Google workers who walked off the job recently deserve our support. They have shown the power of collective action, writes Gareth Murphy.
The issues raised by the protestors are serious and must be addressed by the company. The media coverage, while rightly focusing on the walkouts, paid less attention to the demands of the protesters.
These demands were and still are:
- An end to forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases; a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity;
- A sexual harassment transparency report disclosed to the public;
- A clear inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and the right to representation
- For the chief diversity officer to report directly to the CEO and make recommendations to the board of directors,
- The appointment of an employee representative to the board.
These are reasonable requests. All of us who use Google-and that is I suggest all of us-should raise our voices in support of staff in solidarity. It is very important that users are active allies in the campaign. It is worth remembering that Google is not the first tech giant to be face unrest and resistance on these issues.
Tech worker voices are emerging
While the Google walkout belongs to the workers who organized it, it does need to be said that it is occurring in a context of an upswing in organizing in the tech sector generally. Initiatives like Game Workers United, a grassroots organization with local chapters, are drawing attention to the specific issues faced by tech workers. In Silicon Valley itself, groups such as Tech Workers United are actively organising.
That the giant wealth of tech companies in San Francisco sits along such gaping inequalities (California is now the poorest state in the US) ought to set alarm bells ringing for us all. In Britain, union membership is growing in one of the subsections of tech employment, the giant amazon warehouses.
In Ireland, the Financial Services Union now has members in over 50 workplaces. We have had recent growth in our technology services sector, where we represent staff in a number of household name tech companies.
These workers in FSU campaign on issues like their hours of work, timezone work, lack of respect for home time and family life and techno stress in the sector. France has recently introduced a “right to disconnect” where employees have the right not to check work emails after work hours and FSU has called for similar legislation in Ireland.
The broader question on the responsibilities of tech giants needs far more attention. Simply put, such powerful companies should not be allowed to regulate themselves, and need to have obligations to staff, users and society generally built into their decision making bodies and regulation.
This is why the idea raised in the Google walkout, that there should be an employee representatives on the board, is an important one. Representatives from civil society and user groups should also be considered.
While the demands of the walkout obviously refer to Google itself, they are a set of proposals which should be considered reasonable in any employment. The walkout deserves the full and active support of allies, and we should watch carefully what steps the company take to address them. If the response is inadequate, we should support the Google workers in further action
Let’s campaign for a race to the top and support each other in the process.
Gareth Murphy is the Acting General Secretary of the Financial Services Union