After years of the labor movement trying in vain to break through the big tech monopolies, more than 400 workers at Google announced the formation of a union this week. Considering Google has more than 100,000 full-time employees and even more contractors and temp workers, to call the Alphabet Workers Union (named for Google’s parent company) a “minority union” feels like a bit of an understatement. Nonetheless, it’s a start.
As Alphabet Workers Union chair Parul Koul and vice chair Chewy Shaw wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
We are the workers who built Alphabet. We write code, clean offices, serve food, drive buses, test self-driving cars and do everything needed to keep this behemoth running. We joined Alphabet because we wanted to build technology that improves the world. Yet time and again, company leaders have put profits ahead of our concerns. We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice. We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in.“We Built Google. This Is Not the Company We Want to Work For.” New York Times, 1/4/2021
While the union might be small and employees at the big tech companies tend to have a reputation for being more well-off than most — the average Google software engineer makes more than $133k in base salary, according to Glassdoor — it’s a breakthrough for worker solidarity and the labor movement in general. Which is exactly why Silicon Valley dorks are so incredibly furious about it.
One guy took the “Google should break federal labor law” route, but the most prominent response came from Mike Solana, a vice president at Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm Founders’ Fund, who trotted out all the most tired arguments about workers who had the audacity to organize themselves despite never having worked in a Pike County mine in the 1920s.
To start, as historian Gabriel Winant pointed out on Twitter, the 1925 book The Miner’s Freedom argued the miners were effectively a separate class of workers than those in factories, if they could even be called workers at all, because the nature of the work was supposedly “independent.” Does this sound familiar at all?
The comparison to mineworkers is not just ahistorical, it’s a tired anti-union trope that’s been trotted out to discredit all kinds of workers, including teachers, nurses, and so on. Here’s Solana doing the same thing not even a year ago.
And here’s a variation on the same theme, to argue against graduate worker unions:
We’re less than two months removed from the passage of the tech-backed Proposition 22 in California, and we’re already seeing the ramifications, as Knock LA reported Monday:
A manager at a Southern California Vons delivery hub confirmed that as of February, Vons would be laying off drivers. A local Pavilions employee noted that they’re “no longer using drivers,” and shifting to DoorDash instead. Vons and Albertsons Corporate did not respond to requests for comment.
Many drivers under the Albertsons Companies umbrella are union employees, while Ralphs delivery is operated by Instacart and Target uses Shipt, a similar app. With this move from Vons and Albertsons, most shoppers in California will no longer have a unionized choice for grocery deliveries.
Considering Big Tech’s role in creating the gig economy, eroding the very definition of what constitutes a worker and isolating workers from each other to keep them from finding out about it, it’s easy to see why someone like Solana would be uneasy about this development. Prop 22 was a win for these people, but if workers in “the most privileged, white collar work experience in human history” build a kinship of shared interest with other workers, including those whose work experience is the exact opposite of that, then the disruptors will ultimately lose the war.
No matter the size of the union, its very existence is a grave threat to how every tech incubator doofus views themselves and the important work they do of dumping millions of dollars into start-ups to recreate hotels, public transportation, and juice blenders. For decades, Silicon Valley has been able to buy workers off to prevent them from developing a sense of class consciousness; the Alphabet Workers Union is an indication that things are slowly but surely changing.