Collective bargaining hasn’t traditionally had a place in Silicon Valley. Unions are nearly non-existent for white-collar tech workers, who typically enjoy large salaries, cushy perks and plenty of career mobility thanks to their high-demand skills.
Wendy Liu, the economics editor of UK-based publication “New Socialist” and a former Google employee, says that the protests overall were “incredibly inspiring” as the idea of employee dissent spreads in Silicon Valley.
“For tech workers to even think of themselves as workers — with the implication that their class interests may run counter to that of their bosses — is an exciting development,” she says.
“Tech companies often try to get employees to see themselves as ‘team members,’ and part of a ‘family’ who should feel love and even gratitude for their company.”
She, too, felt that way when she was at Google, she says, before realizing how unhealthy that dynamic was for workers.
On Thursday, Google employees borrowed tactics from historical labor organizing. In their statement of demands, the protest’s leading organizers linked themselves to movements like the teachers strike in West Virginia and the “Fight for $15” demonstrations by fast-food workers.
Indeed, the San Francisco demonstration was even held in Harry Bridges Plaza — Bridges was an influential union leader in the early 20th century — and speakers spoke of his and other examples of historical labor organizing. Demonstrators in San Francisco also talked about the simultaneous union strikes by Marriott employees.
Blue-collar workers at major tech companies, like Facebook’s cafeteria workers and Bay Area security guards, have started unionizing over the past several years. In another sign of the burgeoning “new tech resistance,” organizers of Google’s protests were deliberate about including those contract workers in their demands.
Tech firms are increasingly hiring contractors, vendors, and temps (TVCs), which can boost profits and speed up hiring. However, those workers typically make less, shoulder higher benefits costs, and lack the job security of direct employees. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported the astounding stat that Alphabet employed more TVCs than direct employees. No small feat, as Alphabet had 85,050 direct staffers at the time.