Unions are a reaction to poor working conditions, and it’s clear that some Silicon Valley companies have created the need for unions. Google, which has been actively suppressing workers who stand up against injustices are now seeing their workers unionize. This is a symbolic victory for the labour movement in the tech world and a clear success for the people working at Google.
From afar it looks like the tech unions in the States are going to be modelling themselves more like the Screen Actors Guild than the more popular conception of unions like those at auto plants.
“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a Google software engineer, said in a statement.
“We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”
Google workers have some history of collective action. In 2018, thousands of the workers signed a petition protesting Project Maven, a contract to help the Department of Defense track individuals in video footage captured by drones. That pressure campaign was ultimately successful, as the contract was terminated.
The recent strike by NBA and WNBA players has shown that reactionary and direct labour action can make meaningful change beyond just the workplace. In the WNBA & NBA, the workers (players) refused to play in protest of police bracingly killing non-white people, the strike resulted in basketball arenas being used as a voting station in the coming American election. The media attention the workplace action got can’t be ignored either.
In the world of academia a similar action is happening today. Scholars across North America will put down their work to draw attention to the racial injustice happening on campuses. They won’t stop teaching though, you can attend online session today to learn about the troubles facing radicalized individuals and precarious workers on the front lines of postsecondary education. One such event is embedded above.
Scholars across Canadian universities are outraged at the relentless anti-Black police killings of Black people in the U.S. and in Canada. As athletes have done, so, too, must academics. We will be joining thousands of academics in higher education in a labour action known as Scholar Strike to protest anti-Black, racist and colonial police brutality in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. Scholar Strike for Black Lives in Canada will take place on Sept 9th & 10th, 2020. For these two days, we will pause our teaching and all administrative duties. We will use this time to organize public digital teach-ins on police brutality and violence in our communities from both historical and contemporary perspectives.
The program of public digital teach-ins through Sept 9 & 10 and other relevant resources will be released soon. We have confirmed a key note address by journalist and activist Desmond Cole and cross-campus digital teach-ins that will bring together activists, artists and scholars from York University, University of Toronto, Ryerson University and OCAD University.
If you work in a unionized environment you’re likely doing better than a person in a non-union environment according to a study done in California. You’re also less likely to make use of the state’s welfare system. What’s more this means that the whole state benefits from unions as more economic activity is happening as a result with less costs imposed on the social welfare system. The pandemic has really made it clear that unions can make a big difference in how workplaces react to the economic troubles.
Workers covered by a union contract in California earn an average of 12.9 percent more than non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.
Overall, we estimate that unions increase workers’ earnings in California by $18.5 billion annually through collective bargaining.
Unions decrease by 30.6 percent the likelihood that a worker is in a family where at least one member is enrolled in a public safety net program, compared to non-union workers with similar demographic characteristics and working in similar industries.
Thanks to the efforts of billionaires, and other corrupt individuals, union workers have been portrayed as lazy and inept. If anything, the opposite is true. Workers in unions have different goals than business owners insofar that workers just want to earn a good living while owners want to extract profit from consumers. Young workers today have noticed that the profit motive has left behind has the cost of living increase and wages remain stagnant. This has forced many young workers to unionize, and that unionization push is starting where a lot of young people end up working: kitchens.
Public opinion has recently swung in the other direction. Just over 10 percent of Americans are in a union now, considerably less than the 34 percent in 1954. However, more than half of Americans now say they view unions favorably, a number that has risen from around 41 percent since the recession. If there’s a silver lining to the ongoing decline of unionization, it’s that now, “membership in unions has gotten so low that people don’t even have a negative view of unions anymore,” Rogers says. There’s less of the cultural baggage associated with being in one, the slate has been wiped clean. Many of the organizers I spoke to said they’d never been in a union before, and either had no idea what they were about until recently, or a positive impression based on a dictionary definition of a union as a group of people with common cause arguing for their rights.
Attacks on unions isn’t anything new, even when workers are asking for safer conditions or a little job security. What is new is that economists are starting to realize that we need stronger worker groups to advocate for labour or the economy as a whole suffers. Over the last few decades we’ve witnessed the rise of massive corporations that bully governments and workers; inevitably this process will gut the productive parts of planet (with fantastic short-term gains!). So, if we want our economy to do well for decades on end we need to ensure that all people involved in it get a share of the benefits.
A complementary approach would be to increase workers’ power. Historically, this has been most effectively done by bringing more workers into unions. Across advanced economies, wage inequality tends to rise as the share of workers who are members of unions declines. A new paper examining detailed, historical data from America makes the point especially well. Henry Farber, Daniel Herbst, Ilyana Kuziemko and Mr Naidu find that the premium earned by union members in America has held remarkably constant during the post-war period. But in the 1950s and 1960s the expansion of unions brought in less-skilled workers, squeezing the wage distribution and shrinking inequality. Unions are not the only way to boost worker power. More radical ideas like a universal basic income—a welfare payment made to everyone regardless of work status—or a jobs guarantee, which extends the right to a government job paying a decent wage to everyone, would shift power to workers and force firms to work harder to retain employees.