21 Aug 2020
This week, we’re calling in sick — and so should you.
The Worker’s Perspective
By the newsletter collective
This newsletter is run by tech workers like you, and this week we’re exhausted. We’re tired of this pandemic and a government incapable of addressing it. We’re tired of being subjected to an intrusive, predatory capitalist system that demands we work harder even during a global crisis — 48 minutes more each day now that we don’t commute. We’re tired of selling our time and labor, working for a pittance compared to the billionaires who somehow keep getting richer. We’re tired of politicians ignoring the climate crisis and we’re tired of the propaganda convincing consumers that a “zero-waste” lifestyle will have a tangible impact when corporations are responsible for 71 percent of emissions and have little incentive to reduce them. We’re tired of doomscrolling through manipulative news feeds that make us all very anxious.
We’re tired of our CEOs telling us that capitalism benefits us all when we know that it prioritizes the super-rich at the expense of low-wage workers and immigrants. We’re tired of pretending to believe in a hollow, anodyne “company mission” — we’re just here for a paycheck like everyone else, because we have to pay rent. We’re tired of pretending to be excited about a new feature release that no one will notice.
Does it matter if you’re a data scientist feeding a biased, proprietary algorithm, or if you’re the cafeteria worker feeding the software engineers that write them? What if we stopped writing code, stopped designing UIs, and stopped analyzing metrics for a day? Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? Probably not. So let’s skip out. It’s summer.
In The News
Is Facebook run by fascists? It sure seems like it. Recent emails obtained by the Tech Transparency Project show how Facebook scaled back their voter registration kickoff after receiving complaints from the Trump campaign. Additionally, Facebook has still not removed Trump’s false posts about mail-in voting. The current administration is blatantly engaging in voter suppression and now Zuckerberg is here to help. It feel like 2016 all over again, except now Facebook is willingly and openly participating in manipulating the election. And if that isn’t bad enough, the company has banned popular anarchist and radical leftist pages while hate groups continue to thrive on the platform. It looks like Joel Kaplan is having quite the influence.
We are so tired of news of Facebook’s wrongdoings, we can’t even write a critique. So, here’s what else Zuckerberg has been up to lately:
- Facebook Fired an Employee Who Collected Evidence of Right-Wing Pages Getting Preferential Treatment
- Facebook relaxed misinformation rules for conservative pages
- Facebook algorithm found to actively promote Holocaust denial
In Germany, the fintech giant N26 is retaliating against “Works Council” (Betriebsräte) organizers. We stand with N26 workers who announced their intent to elect a Works Council at worker26.com and are tweeting #N26UnionStrong, and against N26 management has restored to filing a lawsuit against working, barring them from doing their duties, and a gross mess of union busting scare tactics.
Just like gig work companies exploit drivers, they extort restaurant workers, too - posting out-of-date menus on their apps and sending delivery drivers to pick up impossible, non-existent orders.
In California, Uber and Lyft threatened a capital strike to underscore their hostility to labor law. Both companies did a whole song and dance about shutting down this week, but at the last minute, a state appeals court ruled that the companies could continue ignoring a new law that would force them to treat drivers as employees. As Veena Dubal, law profesor at UC Hastings, says: “Proposition 22 would bring back exploitative work practices that we got rid of in the early 20th century. In that sense, not only are they not innovative, they are retrograde.” We’re tired of these companies’ disingenuous marketing spiels, and we’re tired of them bringing back good old-fashioned exploitation and framing it as innovation. At an action in front of Uber HQ yesterday, a ridehail driver and organizer and an Uber engineer stood in solidarity and posed for a photo - hopefully a sign of things to come.
50 years ago, before selfies but after daguerreotypes, there were Polaroids. And 50 years ago, on October 8th 1970, workers at Polaroid launched “Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement” (PRWM) kicked off their anti-apartheid organizing in Cambridge, Massachusetts by calling for a boycott.
This excerpt from When Polaroid Workers Fought Apartheid, a long and inspiring article in Dissent magazine, mirrors what tech workers are fighting for, and against, today:
Polaroid kept up its public relations campaign. It made several large donations to local African-American advocacy organizations, as well as those in South Africa that supported black education. After one year, Polaroid declared its experiment was working and vowed to continue its “engagement” with South Africa. But in 1977, a reporter at the Boston Globe discovered that Polaroid’s South African distributor was still secretly funneling Polaroid products to the apartheid regime. They were making dummy sales through a Johannesburg pharmacy, repackaging the equipment and film into unmarked cartons, and selling them to the government. The reporter even printed a copy of a receipt for Polaroid products sold to the Bantu Reference Bureau, the agency in charge of creating passbooks for black South Africans. The resounding outcry and embarrassment forced Polaroid to finally admit that their experiment had failed. The company ceased all sales in South Africa in 1977, and the PRWM declared victory.
Ironically, in 2017, the former US company was acquired by a Dutch company, tying Polaroid back to a grotesque, pro-apartheid legacy.
Some companies never change.
I’ve built a lot of castles
Built a lot of blazing speed-of-light machines
But it doesn’t matter, you know
They all crumble in the winds of change
So I turned back to breathing
I learned a few good reasons to cry
And I finally called home
Praying you weren’t out of range
Vienna Teng is a computer engineer and former tech worker who quit her job at Cisco Systems in 2002 to focus on her music.