Building worker power in the age of AI

20 May 2024

Tech Workers Branch Committee Vice Chair Domanic SmithJones attended the 2024 Uni Global ICTS Conference in Cape Town and writes about his experience in this blog. 

Domanic addressing the uni conference on behalf of the tech workers branch

Domanic addressing the conference

Over 15-17 April 2024 Uni Global Information, Communication and Technology Sector (ICTS) unions gathered in Cape Town, South Africa to discuss the challenges facing workers in our sector. I had the immense privilege of being part of the Prospect delegation, alongside Christine Danniell, NEC Deputy Vice President, and Andrew Sturtevant, Assistant Secretary IT&T Telecoms.

Uni Global represents over 20 million workers in more than 150 countries. Trade unions with members in service sectors affiliate to Uni Global and work together to campaign for decent jobs, better lives and just communities across the globe.

The packed agenda focussed on the use and future of AI in the workplace. Conference heard a range of informative perspectives; Fred Warner, International Trade Union, took delegates through his research on the potential of AI for good. Birte Dedden, Uni Global, set out European trade unions’ response to AI, looking at collective bargaining arrangements that have been put in place to date. Lisa Kresge, University of California, and Slyvia J. Ramos, Communication Workers of America, gave their insights on how AI is impacting jobs and negotiations in the United States, and the principles trade unions are putting successfully on the bargaining agenda there.

Prospect contributed to the debate by submitting a motion to Conference that I introduced, proposing a clear direction for what Uni Global ICTS’ policy on the future of AI should be. The motion was put together through collaboration between Prospect NEC, our Tech Workers’ Branch, and Uni Global Union.

The motion recognises that while AI has the potential to bring great benefits to society, a worldwide set of regulatory standards is necessary. These should ensure safety, fairness, and responsible use of the technology. This includes protecting workers against discrimination and unfettered surveillance in the workplace using automated systems. The motion proposes giving workers a strong voice at the table in the debate about AI’s and development, and it seeks to ensure the economic gains from the increased productivity are of benefit to all.

It was the first time I’ve had my words translated live into six different languages, and it might be the only time I’ve been pleased to look up and see a sea of red cards being thrust in my direction, as Conference unanimously held aloft their votes endorsing our motion. We were given countless nods of encouragement for the quality of our motion, which several other delegates spoke in support of.

After passionate debates on the emergency facing workers in the games industry, organising in tech, and the restructure of telecoms, Conference gave an emotional thank you to Andy Kerr who is stepping down from the role of President of Uni Global ICTS after 12 years in the role. Andy is being succeeded by So Soulemane of Uni Africa and So gave Andy a heartfelt tribute capturing the best wishes from comrades across the globe.

Looking ahead, So reminded Conference of the challenges facing our unions, but the Prospect delegation left with a spring in our step, with the music of the Imbewu Marimba Community Band and the Uni Global rallying call of ‘when we fight, we win!’ ringing in our ears. It was really inspiring to hear how colleagues from Africa to Asia, and Europe to the US and Latin America are working to make life better for members. I look forward to using the motivation, and the connections made at Conference in the current work of the IT&T sector and tech branch.

Information Technology & Telecoms

Prospect represents more than 16,000 people working in Information Technology and Telecoms – one of the UK’s fastest moving industries.

Union for tech workers

For a better, healthier and fairer tech industry.