Too many people are told to follow their passion and find their dream job above all else. This is bad advice. Instead, go get a job that you can do, pays you well, and is filled with respect. There is no reason to be a sycophant at work.
Sarah Jaffe recently wrote a book titled Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Aloneand in it she explores our modern and utterly bizarre expectation that you should love your job. Over at the Next Big Idea Club she highlighted five key points from her book, and it’s worth looking at.
2. The idea that we should like our work is actually a relatively new concept.
The way we work and the way we think about work have changed over time. And so while humans have long been presumed to do some kinds of work for the love of it, that’s an expectation that has grown and spread from a couple of types of work to pretty much everything. The idea that we work in order to find fulfillment, rather than a paycheck, wasn’t particularly widespread even just a couple of generations ago. When you’re digging coal or building cars for a living, no one expects you to do it because you like it. You did it because it paid decently—or because it paid at all.
In America anti-union sentiment is strong due to the marketing efforts of large business owners that don’t like paying workers. Amazon’s anti-union efforts are a great example of this. In recent years the pro-union movement has been growing and the recent push by Amazon workers to get respect is an example of this.
Over at Vice, of all places, they have an article about eight people explaining how they learned that unions are there to protect workers. The stories capture the reality, and benefits, of being in a union in the USA right now.
That strike helped us win free family health care. We don’t have to pay anything to cover our spouse or kids, and the copays are so low that I never need to worry about money when I go to the doctor. We also won retention rights, which protect us when our restaurants shut down or close temporarily for renovations—which happens all the time at SFO! With these retention rights, we get put on a priority list to be rehired at one of the other restaurants in the airport. My union contract gives me a sense of security that I’m always going to be able to provide for my family. Before I started as a union cook at SFO, my husband was working a job where he had to pay a big premium for health insurance, and it didn’t even cover the whole family. Nothing beats having a good job that feels really secure.
Capitalism works when companies pay for good and services, when companies make deals and don’t pay for what they ordered then things fall apart. This is exactly what happened last year in the fashion industry, and it was the workers who suffered the most. The owners of companies like JCPenney, Urban Outfitters, Walmart, and others had deals in place with factories to produce clothing which they should have paid for but failed to do so. These were international deals which smaller countries have a hard time enforcing (meaning the large multinationals got away with breaking the law due to their size).
Then the #PayUp movement started and campaigned against these unethical companies. By March of last year they got pledges from many companies to honour their contracts (valued at $22 billion). This money would go to pay the owners and workers of the companies originally sourced by the large multinationals. To date many of paid, but there are still a few outliers.
By the summer of 2020, #PayUp had been shared on social media millions of times. A Change.org petition, which was sent to over 200 fashion executives directly, garnered nearly 300,000 signatures calling on companies to pay for the cancellations. Behind the scenes, NGOs and activist groups like Remake, the Worker Rights Consortium and Clean Clothes Campaign moved in tandem to negotiate with brands.
This pressure was combined with direct action by workers around the world. In response to factory shutdowns that left thousands in the apparel industry without jobs, workers in Myanmar went on strike, eventually securing a wage bonus and union recognition through a two-week sit-in. In Cambodia, around one hundred workers marched to the Ministry of Labor to submit a petition requesting compensation after their factory shut down. When they weren’t offered a resolution, protesters continued their march to the prime minister’s house, where they were blocked by nearly 50 police officers.
The workers behind the unionization efforts at Google are expanding to take on the whole Alphabet, the parent company of Google. They’ve formed Alpha Global to be a common voice for issues facing Google workers around the world and for people who are being negatively impacted by the actions of the Alphabet mega-corporation. If this union is like ones from a hundred years ago then all of us will benefit from the efforts to reign in the power and aspirations of a company that is practicing great overreach into all aspects of society.
“The problems at Alphabet — and created by Alphabet — are not limited to any one country, and must be addressed on a global level,” says UNI general secretary Christy Hoffman. “The movement launched by tech workers at Google and beyond is inspiring. They are using their collective muscle to not only transform their conditions of employment but also to address social issues caused by increasing concentration of corporate power.”
“The power of these global tech companies is such that they’re in every part of our lives,” says Fionnuala Ní Bhrógáin, an organizer with the Communications Workers’ Union in Ireland. “If they’re acting in this way nearly entirely unchecked by governments then there is no hold on what they can do. That power needs to be checked, and it’s only through collective action that workers are able to do that.”
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.