Speech | Future of Work

Redmond: Technological Achievement Should Not Impoverish Society

Las Vegas

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond's remarks as prepared for the 4th Annual Labor Innovation and Technology Summit at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Thank you Ben [Whitehair] and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining us.

I want to thank SAG-AFTRA, AFT, UNITE HERE and our Tech Institute for joining with the AFL-CIO to organize this summit. It gives us the chance to take stock of the opportunities and the challenges new technology presents to workers and our economy.

Throughout our history – and in every industry – the labor movement has had to adapt to new technology. And we have. We are using new tech to organize and mobilize workers, and to help keep workers safe. Our unions are training workers and giving them the skills needed for new and emerging sectors. We’re partnering with universities and researchers at innovation labs – a few who are with us today – to get a clearer picture of the future of work and embed a worker voice in that important work.

We’ve adapted and we will continue to adapt. We have to – that’s our job as unions. Working people are relying on us to continue to confront the challenges they’re facing now, and to shape the future of work and create opportunities for the next generation. 

How do we do that? By being at the table with employers, policymakers and other key stakeholders – by being at the center of every single conversation and debate about the future of work. 

The workers who are organizing and advocating and marching and striking are looking to us to make sure the benefits of technology and automation are distributed fairly. 

Because technology is neither good nor bad. And innovation doesn’t always have to lead to increased inequality. It’s a choice. We can decide whether new tech will benefit society as a whole, or if the gains will go only to the few.

But time and time again we’ve seen our tax dollars go into government research and development that is then developed into world-changing technology. But the gains of our investment – the people’s investment – have not been shared broadly. 

They've gone to corporations and into the hands of the wealthy few.

Our collective investment shouldn’t make inequality worse. It should lead to job creation here in the United States. It should lead to policies that connect those living at the margins to quality training and the chance not just to work, but to build a career through good union jobs.

When Dr. King accepted the Nobel Prize, he hailed our nation’s “new and astonishing peaks of scientific success.” That we “produced machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable range of interstellar space.” 

But Dr. King noted something important was missing. He said “there is sort of a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as [sisters and] brothers.”

Dr. King was right. We can’t truly celebrate our achievements if those innovations divide us and deepen inequality. Our abundance of technological achievement should not impoverish society, it should be a source of shared prosperity and opportunity.

And it can, through intentional government policies with the interests of workers at the center. Where strong unions can bargain for a fairer deal for the workers. And where workers have a voice across the entire innovation ecosystem – from the first stages of R&D to implementation. 

If the aspirations and well-being of working people are considered just as – if not more – important than the wealth of corporations and their investors, we can truly celebrate our abundance of achievements and our society will be richer for it.

We have a lot of ground to cover today so I’ll stop there. Thanks again for joining us today. I’m looking forward to it.

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