Issue 43: They can no longer buy our complicity with company perks

06 Apr 2019

Inequality: it’s a topic we talk about week after week as a rallying cry to organize our industry. Bosses are well aware that inequality exists, and use the same tired talking points over and over about getting more underrepresented people into tech.

What gets lost in their narrative is the ways in which the tech industry profits off of, and reinforces inequality outside its office walls. The top four companies are near monopolies, but according to laws of capitalist expansion, being number one is never enough. There are only so many products you can sell before a market becomes oversaturated, so profitability becomes a matter of cutting labor costs. The stock market rises and falls, but incarceration is recession-proof. Since its inception, the tech industry has played an integral role in these processes. This worker’s perspective is an examination of the tech industry’s entanglement with labor exploitation, which is becoming harder to ignore each week as the gap between the haves and have-nots become more pronounced.

We trace the origin of the gig economy to the 2008 financial crisis, where the rich and powerful received a bailout, but the working class was left dramatically less stable. More people have found themselves in contingent labor situations without job security or benefits. If you ask us, the 2008 financial crisis is exactly what the ruling class wants. Back in ‘97, Alan Greenspan already explained to Congress that job insecurity is the backbone of U.S. economic policy. In the aftermath of this crisis, tech industry bosses rebranded this precarity into the gig economy. What they call disruption, innovation, and evolving the social order, we call techno-capitalists reinforcing and further entrenching this neocolonial system. What they call “new” has always been around: wealth and private property is created through the removal of indigenous people, the subjugation of everyone else into harsh labor and interminable debt.

The prison industrial complex, our present day’s expression of slavery, is the continuation of this removal process that is thrust upon bodies deemed to no longer hold any surplus value. The tech industry has always played an integral role in this entire process, starting with surveillance: you’re either being watched or you’re the one doing the watching. The burden of surveillance has always fallen disproportionally on black bodies. Lantern laws become digitized as privacy becomes another tax on the poor.

But wealth comes not only from labor exploitation: land and resource theft was the foundation upon which U.S. hegemony arose. We see a continuation of this process today, as low-income residents are pushed out of neighborhoods to make way for wealthier newcomers. Whether through rising rents, housing discrimination, orcalling the police, the end goal is to make room for what really matters: real estate.

If we have the labor that is integral to the creation of this world, that means we also have the power to remake it. To prevent this from happening, the ruling class is always finding ways to control their narrative. We saw this last month when Kickstarter leadership appropriated social justice language to explain why its employees shouldn’t form a union. We saw this earlier this week when Google tried to appoint Kay Cole James, president of the Heritage Foundation, to its ethics board. When tech workers signed an open letter titled “Googlers Against Transphobia and Hate”, Google initially didn’t back down, and cited Kay’s “free market thinking” as one of the reasons why they wanted her on their board. But the workers persisted. Soon enough, Google was forced to abandon the AI board altogether.

And for these reasons, what we’re waging is emotional warfare; happy workers mean there won’t be an uprising. But now we are letting bosses know that they can no longer buy our complicity with company perks, the total of which add up to less than a raise. The stakes are too great. As we continue to organize, we must never lose sight of the bigger picture: the inequality happening on the outside of office walls affects everything within. There’s only one world that we all live in.

Upcoming Events

NYC Tech Workers Potluck
Saturday, 4/6 6PM at Sixth Street Community Center in New York 

Workers’ Cafe: TWC Austin Local
Saturday, 4/6 6:30PM at Monkey Wrench Books in Austin
Facebook  •  Meetup

Global Networks & the Black Panthers (Silicon Valley Uncovered)
Tuesday, 4/9 4:45PM at University of San Francisco in San Francisco

TWC Monthly General Meeting
Thursday, 4/11 6:30PM in Seattle

The Code of Conduct is in effect at all TWC events.

Organizing Tip Of The Week


Sometimes when we’re organizing it can be easy to get caught up in what we’re passionate about, whether it’s AI ethics, pay equity, or fighting harassment. But it’s important to pay attention to what our coworkers are concerned about, and not just try to get them on board with what we care about. If you’re having trouble finding overlap, stop and think about what basic needs are being implied. Do you and your coworker share underlying concerns about being valued in the workplaces? About doing fulfilling work? About your family or community being safe?

In The News

Google announced new standards for benefits and compensation for their temp, vendor and contractor employees. Meanwhile, the contractors behind the voice of Google Assistant were terminated and spoke out on Tuesday

Googlers distributed a petition protesting an open transphobe on a Google external ethics board. Yesterday the ethics panel was dissolved.

YouTube executives were aware of concerns over the threat of toxic videos but did nothing despite repeated escalation of concerns by employees.

The SEC ruled that shareholders could go ahead with a lawsuit asking Amazon to provide more transparency about who uses their facial recognition software.

“I was told by my manager to never talk to a full-time employee of Facebook (FTE) unless they spoke to me first.” Another Facebook contractor speaks out and shares the truth about their life as a contingent worker.  

Grievances shared by workers at Microsoft on an email distribution list were widely forwarded around the company and ultimately escalated to an employee meeting with the CEO on the gendered abuses they’ve experienced at work.

NPM, the Node.js package manager, had a round of layoffs.

Lyft stock, priced at the top of it’s range, drops after IPO.

A white nationalist video on Facebook does not violate the company’s policies.

A deep look into what went wrong at BioWare in the development of Anthem tells a story of grueling hours for developers, mismanagement, and, eventually, a product that pays the price.

40,000 to 1: Elon Musk’s salary is vastly disproportionate to the median salary of a Tesla worker, $56,200.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is suing Facebook for its violation of the Fair Housing Act. Facebook lets advertisers target based on gender, race, nationality, as well as “upon their neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map.” Facebook says they’ve reversed these options.

5,000 researchers at the University of California have been formally recognized as a union.

Academics and AI researchers wrote a letter calling on “Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and people of color.”  Others are asking if “inclusion” in more “diverse” surveillance is what we really want.

Song Of The Week

Cloud Nothings “Stay Useless”

Can I see, what’s going wrong with me?
I used to have it all, now I’m alone
I’d never say, I’m better off this way
I need something to do, somewhere to go

I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time

How can I feel, so utterly unreal?
Like nothing I could do, would make things change
I’m stuck in here, and I’m tired of everywhere
I’m never gonna learn, to be alone

I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless
I need time