Social struggles and movements are the latest victims of the commodification of everything. From brands overexposure at prides
to tech companies raping
concepts like community and social good, a lot of battles are neutralised into merchandising and marketing. Nonetheless, there’s a social category that holds an unprecedented competitive advantage: tech workers. As the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out
These giants have become overconfident that they can change the rules on users—removing more and more power from them—without losing their profits or their market share. But there is an area where they do sharply compete: for tech talent. Top talent can make or break a company, and firms work hard to beat out each other in recruiting staff. Once hired, they invest significant time and expense toward keeping the best workers from jumping ship. So if you are working somewhere and you worry about the impact of the tools or services you are building, now is the time to get together with your coworkers to start lobbying for change.
Since last November (the first big Google employees walkout) tech workers are more and more organised: if you want to get your head around it, here
you can find resources about how social movements and public pushback have shaped digital technology. The tech industry is famous for high salaries and unlimited material perks for its employees, but this is not the case for contractors, so it made the news that employees from HCL, a Google subcontractor, unionised. A good contextualisation of the HCL case is provided by April Glaser on Slate
It’s worth distinguishing between the different strains of activism in tech right now. A lot of workers are trying to hold their employers to ethical standards, like the Googlers who successfully demanded that the company nix a drone-related artificial intelligence contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. Others want their employers to improve the purportedly utopian workplaces they’ve boasted about for years, like the Googlers who walked out over how the company has dealt with sexual harassment allegations. The HCL workers belong to a third category, one more familiar to union drives: They want better protections and bigger paychecks.
Companies which obstacle the organisation of workers risk now a lot in terms of reputation, as it is happening to Kickstarter after the firing of two lead people involved in the movement. Current Affairs reports
a first-hand boycotting experience:
It means that we now have to cease using Kickstarter for our fundraising efforts. Who can possibly partner with a company that is actively and proudly trying to union-bust? Why should we give 5 percent of our supporters’ money to a corporation that will use it to hire lawyers and P.R. professionals to keep its workers from exercising their rights? Kickstarter has made it quite clear that it doesn’t want our business. It has given a giant middle finger to its union-supporting project creators.