Followers Stopping Following

It was an amazement! After just two days, a worldwide strike by antiquarian booksellers against a subsidiary of among the biggest behemoths in the world, Amazon, succeeded.  As the New York Times summarized it, “It was a rare concerted uprising against any part of Amazon by any of its millions of suppliers, leading to an even rarer capitulation.”  I’ll say it was rare. This sequence, and the rapidity of it, was unprecedented. Why exactly Amazon surrendered so quickly remains unclear. Suffice to say it was an unusual chink in its generally impermeable armor.

But, this was even more of an amazement! In this case not so much because it was an action against another behemoth – in this case Google – but because it was not the first in a similar series. Google leaders have been the target of Google followers before, which suggests the beginnings of a  sea change. A sea change in which technology workers protest technology owners.

Last summer Google employees got Google employers to ditch Project Maven, a plan for cooperating with the Pentagon to develop software for targeting drone strikes. Last week Google employees got Google employers to take notice when some 20,000 of the former walked out to protest a culture of sexual harassment tolerated, if not fostered, by the latter. Never in the history of the tech industry has the leadership class so seriously and, now, serially, been challenged by the followership class.

I do not want to get carried away here. I am not predicting permanent revolution. But I am predicting occasional resistance. I am predicting a future in which tech workers – and maybe, increasingly, other workers as well – are more aware of their collective clout than they were before. Or, better, than they have been since the near complete collapse of unions, which in the past did just that. Which in the past got workers with shared interests to organize to make their voices heard.

Essentially employees who effectively challenge employers must take two steps. First, they must develop a collective consciousness. They must come to understand that, as a group, they are essential, critical, to the functioning of the company. Second, they must develop a sensible strategy. They must plan a series of steps in which, by joining forces, they can exercise major muscle.

Tech workers are generally well educated and well compensated. It would be an irony, then, if they led a revival of something even vaguely resembling a social, political, and economic movement.  But you never know. While the future has yet to reveal itself, the present feels decidedly different from the past.

Added note: Two articles in the New York Times elaborate on the points I make in this post. Their high quality leads me to provide the links.


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