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Unions work

Hands joining together in solidarity

The Writer’s Guild of America seems to have received everything it asked for:

Delivering on issues that many scribes saw as core to their profession, the deal contains big leaps in AI guardrails, residuals and data transparency for writers — leaps that could be transplanted into the upcoming negotiations between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA, which could start in the next week.

This is a great example of how unions can really work for their members. Hollywood is a broadly-unionized industry, as we’ve seen for the last five months, and the result has been real gains in writer equity and compensation in the face of technology changes like streaming and AI.

Of course, at least in America, most industries are not highly-unionized. 10.1% of wage and salary workers were unionized in 2022, down from a peak of about a third, which coincided with income inequality’s lowest point. Generally, unionized workers make 18% more (20% for African Americans, 23% for women, and 34% for Hispanic workers).

Tech is often the home of a particular kind of libertarian thinking that is often anti-union. But that, thankfully, is changing. In 2004, a third of tech workers were in favor of unionization; twelve years later, it was 59%. These days, prominently recognized tech unions include the Alphabet Workers Union, but firms have engaged in nakedly union-busting activity, from big tech companies like Apple, later-stage startups like Instacart, and supposedly public interest organizations like Code for America. (It’ll be no surprise that Elon Musk’s Tesla was found guilty of illegal union-busting tactics).

Regardless, the industry would gain immensely from unionization — and more and more tech workers agree. It’s not so much about wages as recognition and a say in how these companies are run. Last year, Jane Lytvynenko, senior research fellow on the Tech and Social Change Project at the Shorenstein Center wrote in MIT Technology Review:

[…] Silicon Valley companies don’t see more protests about wages from their white-collar employees—those workers get stock options, good salaries, and free lunch. But such perks do little to address structural discrimination.

My hope is that examples like the WGA’s win will help spread this idea that there should be a counterbalance to corporate power, and that the people who do the work should have influence over how it is organized. If you’ll pardon the pun, tech workers should own the means to push to production. Allworkers should have a say in how their companies function. And I believe — still crossing my fingers, because there’s a lot of work to do and a lot of gains still to be made — that this future is coming.

In the meantime, congratulations to the WGA! Nice work. Solidarity.

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