Tech Workers Need More Than Sentimental Reasons To Unionize
from the workers-of-the-world,-compete! dept
Tony Long argues at Wired.com that it's time tech workers unionized. He uses the typical rhetoric about jobs being outsourced, wages stagnating, corporate profits soaring, and today's workers owing a debt to the labor movement, which won such benefits as weekends and vacations. Though organized labor has at times been an important and positive force, other sources of union power don't make sense today. Historically, a powerful union tool has been the ability to exclude non-members from the workforce. This is why unions are so vehemently against "right to work" laws, or these days, outsourcing labor overseas. Closely related to this is opposition to technologies that reduce the need for human employees, like in the example of the plumbers that were against waterless urinals. Though such a mentality is completely anathema to the tech world, it's not surprising to see it at a column called The Luddite -- the fear that technology would take jobs away from humans was the same fear that the original Luddites had. Even more important, perhaps, is that the delineation between labor and management -- central to the union ethos -- doesn't hold at most technology companies. Often, company equity is part of an employee's compensation package; so even if their wages seem to stagnate due to competition from Indian programmers, they benefit when their company saves money. Unions make sense when there's an extremely skewed balance of power between the employee and the employer; a coal mining town in West Virgina with just one employer would be a classic example. GM's monopoly on hiring in Flint Michigan was another one (though we'll ignore the thorny issue of why they chose to close that plant). But the tech workforce is mobile, it can go where the jobs are. It's never been easier for a few workers to start their own company. Companies invest huge amounts in recruitement and battling over the best workers. Indeed, the balance of power has shifted dramatically. Some argue that the decline of the labor force is due to unions having failed to adapt to the times, but that's like saying that typewriters failed to adapt. There isn't much need in the tech world for artifacts from the past.