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German labor leaders embrace the robot revolution

German workers picket. Photo: Michael Probst / AP

German labor leaders don't fear technological unemployment but say they are embracing the robot revolution as an inevitability that can be leveraged to supplement an aging workforce and relieve workers from onerous, dangerous tasks.

Why it matters: Unions in the United States and Europe were caught flat footed by deindustrialization, which took jobs from their members through automation and outsourcing. German labor groups say that to survive they must both protect remaining industrial workers, but also prepare for the economy of the future, and recruit workers who will be working along with robots and artificial intelligence.

Politico's chief Europe correspondent, Matthew Karnitschnig, reports that the German labor movement, which has watched union density fall from more than 40% in the 1990s to just 16% today, is launching training programs and recruitment and lobbying strategies centered on "phenomena such as 'crowd work' and other project-based digital employment, where traditional labor rules are of little help."