdle of fear of failure. Some people have that confidence naturally and others don’t, and it has a huge effect on who will be successful. Similarly, there are things like 3D visualization that are really important as a mechanic and which different people have vastly different skill at. And while many, perhaps most, people could eventually become competent car mechanics or electricians or whatever if they were forced to, it would take a lot of pushing to get them to try.

  95. 95
    Sad_Dem says:

    @Emma: Robot Mitt processes human emotions with 5% greater efficiency.

  96. 96
    Kyle says:

    The National Retail Federation called the strikes “further proof that the labor movement (has) abdicated their role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce.”

    “Whereas we have never given a rat’s ass about any honest and rational discussion unless it involves us telling you that you are now working for less, and you shutting up and taking it”

  97. 97
    The Moar You Know says:

    No. Just the opposite. The problem is that the demands on workers has grown significantly faster than education has been able or willing to keep pace.

    @👾 Martin: I agree with you here. When I first started working lo these many years ago, people had a job. Sometimes these jobs were complicated, but even still you weren’t flying airplanes AND serving drinks to the passengers.

    Not any more. I was employed as a regression tester. Now, I make coffee and answer phones (that used to require a receptionist) maintain all the office equipment, supplies and wiring (that used to be its own job, usually performed by an outside company) do our accounts receivable and payable (that used to require an accounting clerk), maintain and expand a very complex and very secure computer network (that used to be the network admin’s job, which is the job listed on my business card), seize, image and process data and run investigations, then testify in court (that used to be the digital forensics guy’s job). And just to stay practiced sometimes I still test software, although that’s a job that’s being automated out of existence.

    I’m doing work that used to take six people. There’s no education that can prepare someone for that. You either sink or swim or have a coronary at your desk. On the flip side, there’s no way to replace me, something that used to cause employers heartburn, but not any more, they all know I can’t afford to leave because there’s no fucking jobs out there for an IT guy – even a really experienced IT guy – in his early fifties. The only thing they have to worry about is me dying, and since that’s not likely to happen soon it’s not an issue.

    Worst thing is that it’s not my employer being a dick and sitting on a pile of money laughing at his idiot employees. It would be easier in some ways if that were the case. We largely get fixed-fee contracts (gubbmit work, largely) and we either run super-lean or go under.

  98. 98
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    Hell if we need robots, lets have robot congressmen, can they do worse than the one we have now. One fantasy I would love to see happen, is the one from the movie Westworld.

  99. 99
    e.a.f. says:

    Yes, these types of ads like to think they threaten people. The ads are just jokes. Who’s mind are they trying to change? Certainly not those on strike. Capital kept telling North American workers they would ship their jobs overseas if they didn’t lower their salary demands. Well in some cases they did. What happened? The jobs went overseas anyhow. It doesn’t matter how little money north american workers would work for, there will always be a 3rd world country person who will do it for less. What governments need to have a look at, does the country who produces and imports have an unfair advantage by using wages which are below the poverty line in those countries. If so, they don’t come into North America.

    This “warning” of the robots are coming…… Hey, didn’t the guy know they have been here for some time. The North American automakers have been making record profits again, but the workers never did come back. Robots and outsourcing took the jobs. What did the city of Detroit get? Poverty and Bagdhad looks better. Perhaps it might be important for the Wall St. journal to remember, what happened in Bagdhad and other countries can happen in the U.S.A. if the people have nothing to loose. Those in the middle class who think it can’t happen to them, think again.

    A lot of “paper work” can be sent overseas as we have seen in canada. The major banks in Canada, some of the most profitable in the world, contract the work out to India and lay off Canadian workers. Whole I.T. sections go overseas. Oh and first they had the Indian workers come to canada so the Canadians could train them to do their jobs.

    The Wall St. Journal’s interests lie with the few who own the multinational corporations. Even those who work at the Wall St. Journal and write these types of articles should watch out. You too are expendable.

    A country can not continue to thrive if the majority of people are making less than the poverty level. Cities will all start to look like Detroit. There will be no taxes to collect because no one is making enough money to pay them. So who will pay for the military then?

    The military machine has continued to bankrupt Americans. It has provided some temporary jobs, but the cost to the workers/soliders has been too high. Their lives, if they still have them, are ruined, with little to help them adjsut to civilian life.

    Some European countries at least understand you have to keep most of the people “happy” one way or another. if you don’t the country goes down the toilet. We are seeing it in the U.S.A. now. If the fast food workers and those at Wal Mart do not make a “fair wage” then we can only look forward to more people on food stamps, more crime, more homelessness, more drugs, etc.

  100. 100
    Jennifer says:

    I, for one, do not welcome our new fast-food robot overlords.

  101. 101
    kc says:

    God bless’em.

  102. 102
    Yatsuno says:

    By the way: that bottom picture should scare the ever loving piss out of the 1%ers and the Republicans. Older white folks working with young bucks without regard to race. All of a sudden the bullshit they’ve been fed is recognised for that.

  103. 103
    Mike G says:

    a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes

    If the fast food giants could have profitably automated pancake flipping they would have done so already — and the Japanese would have done it first. Then they’d bitch that they can’t find good robot technicians for $8 an hour.

  104. 104

    @Mike G:
    And the minimum wage in Australia is A$18, so apparently that isn’t enough to force fast food place there to automate. It’ll happen when it happens, and suggesting that wage demands are forcing the owners’ hands is just scare tactics.

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    Chris says:

    @e.a.f.:

    Some European countries at least understand you have to keep most of the people “happy” one way or another. if you don’t the country goes down the toilet.

    American elites, by and large, do not understand this, because they’ve been told their entire lives that they’re entitled to live at the expense of “most of the people.” And that “most of the people” aren’t their problem anyway, because they could all solve their own problems themselves if they weren’t so lazy.

    Furthermore, their sense of entitlement runs so deep that while you might be able to get it through their heads that paying into society so that the masses don’t revolt is practical, in many cases, they’ll still rebel against that idea, because it’s not right. To them, paying taxes for welfare, high salaries for employees, and things like that are the moral equivalent of paying protection money to the mob. If they’re going to have to pay for social stability, they’d rather pay their own uniformed thugs (either directly or through the government they own) to go and break up the racketeers extorting them, than pay the bribe. It’s a matter of principle. And letting that lawless mob understand what the rules are. And who the boss is.

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  108. 108
    daverave says:

    The people commenting on that Chicago Trib article are all so completely clueless and heartless. IGMFY!!

  109. 109
    Mnemosyne says:

    @daverave:

    I’m not often in favor of conspiracy theories, but McDonalds’ corporate headquarters is in the Chicago suburbs. Sock puppetry is not out of the question.

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  111. 111
    Alex Milstein says:

    I always call my dad, who passed away in 1990, a ‘socialist capitalist.’ He owned a company in NYC that made women’s undergarments, and he ran it with complete appreciation of those who worked for him. It was an ILGWU shop. My dad loved the idea of unions, as he’d been in one in his earlier days. There was never a strike against him. He turned down offers to set his company up in a country where he could take advantage of much lower wages, telling me that he couldn’t do that to his loyal employees. He told me back then (the early-mid ’60s) that he wondered why businesses were so eager to get rid of their employees, because if nobody was working for a decent wage, who would be able to buy anything. I thought about that when I read Michael Saltsman’s callous threat of robots.

  112. 112
    KS in MA says:

    @Roger Moore: This. (speaking as one of those 50-60 hour workers)

  113. 113
    Bob says:

    @Zifnab:
    It’s not IT guys who fixes robots, its us mechanics. And most the times they have to be taught how they work, lol.

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