The Future of the Labor Movement Rests on the Achievement of Unconditional Basic Income
Scott Santens , Editor | Apr 30, 2019
Topic category: Social Justice

Today is May Day and International Workers Day and Labour Day, and beyond recognizing the past victories of the labor movement in achieving milestones like the 8-hour day and the 40-hour week, we really need to talk about the future of the labor movement in a world increasingly automated by machines.

As automation continues, potentially eliminating half of all existing jobs or more by 2030, eroding economic security and buying power through the growth of part-time jobs, low-paid work, temp labor, gig labor, zero-hours contracts, and freelancing, unconditional basic income represents the ability to empower all workers.

The ability for everyone to say “No” to any and all employers would have an undeniable effect on bargaining power. It’d mean greater profit sharing, higher wages, shorter days and/or weeks, improved working conditions, more flexibility, etc. UBI can even function as a universal strike fund.

Achieving UBI would be the achievement of new voluntary contracts on more equal footing between employer and employee, including the empowerment of the employee to become their own employer through UBI’s functioning as venture capital for entrepreneurs, and effective demand for customers.

UBI would mean a solid floor to stand on instead of a net full of holes to fall through or be trapped in. It’d mean a new age of greater equality, productivity, and innovation, where all are finally free to pursue the goals they wish to pursue, and ALL work would be recognized.

As it stands now, only paid work is recognized as having value. Why? Shouldn’t the labor movement also care about reproductive work, care work, volunteer work, and civic activism? Isn’t it time we started recognizing all the important labor going unpaid, of which there is so much?

Andrew Stern, SEIU’s former president and author of “Raising the Floor” believes UBI is the future of the labor movement and the policy we must all together now strive for in the 21st century. He’s also not alone. Unite the Union, UNISON, GMB, TUC, and more, these are unions with millions of members who are now fighting for UBI.

This century, the labor movement will require winning basic income as a new key victory, so as to not only win the gains of technology away from only continuing to fall into the hands of owners of capital but to actually return to achieving a previous goal — more leisure time.

Who Stole the 4-Hour Workday?

The labor movement was never about more work. It was about making work for workers. That goal has been lost. What happened to the 3-day week or the 4-hour day? Why are we talking about creating more jobs for people instead of more work for robots?

Why is it that more than a century after achieving the 8-hour day, we’re now back to working around fifty hours on average in a country that is around three times more productive as it was in 1950? Everyone should be working less not more when we can do more with less. So what’s going on?

What’s going on is that we’re all being robbed. We’re being robbed of our share of the growing economic pie. We’re being robbed of our time. We are sitting and watching as more and more of the productivity growth goes to the top, forcing everyone to work more to not fall behind.

Does it make sense that as tech improves, humanity should be forced to work harder? Of course it doesn’t.

Does it make sense that as work is automated, organized labor should fight for jobs? Of course it doesn’t.

What makes sense is a fight for economic freedom.

What makes sense is a fight for a redistribution of power.

Everyone should have the power to refuse to work for another as a condition for their existence.The right to exist is unconditional, and so no one has the right to command your wage labor with the threat of destitution.

What unconditional basic income achieves is nothing less than profoundly historic. UBI is the declaration that all wage labor should be fully voluntary, all work, both paid and unpaid should be recognized, and that the goal of technology is to increase our control over our time.

As we celebrate Labour Day we should thus also be looking years down the road at what kind of new day we could celebrate decades from now. Perhaps someday, once we have freed ourselves of the fear of unemployment, every May 2nd at midnight, we could celebrate the End of Labour Day?

Tags: International Workers Day, Labour Day, May Day, 40-hour week,
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May 1st is Basic Income Day. Read about the future of labor, and the future of the Basic Income movement. Brought to you by The Fund for Humanity.
The first of May is Basic Income Day

Labor Day should be about struggling for the emancipation from unnecessary labor, unchosen labor, exploited labor. It should be a celebration for reducing working hours, getting more leisure time, more freedom outside of the market forces.

There is no free labor market when everyone is basically forced to find a job whatever it takes. Basic Income is the necessary precondition for allowing people to actually choose to enter or exit the labor market, and therefore to have a truly free economy.

May 1st is a day to recognize the contributions of the labor movement and its struggles and achievements over the years. Where unions once empowered labor and gave us the 40-hour week and the 8-hour day, globalization and advances in technology have eroded the ability of unions to effect change. As automation of the workplace continues to the tune of possibly eliminating half of all current jobs in the next 20 years, unconditional basic income represents the ability to empower labor on an individual basis. A newly gained ability to say “No” to employers, would have an undeniable effect on the sharing of profits through better wages, job conditions, benefits, etc.

