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Tech Workers of the World Unite? 1254

okidokedork writes "Wired News reports on the lack of unions in the IT workplace. If you could join a union in your workplace, would you?" From the article: "The rich get richer, the shareholder is valued more than the employee, jobs are eliminated in the name of bottom-line efficiency (remember when they called firing people 'right-sizing'?) and the gulf between the rich and the working class grows wider every year. You see this libertarian ethos everywhere, but nowhere more clearly than in the technology sector, where the number of union jobs can be counted on one hand. Tech is the Wild West as far as the job market goes and the robber barons on top of the pile aim to keep it that way. They'll offshore your job to save a few bucks or lay you off at the first sign of a slump, but they're the first to scream, 'You're stifling innovation!' at any attempt to control the industry or provide job security for the people who do the actual work."
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Tech Workers of the World Unite?

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  • Guild model (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mgabrys_sf ( 951552 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:32PM (#15311337) Journal
    Might be more applicable. Getting royalties to work produced has served the information industry as it exists in Los Angeles well to date. Might be time for Northern California (and other parts) to investigate this model further.

    There used to be a Graphics guild back in the day, I wouldn't mind seeing that return either.
  • by bnet41 ( 591930 ) * on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:32PM (#15311340)
    IT people are too mobile to be in a union. IT people like to change job more so than other professions I've seen. Unions depend a lot on Brotherhood, and office people generally just aren't like that. I would have no interest in being in a union. The IT sector is too fast paced for unions who can really hamper a company's desire for change. Also, the seniority thing is what I think would drive most workers away, as most IT workers like to be rewarded for their work and not how long they have been there. I was in a Union when I worked at a grocery store, and sadly most of the things I had heard about unions I found to be true.
    Another thing is I love my job, and don't mind working 60 hours a week. Unions really like to supress that behavior. I work that much because computers are my hobby, and there are much better computers here at work just for testing than I could ever afford at home. Is it bad that I like to be here that much doing my hobby? I know others like me as well.
  • by boxlight ( 928484 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:32PM (#15311345)
    I know I'm going to sound like a totally insensitive capitalist pig, but I'm been a programmer for years and my experience is there are lots of challenging well-paying jobs for good, enthusiastic, productive programmers.

    Every once in a while someone in a group mentions the idea of unions and -- no joke -- it's *always* the laziest, whiniest, least productive member of the group that brings up the idea.

    So I vote no.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:35PM (#15311376) Homepage Journal

    If so, then a labor union is a good idea. Otherwise, not. Unions help people get rights, yes. Then they start sucking the lifeblood out of everything they touch. You are guaranteed a job even if you don't do it, and that is bullshit.

    With that said, the BOFH union local 666 would rule the fucking world, so from that standpoint, it might be fun...

  • Unions (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sollord ( 888521 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:37PM (#15311402)
    I live in michigan... I'm no longer a fan of unions. They make it hard to fire the the worthless slacker even though he gets payed the same ammount as the hard working people. I mean $20 an hour to sweep a floor is briliant.
  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:44PM (#15311503)
    For the moment we are. And due to that, I wouldn't join an attempt to start one unless there was a lot of momentum behind it. And if I was being that mistreated that the movement was working, I'd probably switch jobs first.

    But I can definitely see it being different in 10 years. Outsourcing and the increase in health care and other costs without seeing an increase in general wages (especially for current employees- the only time I get raises tends to be when I switch jobs) may bring about a market where it could help. Especially if I get married and have a family, moving jobs then is nowhere near as easy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:50PM (#15311562)
    It just requires a different model than the UAW or the other industrial unions. The movie industry which is even more mobile than tech is highly unionized. The Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild seem to work for people who change employers every few months, I don't see why tech people couldn't have an equivalent.
  • by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @03:59PM (#15311679)
    "Good for you being able to avoid responsibility to the point where you can- I've got a mortgage and a family to pay for."

    You don't have enough money saved up to be able to stay afloat financially while between jobs and you're claiming the GP is avoiding responsibility? It sound to me like you are the one who is avoiding responsibility. If you were fired tomorrow how would you feed your family or keep your home? Being financially independent enough to leave a job when you are unhappy with the working conditions is about the most responsible you can be.

    "You're not worth every penney- you're worth the $2.50/hr your job can be done in India for."

    I'm worth what my employer pays me.
  • by pastpolls ( 585509 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:02PM (#15311725)
    Laid off for three years.... that stinks. The longest I have been without a job since completing college was 2 months. Even through the bubble and through 4 layoffs. Perhaps it is because I don't go through life with the same chip on my shoulder. Perhaps it is because I am a hard worker that people enjoy being around. Truthfully, I think it is because I don't believe I have a right to a job and am thankful to come to work each day... and by you name and attitude, I bet that is foreign to you.

    Is you name really Jeff, if so, I am glad that I laid you off. Sometimes personality drives a project as much as merit...
  • by theodicey ( 662941 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:03PM (#15311742)
    You don't mind hacking for 60 hours a week?


    Work 40 hours at your union programming job, and then spend the extra 20 hours contributing to free software!

    Seriously, just imagine -- for one second -- how good Firefox, GIMP, KDE, GNOME, etc. would be if everyone in the tech world were following that plan.

  • IT Unions would fail (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cartman ( 18204 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:05PM (#15311781)

    The power of a Union is directly proportional to how capital intensive its industry is. That's because capital-intensive firms suffer huge capital costs as a result of work stoppages, strikes, and disruptions at expensive factories.

    Software, however, isn't capital-intensive at all. The total investment in a software house is a few thousand dollars for PCs and servers. If you struck, then your employer could move your PCs out of the building, outsource your jobs to India, and fire you all on the spot, with very little cost to himself.

