Advances in technology typically bring greater productivity (output per unit of input), which always raises the question: who, precisely, will reap the benefits? Will it be those with the capital (CEO’s, stockholders), those doing the labor, or both?
Of course, the benefits that come with greater productivity aren’t just about money; they can also be benefits of time. Whether it’s a five-hour workday or a four-day work week, the idea of workers getting the same pay/benefits for a shorter work week has been slowly gaining momentum.
Until recently, though, the idea has been limited to a few eccentric companies and university-funded studies. But now Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK, has put her significant power and influence behind the idea. As reported in the Guardian, O’Grady’s speech at the TUC’s annual meeting made a powerful historical argument for a four-day work week:
“In the 19th century, unions campaigned for an eight-hour day. In the 20th century, we won the right to a two-day weekend and paid holidays.
“So, for the 21st century, let’s lift our ambition again. I believe that in this century we can win a four-day working week, with decent pay for everyone. It’s time to share the wealth from new technology, not allow those at the top to grab it for themselves.”
This historical perspective Ms. O’Grady takes is absolutely crucial. At various points in history, the idea of an eight-hour work day or a two-day weekend seemed to most people like a utopian pipe-dream…until it didn’t. When the ‘impossible’ came to be seen as possible, it moved one step closer to being actual. Such a step is what Frances O’Grady’s speech represents.
O’Grady’s timeline of “in this century” is, to be sure, not overly ambitious. Even some of the more restrained predictions regarding automation and technological unemployment see a bleak picture for workers in the year 2100.
But to see someone of O’Grady’s stature and influence openly call for a four-day work week is a real milestone in the development of AI-driven automation.
Read the Guardian article here.