Greens launch war against the machines

Sarah: How are you supposed to know? Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you're so creative. You don't know what it's like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death... 
John: Mom. 
Sarah: ...and destruction... 
John: Mom! We need to be a little more constructive here, okay?
- Terminator 2

With the Council elections less than two months away, the Greens have chosen to draw first blood by launching a campaign against self-service checkouts.

They were angry about ATMs, bitter about barcodes and sour about sushi conveyor belts. But by god, the Lewisham Green Party won't stand for self-service checkouts in supermarkets. A line has been drawn. The fightback begins here and Brockley's prospective councillor is leading the charge. The News Shopper reports:

The Lewisham Green Party is calling on Sainsbury's customers to contact [Sainsbury's] and request an end to their push for more people to use self-service machines.

It comes after they spotted a sign at the Lewisham branch showing a target for 59 per cent of customers to use the self-service tills.

The Greens' Brockley election candidate Violeta Vadja said: "The savings from replacing staff with self-service tills aren't being passed on to customers and clearly aren't being passed on to staff.

Given that supermarkets are currently engaged in a cut-throat battle against the growing threat of deep-discounting stores, which is forecast to contribute to falling inflation, this is an airy reading of the economics but never mind - Ladywell's Green candidate, Andrea Carey-Fuller was happy to kick the rhetoric it up a notch, likening the infernal contraptions to the Spinning Jenny, saying: "We are returning to the days of the industrial revolution where mechanisation increased profits at the expense of jobs and wages [sic]."

Lest you think this was just a journalist latching on to trivial quotes to fill a page on a slow day, they actually organised a protest about this issue in Lewisham Shopping Centre at the weekend.

Brockley Central bows to no blog in its dislike of self-service checkouts, but with Council budgets being squeezed to an unprecedented degree, a housing situation approaching crisis and even (whisper it) environmental issues like air pollution to deal with, you might hope that they had something better to worry about than which type of aisle supermarket customers are being encouraged to use. If they want to worry about the rise of the machines, they'd be better off contemplating the likely impact of pattern recognition software or what happens when you put a taser on a drone.

The Green Party was once a credible force in Lewisham politics, with a practical, sensible team in Sue Luxton and Dean Walton and a political heavyweight in Darren Johnson. This stuff is hopeless. Once were eco-warriors.

Full disclosure: The particular checkouts in question are at Sainsbury's, which is a client of my employer. But the checkouts might have been anywhere since every supermarket and many other types of shop are using them. This protest is embarrassing, whichever way you look at it.

36 comments:

Vote pedro said...

I normally vote Green and will do so in the upcoming local elections in Ladywell but I dont see the big problem with self service checkouts. They make my shopping experience a lot easier and quicker than waiting in a huge queue as I used to at that particular Sainsburys. Sure you have to wait for a staff member to verify age for booze and sometimes things dont scan but overall they make my life easier. People will lose jobs which is sad but but with technological developments things have to change and I am hopeful they will find other jobs which technology will create through new products and services. For me the bigger issue is the environmental concerns and locally the massive increase in aircraft noise which Darren Johnson is doing a good job at campaigning on currently.

Tj said...

April fool?

Tim said...

I don't think it is an April Fool because Nick wouldn't pick on the Greens like that. .. would he?

This is absolutely ridiculous. What are they going to do? Legislate to ban the self service check out?



The Greens are making UKIP look well organised.

Anon said...

Must be an April fool?

No april fool said...

It's not an April fool there is an article about it on the Green party Lewisham website from 4 days ago and the protest was last saturday.

OffDutyBill said...

I want *more* of these machines. I appreciate not having to talk to anyone when I purchase my daily minutiae. Let's install a few at Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Pret A Manger....:-)

terrencetrentderby said...

Thought only tramps and students used them to steal cheese?

Glad the Greens are finally doing something worthwhile. Ban the machines.

Brockley Nick said...

You'd think so

Tim said...

Aha! THIS is the April Fool...


V Funny.

AliAfro said...

First they automated the supermarket check out operators, but I did not speak out as I was not a check out operator...

Then they automated the [INSERT JOB] but I did not speak out as I was not a [INSERT JOB]...

..Finally the robots replaced the PR executives but there was no one left to speak for me.
(This is April fools right?)

Brockley Nick said...

