Issue 31: The tech industry is broken
11 Jan 2019
This excerpt and the image that follows are from Bug Report! Issue 1.
The tech industry is broken.
For a while, it mostly went unnoticed. From tech startups to the Frightful Five, venture capital and new markets made the industry willfully blind to the damage inflicted by their products and services. Tech bros dominated workplaces, making offices havens for sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination, as well as just plain old crappy places to work. For a while, most of us bought into the Californian Ideology, that notion—peddled hardest by “thought leaders” and CEOs—that technology is unconditionally good and would mean wealth and opportunity for everyone.
But the tech industry broke itself and the cracks are starting to show. As its hunger for labor grows and as it destroys other jobs through automation, more workers are working in tech for lack of other options. The industry is so big, it’s harder to justify the definition of “tech worker” as solely the well-paid software engineer; it’s now also the fulfillment center worker, the cafeteria staff, the rideshare driver, the independent contractor. Increasingly, we tech workers are women, leftists, immigrants, people of color, queer and trans folks. Many of us came of age during the recession, and we don’t like what we’re seeing.
That’s why workers at Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce have been saying #TechWontBuildIt. That’s why they demand that our employers end contracts with law enforcement, ICE, and the military. That’s why Amazon warehouse workers in Europe went on strike on Prime Day, sparking boycotts worldwide. That’s why somewhere, a team of devs will go out for beers after work today and confide to each other that they all hate the insane deadlines, what they’re creating, how they’re treated… and they will begin imagining ways to organize.
Bug Report! is about working in tech. The fixes aren’t trivial. Technocapitalism uses tech and labor to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, to intensify surveillance and control of all aspects of life, to invent new forms of exploitation, and drive workers into the ground. We refuse to drink the Soylent. Fundamentally, we are all workers, and it is as workers that we share our honest stories and experiences here.
Get the full zine here, and you can email the editors at email@example.com. Submissions for the second issue on the topic “the first tech job” are open through March 15.
The New Tech Worker Movement: What’s Next?
Friday, 1/11 7PM at Verso Books in Brooklyn
Seattle Writing Club
Sunday, 1/13 2PM at Cafe Solstice in Seattle
Seattle Circles 3 Intro
Saturday, 1/19 12PM at Seattle Public Library Douglas-Truth Branch in Seattle
Discuss Our Workplace Experiences
Tuesday, 1/22; Info to follow
Intro to TWC Bay Area
Tuesday, 1/29; Info to follow
The Code of Conduct is in effect at all TWC events.
In The News
150 million people participated in India’s largest strike ever on Monday and Tuesday; the action’s demands included reversal of the privatization of public utilities and the weakening of labor law that has threatened to “impose conditions of slavery on working people.”
Contractors are excluded from tech company holiday parties, reminding us who is valued and who is ignored. When asked whether the exclusion is a result of legal requirements, Law professor Veena Dubal explained the real reason: The bosses “fear collective action… They do not want employees to form relationships with contractors, bonds that could lead to a large-scale mobilization.”
The push for a union at Amazon is gathering steam. One NYC warehouse worker shared their experience at a rally in December: “We have asked the company to provide air conditioning, but they told us that the robots inside can’t work in the cold.”
Joan Greenbaum of Computer People for Peace shares the tactics, learnings and beliefs that architected their organizing in the 1970s.
The FBI is piloting Amazon’s facial recognition technology. In addition, the company pitched the software to ICE last summer, a move that has lawmakers and Amazon employees asking questions. Critics argue that a tech wall will be more oppressive than a physical wall.
Workers confront being asked to automate their coworkers’ jobs. “There’s various techniques to make people want to quit themselves, and management here is known to use them to rid themselves from responsibility, it’s bad, really bad but it saves tons of money…”
A cable repair worker recounts horrors experienced on the job.
”Palantir said it must hide the number of women and people of color it employs so competitors won’t ‘steal’ them.”
AI for happiness at work brought to you by former Googler’s new startup built on “data-driven insights”, people analytics and the traits that “make management great” texts nudges to managers with tips for elevating worker happiness. Stay unhappy!
ICYMI: A look back on 2018, the year tech workers realized they were workers. “When employees felt that their products were damaging the world and that management wouldn’t listen, they went public with their protests. At Google and Amazon, they challenged contracts to sell artificial intelligence and facial-recognition technology to the Pentagon and police. At Microsoft and Salesforce, workers argued against selling cloud computing services to agencies separating families at the border.” While these responses to unethical product development spurred on a movement, the biggest worker mobilizations we saw in 2018 — the two-month long Marriott strike, the Google walkout, 100 janitors marching 100 miles and more — highlight the focus on inhumane conditions on the job, and all shared a common protest of sexual harassment and a system that rewards abusers.