At the start of the pandemic, I wrote a piece about a four-day week and a universal basic income (UBI). I highlighted the huge changes that were coming because of AI and the need to go carbon neutral. These are not changes we can debate as they are happening anyway. The point I made is we can manage them in the interests of working people.
Change must put the needs of working people at its heart
Our economy and our workplaces are changing at breakneck speed, and we must be ahead of this and make the transition a just one. We know what happens if we allow change to happen without thinking of the impact on working people. Communities like mine still bear the scars of deindustrialisation in the 1980s.
I want us to lead the way in Wales and carry out trails to assess how these policies could be part of the solution to protect living standards at a time of huge change. Of course, since I wrote the piece the Welsh government have launched a basic income trial. I was proud to have played my part in campaigning to secure that trial.
Increasing recognition of the importance of a shorter working week
Recently we saw an intervention from Barack Obama in this debate. He used a speech on economic justice to talk about the way technology could replace “blue and white collar” jobs. He went on to say that we may need to consider a UBI and a shorter working week.
As I write, workplaces across Wales including the Senedd are discussing how they will utilise powerful new AI tools. We cannot wait to have the conversation about living standards.
This is something all levels of government must be acutely aware of. In Wales we have a social partnership approach and trade unions should be involved in every step of these discussions. We have to however listen when senior figures like Obama speak. Let’s be ready.
We cannot put off this conversation
I know UK government failings mean we face huge budgetary challenges but the conversation on a four-day week trail just cannot wait. The Senedd Petitions Committee produced a report supporting a trial and the Welsh government have taken the issue to the Workforce Council and we await the outcome of that.
We know that change is coming, and workers need support in retraining and the space to do it. A UBI and a four-day week as the former president said could give people the space to do this.
We need bold solutions
Too often in the UK we are buffeted by change and are far too slow to react. We suffer because our politics is so adversarial it allows no space to discuss the big changes that our coming and those who do discuss them are dismissed.
We take the view that because things are as they are now, they will always be. This of course is not the case. We just must be bold enough to seek solutions rather than using every issue as a way of criticising our opponents.
The future is coming whether we like it or not so let’s be ready and use technology to improve our living standards, not undermine them.