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Labor and management have been slow to face the problem over the bargaining table. Harry Bridges' West Coast longshoremen's union recently agreed to give shippers a free hand to mechanize cargo handlingin exchange for a guarantee of present jobs, plus early retirement and liberal death benefits. In Chicago this week, President Clark Kerr of the University of California, one of the top labor economists, will preside over a company-union committee meeting at Armour & Co. to draw up a plan for the rapidly automating meat industry.
A similar committee is at work at Kaiser Steel Co. But many authorities think such efforts are far too few, that management must do more. E. C. Schulze, acting area director of Ohio's state employment service, says: "I've yet to see an employer's group willing to take a look at this problem and seek solutions. They refuse to recognize their responsibility. They talk about long-term trends but nobody talks about the immediate problem of jobless, needy people."
Labor-management committees are beginning to realize that the problem is more than they can meet themselves. Says Kerr: "The public benefits from technological change in the form of better products and lower-prices. It is only reasonable that the public should share the costs." He would like Government funds to lighten the blow on specific industries or workers.
Other experts talk of massive Government-and industry-supported retraining programs as a cureall. But Max Horton, Michigan's director of employment security, is skeptical of this oft-repeated panacea: "I suppose that is as good as any way for getting rid of the unemployedjust keep them in retraining. But how retrainable are the mass of these unskilled and semiskilled unemployed? Two-thirds of them have less than a high school education. Are they interested in retraining? But most important, is there a job waiting for them when they have been retrained?" The new California Smith-Collier Act retraining program drew only 100 applicants in six months.
Many businessmen, while conceding that automation has reduced jobs, feel that a good healthy recovery from the recession will provide all the employment needed. But labor experts think this too optimistic a view, fear that unless something is done by management, union and Government, the hard core of permanently unemployed will continue to rise.