The achievement of basic income would be the achievement of a new contract between employer and employee, including the empowerment of the employee to become their own employer. It would mean a new age of innovation and entrepreneurship, where all are free to pursue the goals they wish to pursue, and all work could be recognized for its societal value, instead of only paid work as it stands now.

Basic income is the future of the labor movement, and the policy we must all together now strive for in the 21st century.

To help the movement for basic income, join the growing community on Reddit, seek out your national chapter, or even organize your local basic income group, sign the Avaaz petition, become active in the global conversation through social media and in everyday social interactions, and on May 1st update your profile pics.

Join the movement to create an income floor for everyone.
Contact your labour union to join basic income laborunionforBIG

Use hastag #BasicIncomeNow in your social media

Join the event, choose your favourite icon and use it as your profile pic.

This is the century of technological emancipation from labor itself. We made it. We’re here. We need only actually embrace it. Unemployment is not something to fear. It is something to welcome.

  • Without basic income, on the 1st of May we celebrate Human Labour Day.
  • With basic income, tomorrow we celebrate Machine Labour Day.

2010 was the year that this action started.

There are many ways to support the idea and to help grow the movement for Basic Income. For one, take part in Basic Income Day by changing your profile photos and sharing basic income content across all social media networks on May 1st.

Icon design by Oliver Der, first published 2011 by Sylvia Mair and Oliver Der

What would you do with a monthly paycheck, separate and in addition to any other paycheck, earned for nothing other than citizenship and sufficient to cover your most basic needs? That’s basic income, and that’s what today should be about.
Basic Income or Basic Services

UBI or Universal Basic Income - giving every person cash so that they can afford to live, versus

• UBS or Universal Basic Services - giving people services to meet their needs

In practice the conflict between these two models was rather hard to evaluate.

For, as Jacobson noted, many advocates of basic income would also welcome an extension of free public services - so it is quite possible to support UBI and UBS. Moreover, when it comes to income security, it is hard to see how UBS offers any significant real world alternative to UBI. For example, when it comes to food, would the government really replace the current system with:

  • • nationalised foodbanks?
  • • state controlled farms?
  • • meals on wheels?
  • • soup kitchens?

As Coote admitted, UBS is really just ‘kite-flying’ and her examples (education, childcare and healthcare) were for services that already exist and which do not significantly overlap with the tax-benefit system that UBI seeks to reform.

In reality this podcast was more of an opportunity for Coote to offer some of the reasons that she is opposed to UBI. Jacobson did a good job at parrying these argument, but Coote made numerous points that I think are worth considering in more detail than the time allowed.

This piece is a reflection on a debate between Barb Jacobson of Basic Income UK, the campaigning group for basic income and Anna Coote, of the London-based think tank NEF.
The Progressive Package: Getting Unions Behind Basic Income

Since the financial crisis struck in 2008, calls for a basic income have grown, further encouraged by fears around the automation of jobs. But many trade unions, the movements so crucial to building the welfare states and employment systems that protect many today, often appear to be basic income’s biggest opponents. We talked to Yannick Vanderborght, social policy and trade union expert, to find out why and to see whether this opposition is starting to shift.

Green European Journal: In an interview earlier this year, Reiner Hoffmann, president of the German German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), argued that universal basic income sidelines, stigmatises, and excludes people. Does the trade union movement share his fears about basic income?

Yannick Vanderborght: His position is very representative of how trade unions tend to view universal basic income. From what I have seen in many different countries, especially in Belgium and France but also in Germany, unions are wary and sceptical, at least the leadership though not necessarily the members. The idea that basic income would exclude people is key. Many union leaders would rather advocate the right to work than the right to an income, as they see work as fundamental to being a useful member of society.

That is not the only reason why unions are sceptical. Many recognise that if there was a basic income, especially a substantial one, unions would probably lose the ability to negotiate wages. Not that they are being cynical, unions firmly believe that the relationship between employer and worker is asymmetrical and that individual workers will never have the capacity to negotiate effectively. Individualisation is seen as detrimental to workers and a strong collective is seen as necessary to face the threats of the labour market.

Some unions, even some members, also see that they will not benefit from a basic income. A basic income would benefit ‘outsiders’, whereas trade unionists would mainly be net contributors. Many unions across Europe today do not really represent outsiders and so a move towards a basic income is not in their interests.

Since the financial crisis struck in 2008, calls for a basic income have grown, further encouraged by fears around the automation of jobs.

Act Out! [108] - If Money Worries Disappeared + Paying for (Climate) Change


We'll take a look at the concept and a buried study that sheds light on how it works. Finally, Camila Thorndike joins us to talk about carbon pricing, making polluters pay, people prosper and the importance of local activism – particularly with the People's Climate March coming up.

​This week on Act Out!, the danger of absolutist thinking in a fluid and dynamic reality – i.e. the argument over whether something like a guaranteed income is worth the fight.