Workers must share in benefits of AI

Unite delegate Tommy Murphy calls for fair distribution of AI and automation benefits

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Unite delegate Tommy Murphy gave a thought-provoking speech at Labour Party Conference on Monday (October 9) on artificial intelligence in the workplace.

Moving a composite on AI and automation, Tommy noted that “workers in the print industry have long memories – and we remember the charging horses of the Wapping dispute where millionaires imposed automation by force”.

“New digitisation and the rapid rise of AI are undoubtedly more subtle than the brutality of that dispute, but if left unchecked the impact on workers’ jobs and livelihoods will be no less profound,” he said.

Tommy emphasised that the debate was not about “holding back the tide of progress – it never has been. It’s about the terms by which it is introduced and who benefits”.

Highlighting that analysts are already forecasting that AI could increase corporate profits by a further $4.4 trillion, he said that it should come as no surprise the workers often don’t benefit.

Citing the example of call centres, Tommy told conference that AI voice analytics are used “not only to judge if a sale or a service was successful or the length of the call – but to judge the pitch and tone of a worker’s voice at every point of every call to give workers ‘sentiment’ ratings”.

“This unheard of level of surveillance is happening from workers’ own laptops and devices within their own homes,” he noted.

Tommy called for regulation, as well as safeguards on image rights and intellectual property.

“But we must also focus on what only our movement can deliver – protection and fair distribution of the benefits of AI and automation at work,” he said, adding that they can be won “through new digital collective agreements”.

But Tommy emphasised that such agreements “must mean consultation on the introduction of new technology”, must include “protection from surveillance”, and must mean “the fair distribution of productivity gains”.

Concluding his speech, Tommy left conference “to think about this” – “Was this speech written by AI – on ChatGPT?”

“If AI can automate Conference delegates, then truly nobody is safe!” he added, to laughter and applause.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas