CWU strikers Cardiff - picture credit John Williams (left)
CWU strikers Cardiff - picture credit John Williams (left)

Clive Walder, CWU Midland No 1 branch, personal capacity

The announcement by telecoms giant BT that it plans to become a ‘leaner business’ by axing 55,000, or 42%, of its jobs worldwide by the end of the decade will have sent shockwaves through the workforce.

It is expected that a ‘big chunk’ of those job losses will be in the UK. Ominously, BT says it aims to replace about 10,000 of its staff with Artificial Intelligence (AI), although the company generously reassures us that it will not be replacing humans with AI entirely.

Artificial Intelligence

It says that fewer engineers will be needed once the new full-fibre and 5G networks are built, and that the expansion of digital technology means that jobs such as call handling and network diagnostics can at least in part be replaced by AI.

Anyone who has ever tried to contact a tech company will testify to the frustration caused by not being able to speak to a person. The replacement of more people with computer ‘bots’ will increase this sense of powerlessness.

The response of the BT unions has been timid to say the least. The leaders of the managers’ union, Prospect, say they are concerned about the scale of the cuts. They have only demanded to see the ‘details behind the announcement’ and asked for a meeting with the CEO.

The leaders of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), whose members took national strike action for the first time in decades in a battle over pay last year and forced concessions from the bosses, said that they are not surprised by the announcement and want job losses restricted to sub-contractors – but some of them would be CWU members!

It is essential that the unions prepare now, building on the raised confidence of workers following last year’s strikes, for national action to defend jobs. Prospect members have also been on strike recently in the civil service and Welsh government.

BT made £1.7 billion profit in the last financial year and expects to pay no UK tax for the next three years, as this investment will be tax-deductible.


It is true that some research has concluded that AI can be more effective than people in carrying out some functions. But BT’s plans show that, under privatised ownership, new technology is primarily used to benefit shareholders, while workers can only look forward to unemployment or job insecurity.

AI threatens to cost millions of jobs across the world which will add to the general crisis of capitalism and poverty of workers. The actions of companies such as BT show the necessity for nationalisation and democratic workers’ control of both new technology and major companies.

It is more than urgent that the BT unions demand public ownership. If Keir Starmer pledged this now, and the unions prepared for action, much greater pressure would be applied to the bosses and the Tory government.

Join the discussion: ‘How we fight the anti-union laws’ at the NSSN conference in London on 24 June.

2023 NSSN Conference – Saturday 24 June in Conway Hall, London 11am-4.30pm –Attendance fee £6. You can register on the day at conference or email us in advance via [email protected]

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree