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Automation and digital transport

How should trade unions and transport workers respond to the challenges?

Unions must answer three important questions about automation and digitalisation:

  1. When will transport be automated?
  2. How will automation affect workers, transport and the economy?
  3. How can we make digital transport sustainable?

Automation of transport presents an opportunity for, not a threat to, workers and the trade union movement. Automation will not replace jobs. It will instead shift them to new workplaces, occupations, employers, sectors, skills, and employment models. Governments and unions must play a key role in managing this digital transition.

Automation and the pace of its adoption is a policy choice. Sustainable, democratic and efficient transport systems do not necessarily require automation. Huge fleets of fully-automated private vehicles can be more inefficient, congesting and environmentally damaging than rail and other mass transit systems.

Corporate narratives on automation, the elimination of jobs, and a post-work society are false. Throughout history, worries about technological change and the displacement of labour are resurrected at times of flagging economic growth.[1]

The introduction of greater information technology and computing into the global economy since the 1980s has reallocated labour and output. The ‘fourth industrial revolution’ should instead be seen as part of this ongoing shift. Automation will continue and could accelerate this employment shift over the next few decades.

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[1] Joel Mokyr, Chris Vickers and Nicolas L. Ziebarth, ‘The History of Technological Anxiety and the Future of Economic Growth: Is This Time Different?’, Journal of Economic Perspectives (29:3), 2015, pp. 31-50

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