Nowadays many people in the tech industry make a significant amount of money, are intensely head-hunted and usually treated pretty decently compared to workers in other sectors. So it kind of seems natural that no strong unions have born in this sector, at least none that I’m aware of. In my country of origin, you can choose to adhere to one of the big general unions that have a “tech” sector, but I am pretty sure I’ve been the only one (or one of the few) subscribed in the companies I’ve worked for.
And it’s years that I’m asking myself how the uber-individualistic, “meritocracy”-based approach to work that all geeks pretend to have, where you only hear talking about “unions!” with contempt will show me its ugly head.
I’ve had a few examples, but none stroke as near to home as the ones I got reading the courageous article by Susan J. Fowler on her year at Uber. While reading through the article, I found myself mumbling “of course HR wouldn’t help: they’re there to protect the company, not the workers, and they hate trouble in any form. When picking sides, they usually go with the manager”.
And then realized Susan (who I don’t know, but has my deepest admiration and respect for the courage she’s shown, and for the pretty good book she wrote for O’Reilly) basically had no other options:
– We have no unions, which are organizations created by workers to protect their own interests
– We have no conscience of being “on the other side of the fence” with respect to our employers, even when they’re decent and nice and pour money, perks and bonuses on top of our heads. As a consequence
– We have no global solidarity between workers
Now try to imagine the software engineers at Uber had a strong unionization, and that after the first incident Susan could report it to the union, not HR directly, and the union handled things with HR. I’m pretty sure that the pressure on HR to act decently would have been greater, that the union would have been aware of the history of abuse and complaints of that manager and could not be talked off. I am sure Susan (and her coworkers who suffered similar treatments) would have been able to be heard and supported by their colleagues via organized protests.
And probably most of her colleagues would’ve realized that they should not accept that damn leather jacket unless everyone got theirs.
Finally, I already hear people saying “my HR department is great”: well, I’m happy for you, but we should proably work all together to force HR to be better everywhere by self-organizing.