Organizing the tech world will be difficult. On the whole, we are paid better and have better working conditions than our fellow workers in other industries. Being treated comparably well removes much of the impetus that drives unionization in other workplaces. However, the idea that unions are only good for getting better pay lacks imagination. Being in a union is about having a voice. And organizing as an industry will give us a voice to steer the future of technology.
The scope of our interest is not limited to our companies. Tech employee care about net neutrality and the privacy of user data. A smaller, but still substantial, segment of us care about the ethical implications of what we build. We worry not about whether we can build something but whether we should.
The scope of our interests is why industrial unionism is the best model for the tech industry. Industrial unionism allows workers to organize across the entire industry. This is in contrast to trade unionism, which organizes at the “shop” level and requires an entire shop to agree to be represented by the larger union. Industrial unions organize the worker, not the workplace. There is no need to vote to be represented when you aren’t trying to represent workers to their boss. A substantial minority of workers would be sufficient to exert pressure at a particular workplace especially when joined by fellow workers in workplaces across the industry. Whether it manifests as strikes in solidarity to support action at a workplace, or unified strikes to put pressure on the government, organizing as an industry allows us to have a more expansive agenda.
Net neutrality is a great example. A vast majority of us support the continuation of net neutrality. And many of our employers offer nominal support, even if they stand to gain from it disappearing. United under an industrial union we could pass a resolution in support of net neutrality - accompanied with a threat of direct action. Our employers, terrified that their workforce - one that is not easily replaced - would stop producing, would increase their pressure on the government. The government, loathe to lose one of the most productive segments of the American economy, would be forced to reconsider their position. They could try to break the strike, sure. But, domain knowledge is hard to replace - ask anyone at a company with high turnover. And, even without majority support for the strike, there would not be enough scabs to go around.
We, as tech workers, have untapped power. Employers provide high salaries, ping pong tables, and catered lunches to distract us from this fact.
The time for tech to organize is now.
Send me an email, and let’s start building an industrial union.