The Importance of Labor Organizing in Tech (To Me)

I'm not going to act like an expert on labor organizing. I didn't have that term in my vocabulary four years ago. Now it's one of the anchoring aspects of my life and something I'm deeply passionate about. My first foray into it with when I worked at Glitch, and it was both an exhilarating and humbling experience - I learned way more about my colleagues, their lives and experiences than I expected. It's something that was required - in order to build with people, you also have to learn about them. We ended up winning a contract - one of the first of its kind! But not long after, layoffs happened, and I was knocked into the wind, as layoffs tend to go.

I wasn't terribly disillusioned that it couldn't happen again. In fact, I ended up just going head first into understanding why was labor organizing so difficult in the United States (unironically, it almost always leads back to the elites of America's discontent with distributed autonomy - that's for another blog post, but Kim Kelly has a book on this, if you want something sooner). I did (and am still doing) a lot of reading, asking questions to get more answers, that led me into even more loops. Eventually, I redirected a lot of my energy into a thesis that was more poignant to my position with this as a whole - the advent of capitalism and how it's poisoned everything we engage with. My thesis is going to be focused on Black people (Black being defined as indigenous African people, descents thereof and kin of these people moved throughout the globe either through chattel slavery, voluntary or involuntary migration from the continent of Africa) - I posted about it on Mastodon.

What does that have to do with labor organizing? That's for another post. But what this is more about is what's been going on with Code for America (or labor movements within tech as a whole). Frankly, I've written most of my thoughts with the Tech Workers Coalition in a newsletter entry with them named "Why Our Union Contract is Stalled at Code for America". If you're reading this, there's a good chance you've read it already, otherwise definitely give it a quick read; it'll catch you up to where we are today.

I've been posting a lot online about our NLRB hearing around unit clarification (a bit on the nose, but this is where a NLRB agent aims to define the members of the union based on testimonies from multiple folks). It has been both eye-opening and extremely draining (it is not fun to sit and pay attention to an eight-hour Zoom call while working on an open source project to optimize tax filing - among other things I do) but it has given the public a chance to see what's been going on internally and how confusing this process has been (as shown here, here, here and here). I don't like strife (believe it or not) and this process has felt like that (both internally and externally).

What's the importance of all of this? Well, the Tech Workers Coalition has something about how ChatGPT's heavily necessary dependency on human annotation, all the while tech giants like Microsoft push these tools into every Windows machine. It's not clear to people using it, but these tools augment human knowledge (to a degree of degrading and reducing the need for independent knowledge discovery, but instead of either weirdly synthesizing information or completely making it up) all for "free". Amazon workers rose up to fight against the abuse they've been seeing internally - workers are dying for two-day shipping - and frankly, the greedy growth of that organization is going to be its downfall.

I'm in no way comparing the violent behaviors of hyper-capitalist organizations to the things I've seen and heard at Code for America. In fact, I'm happy to say that I have enjoyed my time here and can see myself here for years (something I've only said before for one other company, especially since I don't dream of labor the way our parents did). I say this because the importance of labor organizing is the natural step towards everyone forming a truly just society where work can be our first step towards understanding even more powerful concepts like mutual aid, collective organizing outside of work (did you know tenants can have a union? Things like that could provide rent stabilization and security - as a New Yorker at heart, this rings home) and deeper movement work like building autonomous spaces for folks chronically under attack (either by the State or from extremists groups). If we can form a truly representative and inclusive union at an organization poised to help improve government services for the American public, imagine what kind of moves we could make for other places trying to fight for their first contract - we can only provoke change by demonstrating and leading it.

All of this starts at the place we spend a third (or more) of our day at all. We have to organize and work together if we want to see a better and bolder world. It starts by forming a union at your place of work. If you ever want to ask for help with it, my DMs are open - but there's plenty of smarter people who can help.

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