With the unveiling of the Alphabet Workers Union, organized within Google’s parent company, this marks a monumental period in history. With only 400 or so members at the time of writing, its small beginnings, but the potential of unions, particularly tech and other unions within dominant massive global corporate structural platforms, is a tremendously exciting development.
Historically, unions were established to ensure better — painfully and laboriously hard won — wages and other rights for workers. Union busting, Red Scare fueled anti-union propaganda, and policy measures within the neoliberal era disempowered collective bargaining, with unionization in the U.S. hovering at 10%. Wages have stagnated or fell for decades, with the attendant increasing harm to marginalized groups, as income inequality expands, personal income dwindles, and living expenses increase. Finally, collective action is having a reboot.
This time more is demanded than simply wages, time off, and benefits, but a reorientation of the corporate structure itself — through a social justice lens — to serve, first, the most oppressed or vulnerable in society. This form of union is not about simply benefiting its members, but using its collective power to change the orientation of society itself. This stance is particularly exhilarating, for the following reasons, as worker pressure can:
Make organizations more transparent…
- Enabling personal control of user data and how it is harnessed
- In how the organization makes decisions and who makes them
- Enabling permissable observation of the landscape of corporate structure, its places and processes of operation, not just in the manipulation of symbols on a screen, but also with the ability to impact the structure of the physical environment, using telerobotics.
- Demonstrating social and environmental impacts
Benefit the wider community by…
- Networking with other unions in solidarity as a unified policy changing force to target and dismantle the ‘matrix of domination’ and ensure the highest living standards and opportunities for everyone
Unions can put pressure not only to increase wages and benefits in an identity or circumstantially conscious way, but bring everyone — even those outside union membership — to the table. Unions can change the dynamics of shareholdership, or abolish such a system entirely, while observing an organization’s process, lowering prices to customers — and in time — providing them for free. Many of Google’s services are indeed free (however opaquely provided) thanks to targeted advertising and the sale or transfer of data to marketing and other firms and governments, yet when considering companies like Amazon and Walmart, this line of thinking begins to make sense — highly empowered sense.
The great issue unions face is the threat of automation, as Giants react to the threat of unionization by the accelerant and convergent means of ‘divide and computate’. This is why it is alarmingly important to elect officials, so long as the state must exist, that represent these views — particularly The Squad in congress — to ensure, as automation does take place — and it will — that former workers can have a universal basic income to a middle class standard, aligned with trans- or post-institutional platform developers, to enable retraining through free education, while also encouraging a multi- or transdisciplined or varied life somewhere between leisure and voluntary service, as all process once held by enterprise and the state become collectively held and maintained by everyone on the globe.
This writing is dedicated to the Alphabet Workers Union. May your actions, and those of your comrades, change the world for the better! Hack on!