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Tech Worker Unionism

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I remain pretty skeptical that the tech industry can organize in any large-scale way. But it’s also worth taking note of the beginning of successful organizing.

Employees at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter voted on Tuesday to unionize, the first well-known technology company to take the step toward being represented by organized labor.

The decision, which was formalized by a vote count at the National Labor Relations Board, came down to a narrow margin, with 46 employees voting in favor of the move and 37 opposing it. The debate over a union — and whether such representation was appropriate for highly paid tech workers — had been a source of tension at the company for many months.

“I’m overjoyed by this result,” said Dannel Jurado, a Kickstarter senior software engineer who voted for a union. “There’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s a first step to the sustainable future in tech that I and so many others want to see.”

The pro-union vote is significant for the technology industry, where workers have become increasingly activist in recent years over issues as varied as sexual harassment and climate change. Behemoth companies such as Google and Amazon have struggled to get a handle on their employees, who have staged walkouts and demanded that their companies not work with government entities and others.

It’s worth thinking about what large-scale tech unionism would do to the labor movement. I guess the first thing is that it would significantly raise the average wage of the American union member. It would signify a very different work world than the classic period of American unions and that’s not a bad thing, per se. I guess the overall impact would depend on to what extend principles of solidarity would extend to very different workers than these. It most certainly would provide more union financial power than any organized movement in American history. Again, there’s lots of reasons to think this won’t happen–internal culture, unionbusting, politics–but it’s not impossible and certainly the standard anti-union tactics aren’t really geared for highly educated workers who already take a skeptical look at a lot of media that would include the anti-union consulting industry.

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