How can we move into the AI era in a way that benefits working people?
Jack Sargeant, MS Alyn and Deeside
Next week, I am sponsoring an event in the Senedd with the Wales TUC and my friend and colleague Sarah Murphy, to launch a TUC report which looks at workers understanding of AI.
At first hearing this could sound a bit niche, but it is absolutely vital that working people and particularly trade unionists begin to have this conversation.
AI technology is happening, and the pace of change is accelerating. I listened to a podcast recently that put it in terms we can all understand, talking about exponential growth. To explain this progression, it talked about COVID and the rise in case numbers in early 2020.
In early 2020 cases were low in the UK even in February, but they grew exponentially in March and would have grown even faster if we hadn’t intervened in late March. This is essentially where we are with AI technology, February 2020.
Yet despite this, and the obvious implications for workplaces across Wales and the UK, we are not really talking enough about it and how we will ensure that we will enter the AI world in a way that benefits working people, protects their living standards, and their terms and conditions. We call this a ‘just transition’ and we need to act to make it happen.
Support is there for intervention. Polling commissioned by the Prospect union and published in June 2023 found that a majority of workers would like to see government regulation of generative AI at work and would be uncomfortable being subject to surveillance technologies currently active in many workplaces.
What does that look like and how do we get there and what are the risks are the questions the Wales TUC are starting to ask. We can already see some of the risks playing out in front of us. As hundreds of Sub Postmasters can say, we cannot be simply reliant on technology to run our lives. The way the software is built is not without bias.
It’s not just the horizon scandal that has shown this. We have overwhelming evidence that facial recognition technology is set in a way that fails people from a BAME background.
We are also aware that allowing technology to manage humans can be incredibly damaging to their mental health. Tracking software used by Royal Mail was used to pressure workers to work faster.
The employer told a House of Commons committee that they were alarmed at how managers were using software, but this clearly isn’t good enough. The stresses this put on working people was disgraceful.
The last 15 years have seen an explosion in technology used by companies like UBER and Deliveroo. Can we honestly say that the regulation has kept pace, and these workers have the protections and rights they deserve?
It is clear that the rights workers have in the UK are not good enough and that the anti-union laws that continue from the 1980s severely restrict our ability to improve working people’s lives. What is also clear is that Labour are committed to a new deal for working people.
This new deal should look to create rights that produce the environment in which a just transition will happen.
For this to be possible we need to understand the AI revolution and that is why I am delighted to be working with the Wales TUC as they take these steps to understand AI and the impact on work.
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