Rather embarrassingly, according to that Oxford study, PR jobs will just about be the last ones standing when intelligent machines take over. Us and personal trainers.

Brockley Nick said...

Well it's not really a question of "upskilling", cos a lot of the jobs that will go (are going) are highly skilled. It's about moving into areas that are harder to mimic with algorithms. Anything where human interaction is important is safe for a while yet. Or learn to code. Or start your own business...

NAT said...

It may seem an almost farcical way to address it, but surely this must be one of the big concerns of the era we live in. It's not about the relative ease of using the automated check out's but the question of how employed people become a drain on the public purse through automation and whether that is sustainable and whether it is sustainable in the long term as these current consumers ebb away from support for the chains which have made them redundant.

I would vote for any party with the vision and realism, even to raise such concerns.

Surely some mistake? said...

Hmmm, this barcode scanning technology is very old. At some point it will be replaced with little embedded radio chips like in an Oyster card. I forsee smart trolleys with dinky displays itemising you purchases and totting up the bill as you go and taking payment when your are done. No checkouts, no scanning , ,just a bagging area. The tedious jobs at the checkout will go and the staff released to do more productive work.

These sort innovations are unavoidable because the economic advantages are clear and the tedious queuing will disappear to the convenience of the customer. Look what happened to the buses with the introduction of the Oyster card. A far better experience for both drivers and passengers.

Somehow I don't think the protests of a few eccentric Luddites will change that. There are better issues to tackle than playing King Canute with innovations that are free us from tedious mechanical routine.

Has the Green Party been taken over by Luddites?

Brockley Nick said...

Where's the evidence that these particular machines have caused net job losses? The Greens haven't presented any.

NAT said...

No and that needs to be done, however it would hardly make sense for commercial outfits to invest in expensive technology as well as keeping to previous staffing levels wouldn't you think?

Tim said...

I wish my parents had pushed me harder at school and told me to go into medicine.
Hard to replicate being a top level brain surgeon or similar....

Brockley Nick said...

Although my friend is a doctor specialising in reading various kinds of scans - and already much of the work that used to be done by doctors is being done by computers. There are still doctors involved, just fewer of them - reviewing what the computer picks up. As with most technological shifts, it doesn't destroy jobs, just allows us to redeploy expensive doctors to do other kinds of work, improving productivity and lowering the cost of healthcare. Anyway, according to the report - medicine is fairly vulnerable to tech advancement.

Brockley Nick said...

It would totally make sense, if they thought that saving money in one area would free them up to spend money in another. After all, the advent of barcodes meant more stuff could be sold more quickly and with less human labour, but that just meant they could redeploy workers to do other things within the shop. In the News Shopper article, Sainsbury's claims that it is actually recruiting, not letting staff go.

freethinker85 said...

I agree. Well said.

Max Calò said...

What they should have said is that the increased use of self-service checkouts is further evidence of the dehumanised consumer society that the big supermarket stand for and the Greens reject and stand against.

Brockley Nick said...

That would have been equally silly, unless you also oppose ATMs, Oyster cards and vending machines on the same basis?

Max Calò said...

It's not easy being Green...

Max Calò said...

One can reject the lot though, radical but why not? Surely if you work at Sainsbury to struggle to charge the Oyster card you need to go to work you may consider that you'd have a better quality of life raising chickens.

NAT said...

You must be a fluffy Max, what they should say is that work has always been an imperfect way of divvying up the worlds goodies, and that the settlement we have now is basically that we were left with after the Spinning Jenny, and that as a nessecarily deskilled workforce is replaced by machinery, whether all the benefits of this process should accrue by way of profit to the mill, sorry, supermarket owners while the human cost is once again socialized through the welfare system.

Max Calò said...

A couple of points.

The minor point that the cost is socialized either way because the deskilled workforce are working poor that need benefits to supplement themselves.

The major point is that the situation is dynamic, the Spinning Jenny was a starting point but if a change of course doesn't eventually intervene there won't be a profit to divvy up at all once all workers are replaced by machines.

NAT said...

Exactly. It's unsustainable. Fewer consumers for this artificial situation' make it so' as Captain Picard might have said, that is until til 3D printing and Nanotechnology reach their potential and the game changes utterly. In a small way the Greens are facing the challenges of the coming world, can't think of any other party doing that offhand.

