Oh, how workplace relationships have changed since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s.
Or have they? Are the Teamsters the modern-day equivalent of the 18th century Luddites? These are very interesting questions for a Human Resources practitioner to ponder.
Granted, with the rise of unions in the 19th century, there is greater employment and safety laws in the 20th century, and greater government regulations to protect workers. Due to this, the quality of working life for the individual workers has improved greatly. But has the fundamental relationship between workers and employers really changed?
That thought brings us to current events that reinforce that the fundamental relationship between employers and employees in the 21st century is the same as the 18th century.
Here is a brief labour relations history lesson for those of you who don’t know who the Luddites were, and need a refresher about the Teamsters.
Let’s start with getting to know the Teamsters. Here is a brief background right from their website:
- The Teamsters are America’s largest, most diverse union. In 1903, the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. These drivers were the backbone of America’s robust economic growth, but they needed to organize to wrestle their fair share from greedy corporations. Today, the Union’s task is exactly the same.
- The Teamsters have over 1.4 million union members.
Now, who are the Luddites?
The term Luddite now refers to an individual who is against the effects of technological change. To be more historically correct, the Luddites were against new technology that changed working methods that reduced jobs. In other words, they were against automation. To read a history of the Luddites, click here.
In reality, the Luddites were British craftsmen who smashed and burned the new technology of weaving machines that was taking away their highly skilled jobs. The Luddites wanted the government to ban the new weaving machines but they did not reach their objective. The government passed a law that anyone who damaged a machine would be put to death.
What are the Teamsters trying to accomplish two hundred years later? They are trying to prevent a loss of trucking jobs to drones and autonomous vehicles. Currently, the Teamsters are in collective bargaining negotiations with UPS and have placed demands on the table that UPS will not use drones or autonomous vehicle to deliver packages. Click here to read greater details about the UPS/ Teamsters negotiations.
The Teamsters have not acted the same way as the Luddites. They have not attempted to sabotage, smash, or burn the new technology. They have been more successful than the Luddites in obtaining political action. The Teamsters have:
- Successfully lobbied US Congress to place a 10,000-pound weight limit on current driver-less vehicle legislation. Here is a link for more details on the government policy.
So, the fundamental relationship between employers and employees has not changed. Each party wants to protect their interests and increase their share of the economic pie. Will the Teamsters be successful against the rise of new technology, unlike the Luddites? Only time will tell, but past history is not on the Teamsters side.
What are your thoughts – should government step in to prevent automation from taking away jobs?
Research the advancements on Artificial Intelligence (AI). What jobs are experts predicting will disappear in the next 20 years? How is HR and society as a whole going to respond to these changes?