Walter Reuther - a labor leader if there ever was one - was once given a tour of a modernized Ford assembly plant.
During the tour they stopped next to several robots working on a line and the following exchange reportedly took place between Reuther and Henry Ford II:
FORD: "How are you union people going to collect union dues from these guys?"
REUTHER: "How are you going to get them to buy Fords?"
Automation is essential to bringing the price of goods down. The original Henry Ford knew that quite well. But he also knew if you didn't provide the working man with decent wages there wouldn't be that big of a market to buy the product you make. It's simple. If you produce more you need more consumers capable of buying your product.
Now Walmart is getting ready to take automation to another dimension.
They are testing a mobile checkout system where the customer scans the item as they pick it from the shelf and then pay at self-serve lines to avoid a human cashier.
The system dubbed "Scan and Go" is Walmart's attempt to reduce the millions upon millions each day spent on cashier wages at their United States stores.
To put that in perspective, Walmart grossed $219.8 billion last year clearing $6.7 billion in profit. Of the $6.7 billion, 48 percent of it went to the Walton family.
Obviously the Waltons can't get by on a partly $3.3 billion a year so Walmart has to find more ways to squeeze employees barely making more than the minimum wage.
Make no mistake about it. All Walmart is doing is squeezing their employees. They are not offering customers who use the "Scan and Go" a discount for doing what they'd have to pay someone else to do.
You pay the same and you do the work.
Perhaps the most perverted aspect is Walmart is testing the system by using their own employees who they intend to reduce in numbers if the system works.
They're enticing their employees to help cut their own throats for $100 and a $25 Walmart gift card in exchange for an hour of them being videotaped while shopping using the system.
Convenience in this case for the customer won't save the customer a cent but it'll cost Walmart employees their jobs and line the pockets of the skin-flint Walton family.
Walmart isn't the only retailer to push self-serve checkout as a "convenience" when in reality it is simply a move to enhance their bottom line. Walmart is simply taking it a step further.
If a typical transaction takes 5 minutes for a worker per hour including payroll costs and benefits costs $12 then it is costing the store $1 to have someone scan items and take payment.
So if it is just a convenience for customers, why don't stores such as Walmart offer those who use their "time saver" systems a $1 discount?
The reason is simple. It isn't about convenience. It is about squeezing more profits.
But instead of the retailer doing the dirty work they enlist unsuspecting customers to help eliminate jobs by making them do the work for free.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.