‘Automation – friend or foe?’

Authorship: The Politics, Research and Campaigns Unit of Unite Scotland 

In a new Jimmy Reid Foundation working paper, authored by the Politics, Research and Campaigns Unit of Unite Scotland, an examination of the implications of new technologies for workers’ jobs and incomes is made.


In recent years, the speed and nature of technological developments has led to talk of a new wave of automation, increasingly termed ‘Industry 4.0’. Advances in technology, especially in robotics, sensors, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing, are helping to drive the current wave of automation.

Debate over the scale and extent of automation in the global economy is contentious, with widely differing figures for the labour market, in particular job reduction and replacement. Therefore, at the outset, it is important to state that there is no academic, industry or union consensus other than to acknowledge there is a process of deepening automation underway but its implications are at present fully unknown.

The potential solutions and strategies designed to address the consequences of automation require careful consideration in areas such as education, skills and the social security system. It is in this context, Unite is sympathetic to exploring the virtues of a Universal Basic Income policy as a complement to the social security system to mitigate the effects of automation, and, welcomes the introduction of trials in Scotland of the approach.

This contribution to generating an informed approach to the salient issues begins by reviewing existing research before discussing the certain aspects of productivity and control as well as a series of union demands articulated by the Unite union. The paper then moves to consider the case of Germany before articulating some policy proposals.

The full paper can be accessed here JRFUniteAutomationBriefMarch2017