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The Rise of the Robot Workers!

Tribuno Del Pueblo  |  Issue: November | December 2012

Sophisticated robots have been replacing thousands of workers in production jobs for some time now. But only recently has this earthshaking change been given serious attention in the press.

The shift is too big and too obvious to keep hidden any more—not when the Chinese company that assembles the iPhones using the world’s lowest paid workers announces it is buying a million robots to replace them.

No longer the simple, one-task robots we saw in car ads on TV, these second-generation robots can multi-task with pin-point accuracy, and they are so fast they are shielded for the safety of their human attendants.

“With these machines, we can make any consumer device in the world,” an engineer at the Phillips electric-shaver plant in the Netherlands told the New York Times’ John Markoff in August.

Markoff compares production workers’ replacement by robots with the 20th-century mechanization of agriculture that drove 95 percent of agricultural workers off the land and into the increasing number of factories.

Today, there is a big disconnect between opening new factories and creating jobs.

“Bringing Jobs & Manufacturing Back to California,” proclaims a banner at a new solar-panel factory in Milpitas, just outside of San Jose.

But “in the state-of-the-art plant, where the assembly line runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are robots everywhere and few human workers,” Markoff reports.

In nearby Fremont, pathbreaking Tesla Motors has reopened the old GM/Toyota plant, where legions of workers once assembled half a million cars a year.

But Tesla’s assembly, Markoff reports, is done by squads of robots which can change their “hands” and perform as many as four jobs—welding, riveting, bonding, and installing.

Of course, the robots aren’t marching in and throwing workers out on the street. And the corporate owners are simply following capitalism’s basic law—maximizing profits by minimizing costs.

Having machines do our work is a good thing, of course. But to benefit from that, the 99% is going to have to take control of the ‘bots and run them for the good of all.

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