Highlights of the Labor Notes 2023 Tech Organizing Conference
As the Labor Notes 2023 Tech Organizing Conference came to a close, it became clear that the Tech Workers Movement is bigger and healthier than ever. The gathering, held in New York on the 7th of October, brought together a diverse group of tech labor organizers from all across the United States.
Some of us in the Tech Workers Coalition wanted to give the opportunity to participants to share their experiences and insights. So we prepared a short survey to collect experiences from attendees. We then selected the most interesting quotes from the respondents and grouped them according to the themes that attracted the most interest.
The Tech Workers Movement is Bigger Than We Thought
The dominant theme in the survey responses is the realization that the tech workers movement is far more expansive and impactful than many attendees imagined. Tech workers from various backgrounds are coming together, united by a shared goal: to challenge the status quo and advocate for better working conditions, fair treatment, and ethical practices within the industry.
If some years ago the tech workers movement was symbolized by huge crowds of Google employees protesting in the streets, it’s clear that the recent past has seen the momentum shifting to more focused forms of conflict. Now, tech workers successfully forming unions in their workplace make the headlines on a daily basis.
TechCon2023 was a chance to observe the results of such growth, with rooms filled by tech organizers from all over. Such a scenario would have been unthinkable only five years ago.
Let’s read what the attendees had to say about this:
The conference helped me understand the size and momentum of the movement. As someone who works in a company without any current organizing, it was inspiring to talk to and learn from organizers who started, at or are currently in, the same position as me. There seems to be more organizing going on everyday!
A Software Engineer from Seattle
Seeing so many groups come together, it was easier to see what issues we all faced in common in our organizing. I already knew remote organizing was something we especially face as a challenge in this sector. But it was striking to see so many people grapple with issues surrounding multinational and cross-border organizing, as well as various sorts of contract and sub-contract arrangements.
I was impressed by the range of workers and industries represented, not only among public campaigns, but more broadly. It became clear to me that the initial wave of organizing had raised the idea of tech unions and labor consciousness to a whole new layer of people, and there’s a whole group of potential organizers and activists ready to step up.
The tech worker movement is much larger than I thought. Many tech workers are organizing independently of established legal frameworks, but many are also intimately aware/closely watching legal changes for example on joint-employer liability and employee classification.
Internationalism: A Global Movement
Another significant aspect is the international nature of the Tech Workers Movement. The challenges faced by tech workers extend beyond national borders, and the fight for workers’ rights is a global endeavor. From solidarity actions to cross-border collaborations, tech workers are forging connections and building alliances to effect change on a global scale.
We always knew that the tech industry moves smoothly across borders, and we always knew we would have to confront this reality. Now, this abstract concern has turned into a concrete problem that needs to be addressed.
This was very clear to people who responded to the survey:
Due to the stakes of climate change, it’s necessary but not sufficient for organizing to be done locally. We need to coordinate internationally and quickly which often means working around the legal labor structures in place rather than going through them. Basically, we can’t wait for the law to catch up, we have to organize regardless of legal support. I hadn’t heard of Game Workers Unite or Apple Together before but it seems they are already doing this kind of organizing which is amazing.
The discussion of how corporations structure work across nation states borders was sobering. That corporations can relocate work to the opposite side of the world, to avoid traditional labor organizing, to create barriers among workers, and to stifle more left organizing (such as anti-militarism organizing), was really sobering. It makes me understand how important internationalism is in our work.
Diversity of Tactics: Beyond Traditional Union Organizing
The survey responses also shed light on the interest for the diverse range of tactics employed by tech workers to advocate for their rights. While traditional union organizing remains a crucial strategy, tech workers are also exploring new approaches and leveraging their unique skills to make an impact.
Playing with the full deck of cards and opening multiple fronts at once is inevitable when the challenges we face are complex and multi-faceted.
This attitude emerges from several answers we received:
The recognition of the power we’re up against really hit home for me. The tech corporations just have so much power: to move work around, to lay off workers, even to change ownership structures. It really reinforced for me how we need a wide variety of strategies; expecting the legal system to work for us just isn’t going to get us where we need to go. It’s one strategy, but it’s a pretty weak one relative to the power of these corporations.
Ike McCreery, former Senior Site Reliability Engineer, Google
I learned that much successful union organizing in big companies has come from combining efforts in various internal areas: Climate justice, response to sexual assault, bread-and-butter pay issues, contractor conditions, etc. Essentially combining different worker organizing cores within the company, even if they were not started as union campaigns.
A Software Engineer from Seattle
I was surprised to see how many attendees cared not just about workplace organizing but all sorts of causes from climate change to anti-imperialism. It seems like people already understand the connections between different types of organizing but might not yet know how to combine them. I don’t have the answers yet either but it is hopeful to see people already talking about new types of organizing.
If you liked this article, probably it’s time for you to get involved and connect with other tech workers like yourself, organizing for power in our industry.
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