The statement was short, but it is likely to be the greatest achievement for a generation of US union activists: Earlier this week, employees from Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced they had formed a union. More than 400 of the tech giant’s 120,000 employees worldwide wanted to be part of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) from the start.
The group does not seek ratification at the federal level, which means that it will not have any collective bargaining rights with which it could negotiate employment contracts for non-unionized workers. But the establishment is still a victory for the trade union movement, which has long tried to organize the employees of the large IT companies that have shunned left-wing politics in the past and dedicated themselves to capitalism and libertarianism.
“This is a historic event. AWU is the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers, ”said Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay contributions. And we’ll hire skilled organizers to make sure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they really want their company to reflect their values. “
The activists, meanwhile, report that corporate management has repeatedly tried to intimidate them and suppress the formation of the union. Accordingly, the group is said to have obtained support from IRI, a well-known anti-union consultancy, to prevent the organization.
“We are the workers who built the alphabet,” said AWU activists Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw in an opinion article in the New York Times. »We write algorithms, clean offices, serve food, drive buses, test self-driving cars and do whatever it takes to keep this giant running. We came to Alphabet because we wanted to develop technologies that would make the world a better place. But time and again the company’s executives have put profit above our concerns. “
On the part of the group, this representation is rejected: “We have always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding job for our workforce,” said Google manager Kara Silverstein in a statement. »Of course, our employees have protected labor rights, which we support. But as we have always done, we will continue to be in direct contact with all of our employees. “
The union push began in early November when 20,000 employees from Google, Waymo, Verily and other Alphabet companies went on strike to protest sexual harassment. Previously, reports had surfaced of executives who had been laid off and highly resigned, but whose sexual assaults had been covered up. The protesters also complained that the company was accepting unethical contracts, such as military drone targeting systems. The AWU also criticized the illegal dismissal of Timnit Gebru, a black woman, from their point of view. The artificial intelligence (AI) expert had previously denounced Aphabet’s diversity guidelines, showing that the company’s AI models reproduced racism.
“Our new union offers a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines have subsided,” said Nicki Anselmo, a programmer at the search engine. The unionists said there was more work to be done. According to them, many Alphabet employees are temporary workers, contractors and suppliers who are disadvantaged compared to the regular employees. They made up a large portion of the company’s workforce, but received very little of the profits their work generated, the activists said.
Many of these lower paid workers in the US are now organizing. Workers at a Google warehouse in Pittsburgh voted to form a union. And warehouse workers started similar efforts at the online giant Amazon.