Amber said...

Before the self service checkouts I used to avoid that Sainsburys because of the long queues. Now, I use it all the time. Some people clearly just have too much time on their hands. If they want to live a life without technology, they're free to do so, but why do they feel the need to impose their views on the rest of us?

Max Calò said...

I don't know what future technology will mean but I'm glad to see that in this corner of the conversation our agreement has put Nick in the minority!

NAT said...

In fairness Nick posted the excellent Economist article on this topic in the OP under 'Pattern Recognition Software'. Rehearses the issues very fairly I thought.

Aisle be damned said...

People still go to supermarkets?? Why queue when you can shop online and a nice man not only delivers it in a van, but carries it all into the kitchen for you.

Primeval Mudd said...

Hi, I'm Dave Pummer, Press Officer for Lewisham Greens and Evelyn Ward candidate. Sorry this reply is a tad late, I didn't see this post on the site.

The protest was held on the back of Sainsbury's having targets for use of self-service checkouts and was well received by passers by. A couple of Sainsbury's employees I've spoken to have said that the staff who would have been behind the tills are doing other important work instead, meaning that the tills are affecting employment opportunities: without the self service tills other staff would have had to be taken on to do the other work.

Lewisham is one of the highest unemployment boroughs in London and one of the lowest paid. Sainsbury's still don't pay all of their staff the London Living Wage. When our high rents and low social housing provision are considered too that leaves a huge burden on the taxpayer to plug the gaps through both in-work and out-of-work benefits.

As with most protests of this nature it was more about raising awareness of the issue than particularly singling out Sainsbury's but the discovery of their self-service checkout targets, and their £788m profit to March 2013, made them a reasonable focal point.

Yes, there are some people who like self-service checkouts but personally I'd sooner see somebody in a job than on the dole queue.

After the Sainsbury's protest we joined dozens of activists from several different groups protesting against low pay in fast food outlets, visiting McDonald's, Subway, KFC, Burger King and others. The collapse of trade unions in the private sector has led to a point where raising awareness through protest has become one of the few ways of holding employers to account. The Boycott Workfare campaign has been hugely successful with dozens of employers pulling out of workfare schemes in the face of public pressure.

A protest against self-service checkouts might seem trivial but it's one part of our campaign for jobs and decent wages. The Greens won the Living Wage for Lewisham Council employees but we need to go much, much further.

Pizza snob said...

Too right. Let's not stop here - I demand the goods are delivered by horse and cart too. Think of all the opportunities for employment wasted.


[Though I concur with paying the living wage]

Primeval Mudd said...

Hehe. That would be good environmentally but could, I suspect, be a bit of a hard sell.

One thing to bear in mind about self-service checkouts is that many, many people, certainly the majority of people I've spoken to, really don't like them. A lot of folk who use them do so only because the tills are understaffed. Supermarkets are ploughing ahead with their implementation anyway but few people say anything about it.

It seems likely that the choice for customers will soon disappear as self-service becomes the default. The Sainsbury's target of 59% of sales going to self-service checkouts implies that that's what they're aiming for.

Brockley Nick said...

"One thing to bear in mind about self-service checkouts is that many, many people, certainly the majority of people I've spoken to, really don't like them."


If that is true and if the assertion that this does nothing to help lower prices is also true, then shoppers will look elsewhere and shops that introduce these checkouts will be the losers. I suspect most people (like me) don't care much for them, but also don't like long queues and thus see them as the lesser of two evils. But neither of us actually knows and I don't see why it's any of our concern - something for the supermarkets to worry about.

Brockley Nick said...

"Lewisham is one of the highest unemployment boroughs in London and one of the lowest paid."

It really doesn't make any sense to look at any one borough in isolation in terms of job opportunities. London is a huge labour market and Lewisham residents have easy access to much of the capital. Jobs in the capital are getting more and more centralised in the main business clusters. That makes good environmental sense, by the way.

"A protest against self-service checkouts might seem trivial but it's one part of our campaign for jobs and decent wages."



It's not just trivial, it's dumb and misguided and completely undermines an important argument about the cost of London living. You might have impressed a few passing shoppers (or they might have been humouring you) but if the aim is to be a credible force in Lewisham politics, it's counter-productive. Good luck fighting over a comb with LPBP.

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