Union Shift

A Strelka Institute project seeks to preserve labor in the face of automation within the trucking industry.

Presented by the Strelka Institute program The New Normal, SHIFT is a new project that strives for the coexistence of labor and automation in the trucking industry. In Russia, where the project was conceived, there are 1.7 million truck drivers and 70 percent of trucks are mostly owned by companies made up of only 1-3 trucks. With the rise of automation, millions of truckers across the world are at risk of losing their jobs. 

The SHIFT project proposes a strategic roadmap that seeks to provide labor unions with a form of self-governance, while allocating a specific role for truckers. SHIFT would allow unions to collaboratively control their technological development, and through the sheer number of independent truck drivers, they could amass a significant amount of data on logistical transactions, while constantly surveying the physical surroundings and the state of the road infrastructure.

SHIFT is a three-step strategy: union consolidation through technology, creation of a new logistical company, and retrofitting of truck fleets. To assist in consolidation, the Union App would umbrella the unions’ various functions: voting, news, communication, cartographic services, etc., thus establishing a stronger network for union members. The application would collect massive amounts of data on logistical transactions for the union. 

Through data collection, unions could found a logistics company based on every network node. This would allow them to expand their app, creating an online platform for purchasing freight transport. The union would henceforth assume the role of both network enhancer and logistical entity, creating a decentralized organization that would cover the vast Russian territory in a more efficient way.

Through consolidation and expansion, the unions could operate as a cohesive body in which truck drivers function as nodes within a larger organization. Drivers’ dash-cams allow for information gathering that is essential in the development of artificial intelligence for driverless vehicles. By amassing such information, unions would have leverage for partnering with a retrofitting company – allowing them to make use of automation while retaining ownership of their fleets.

In collaboration with INRUSSIA, SHIFT has created a short documentary that seeks to contrast the aesthetics used to portray automated vehicles with a more realistic view of driverless trucks, showing the implications it might have in the Russian context, and providing solutions that could have a positive impact for the overwhelming majority. The video was filmed in Russia’s Dagestan – where the independent truck driver population is currently struggling to sustain its livelihood.