Google Engineers, Uber Drivers, and the Voices of a New Tech Labor Revolution
Inside an unprecedented surge of activism in the tech industry
This article is part of Into the Valley, a feature series from OneZero about Silicon Valley, the people who live there, and the technology they create.
On November 1, 2018, thousands of Google workers streamed out of offices across the world holding signs with messages reading “not ok Google,” and “worker’s rights are women’s rights.” In Mountain View, New York City, Dublin, Tokyo, and Singapore, protestors pushed back against the sense that Google was protecting executives credibly accused of sexual harassment.
Seeing tech workers, a group that had long been considered “unorganizable,” flood the streets in protest was something new. But in the last two years, workers in every sector of tech, from full-time engineers, to contract workers, to gig workers, and those on work visas have caught the collective action bug.
In November 2019, Uber and Lyft drivers seeking better conditions and pay staged demonstrations at the homes of investors made rich by their labor. In response to family separations at the Mexican border, Microsoft employees circulated a letter asking the company to stop work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the data visualization company Tableau, 200 employees walked off the job, demanding that the company stop providing software to the same agency. When environmental groups organized a “climate strike” in the fall of 2019 to demand action on climate change, tech workers showed up in force, including 1,800 Amazon employees.
And for the first time in a long time, tech workers began to unionize. Google workers at HCL Technologies established one of the industry’s first unions for white-collar contract workers in September. Kickstarter employees followed months later.
Tech companies’ power to influence the basic functions of society — to control how voters get information, to shape public transportation, to turn security into surveillance — has never been greater. A surge of protests, walkouts, marches, and petitions have stoked an unlikely hope that tech workers could become a check on…