By Luis Meiners
In Silicon Valley the year began with an announcement that quickly became international news. Google workers publicly announced the launch of their union, the Alphabet Workers Union. This is an important step in an industry marked by anti-union business practices, but also by a growing activism that has had several milestones in the last decade.
The Alphabet Workers Union seeks to bring together all the workers of Alphabet, the parent conglomerate of which Google is the main subsidiary. The Union openly states that it seeks to organize full-time and part-time workers, contractors and vendors, which is an important element in an industry characterized by the diversity of its forms of hiring.
Today they have more than two hundred members. While the number constitutes a small percentage of the company’s workforce, they seek to consolidate and organize growing activism. Being a “minority union”, they are not recognized to participate in collective bargaining, but in a country with restrictive labor legislation and in an industry in which bosses are particularly hostile to union presence, the fact of creating a permanent structure is a milestone in the organization.
A history of struggle
As is described in the AWU website, the development of the union is part of a history of organization and resistance. In the last decade, this process has had several milestones in which workers have fought for a diversity of demands, from contract and work conditions, support for outsourced workers, employment and wage discrimination, sexual harassment, to questioning the uses given by the company to the technology they develop.
To name some examples of this process, in 2015 an action was organized against wage inequality and gender and racial discrimination, publicly showing their wages to give visibility to the differences. In 2018, thousands of workers signed and released a petition against Google’s contracts with the Pentagon, demanding a commitment from the company to ensure that its technology is not used for war. This campaign stopped the renewal of these contracts. In 2019 they fought to prevent contracts from being signed with the agencies in charge of anti-immigrant policies, and in 2020, within the framework of the historic rebellion against racism and police violence, they promoted a petition to stop the sale of technology to police departments.
A particularly important action in this history was the “Walkout for Real Change.” It was an international action carried out on November 1, 2018 in which thousands of Google workers around the world left their jobs simultaneously and gathered in front of the company buildings against sexual harassment at work and the company’s policies towards it. This action was a massive response to the company’s decision to give millions in exit compensation to executives accused of harassment. In New York alone, more than 3,000 people protested in front of Google’s headquarters on that day.
In response to this growing activism, in 2019 Alphabet hired a union busting firm to investigate its workers and carry out retaliation, also censoring spaces for discussion. Faced with this bosses offensive, the workers doubled their efforts, seeking links with organized sectors of the labor movement. This is how they became involved with the Communications Workers of America and from their work with this sector founded the Alphabet Workers Union.
This is an important event in a strategic sector of the world economy. Undoubtedly, it is one more example of a general process of radicalization of sectors of the youth and the working class that has been experienced in the United States since the crisis of 2008. The pandemic and the anti-racist rebellion have deepened this process, which will surely continue to produce advances in the organization and the struggle of the working class like the one given by the workers of Google.