You Deserve a Tech Union, by Ethan Marcotte

You Deserve a Tech Union, by Ethan MarcotteFor someone brought up in a family with an abiding belief in the power of collective bargaining and the need for unionisation, it may seem odd that I’ve only ever been a union member for the relatively short period when I was an actor and a member of Actors Equity of Australia, before it merged with the Australian Journalists Association the Australian Theatrical & Amusement Employees Association to become the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

Since then I’ve worked in an industry that is almost totally non-unionised and dominated by individually negotiated workplace agreements and contracts.

Nevertheless, my belief in the need for unions remains strong, and I’ve found myself a couple of times in situations where belonging to a union might have given me support in the face of some very poor treatment by employers.

And that’s the point of Ethan Marcotte’s new book, You Deserve a Tech Union. While we in digital technology industries might feel a bit smug about relatively high rates of pay and working conditions that often include highly desirable perks, the potential is there for employers to treat their workers exceedingly poorly, with little or no means of exercising rights that go with being a member of a union.

Marcotte, a gifted designer perhaps best known for coining the term and defining the concept of responsive web design, paints a pretty dire picture of the way tech giants have laid off tens of thousands of workers with the stroke of a pen, or its digital equivalent.

Sure, we once held a belief that the agents of this new “Information Superhighway” would change the world as they maintained higher moral values than factory owners but in the fourth decade of the 21st century, it’s clear that the world for digital technology workers has indeed changed, but not for the better.

He points out that, in fact, this has always been the way with the advent of any new technology making promises of improving living standards and working conditions, promises that are never kept. Digital technologies are no different, and the purposes to which they are put are often horrifying and morally reprehensible.

The owners of the tech giants have turned out to be just as greedy, corrupt and untrustworthy as any energy, transport, manufacturing and media barons ever were, and continue to be.

There are certainly still tech employers who respect their workers and go to great lengths to ensure they are treated well and are properly remunerated for their efforts. But the time to rely on handshakes and trust between individuals is over in the digital technology industry.

Marcotte suggests that it’s high time the workers who produce these new technologies have some collective say in how they are produced, what they are used for and the conditions under which they are made and sold.

While acknowledging the depressingly increasing role that digital tech products play in government actions and the military industrial complex, he also provides examples where collective action has been successfully taken by tech workers.

Now, it’s time to formalise these actions, and get organised.

You Deserve a Tech Union is a very well-researched, clearly expressed, eminently practical, and undeniably powerful call to harness the collective power of digital technology workers to protect not only themselves but the world and its future.

Highly recommended.

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