    Unions in IT would accomplish one thing only: an acceleration of the outsourcing trend.

  • by thePowerOfGrayskull ( 905905 ) <marc,paradise&gmail,com> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:13PM (#15311880) Homepage Journal
    1. Unions are a major part of what's driving the major auto manufacturers into bankruptcy
    2. Menial jobs are outsourced because, thanks to unions, the costs of doing them in the United States is just to damned high

    Unions in their original form were great. They stopped literal abuse of the workers; unsafe working conditions, below-poverty wages, and more were eliminated because of unions. Most of the full-time IT population has health care, and is well paid in relation to the work they do.

    So where are the abuses that need correcting in IT? At-will employment? Getting paid for the work you do, instead of some artificial number based on seniority? Oh, the humanity...

  • by Fatchap ( 752787 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:26PM (#15312036)
    A union artifically levels things because it based on the premise that all people are equal and so deserve equal reward. I don't agree with that, if I am better I want to do better, if I am worse then I should get less, until I find my place in the world.

    Just becuase I am part of a union does not mean I won't get laid off. See the miner in the UK during the 80s. The union did not help them, their jobs were no longer needed so they had to go.
  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:36PM (#15312162) Journal
    Don't attribute to me what I didn't say. There is a world of difference between skilled labor and unskilled labor, whether the skill is programming, brain surgery, or carpentry. If you can't walk off the street and pick it up in a matter of weeks, then it's skilled.

    Besides, what carpenter worth his salt only uses a hammer anyway? If I'd said, "Picked up a hammer, chisel, and 20,000 dollars worth of specialty woodworking tools..." then you would have had a better point.
  • by corinroyal ( 526083 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:38PM (#15312194) Homepage

    IT workers could certainly benefit from strong, rank & file controlled unions, but I think culturally most are not ready for them. Employers have no problem banding together and exploiting every trick to maximize profitability for shareholders. And generally it's the workforce, we the people, who are downsized, mismanaged, have our benefits cut, jobs moved overseas, etc. Without unions of working people, the employers have no counterpoint to their own power (except the government, yeah right).

    But most IT people believe the hype that the "free market" should not be interfered with. We, more than trade or unskilled breatheren tend to identify with the employers and internalize their culture. We ignore that workers banding together to improve their barganing position, in no way undermines the "free market" There's a free market for labor too. You're free to negotiate individually with your employer if you want to. But you'd clearly have more barganing power if you cooperated with your co-workers and negotiated together to protect the things that make a real difference in your lives, ie. working conditions, schedules, compensation, benefits, training, etc.

    IT workers don't like to think of themselves as workers in the same way as a steel worker is a worker. We think our shit don't stink. We think we're somehow too smart to be members of the working class. But the working class is anyone who doesn't own the "means of production". This sense that we were somehow special was at a peak during the dot com bubble when it was a sellers market for labor, and should have died during the burst and outsourcing epidemic. IT people need to get a clue and realize that by aggregating our labor power, we would have so much more power to protect the things that are important to us, like the net neutrality, privacy, time with our families, patent reform, etc. It's one thing to have EFF out there fighting with whatever staff and budget they can scare up. It would be quite another to have an SEIU size Tech Workers Union wade into some of those debates with a pile of dues cash, and the threat of work stoppage or other on the job actions. Want to take away network neutrality SBC and Comcast? Well then, we can't be bothered to keep your routers patched.

    At it's basic level, a union is merely a group of workers aggregating to advance common goals. In practice, trade unions have become big, often corupt bureaucracies. This is where unions get a bad name, well besides employer propaganda (which is huge). The solution to bad unions is rank and file control. Get rid of the bad bureaucrats. It's really that simple. American individualism really reaches it's zenith with IT workers. It's hard to imagine IT folks rare enough to see IT folks cooperating over lunch, much less their livelihoods. I think we're too lame to do it.

    I used to be involved in Tech Worker organizing for the old school revolutionary union, the IWW ( That's the union that won the eight hour work day, which we dumb shits have voluntarily abandoned (so we can work 12 hour days, wheeee....) There are many cool strategies that can be tried. One we worked on, but didn't get very far, was a hiring hall for tech workers. It worked much like an employment agency, but everybody was in the union, and had a willingness to support each other's struggles. I've also started a unionized and worker owned web development business. I think workerer ownership is probably the smartest way to organize production so that it meets human needs, not arbitrary stockholder needs. In our business, we had a managment structure that people had to follow, so that the buck stopped with someone. But if that someone was really lame, workers could vote to remove them. We setup our processes how we wanted. We reaped all the profit from our work. We earned a base salary, and then yearly dividends based on what profit the company had made.

    There are also all sorts of workplace solidarity actions that can be done even w

  • Sweet idea! Not. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:51PM (#15312340)
    Then put back the limits that a corporation can only work in the one field it was originally incorporated for.

    Great idea (not)! If we did that, then we could go after Apple Computer for getting into that pesky "music" business. And we could go after Berkshire Hathaway for not being in the textile industry. And after those two go down, we can go after WD-40 for being in the lubrication business instead of the oil production business.

    Forcing companies to "fit" into certain molds is not the way to go about this. There is too much derivative value and derivative success that stem from businesses "branching out" from their core competency. If you restrict the products and markets they can compete in, the you - by default - restrict the free market.

    (note: I am not saying the free market shouldn't have restrictions - it should in certain places (monopolies). But doing it by industry is not the way to do it)
  • by Malggi ( 791997 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @04:58PM (#15312454)
    I've never understood why people think a union contract must include such and such.

    If you want to have the option of working 60 hours a week, put it into the contract.
    If you want management to be able to fire people who don't adhear to best practices or meet their deadlines, put that into the contract.
    If you want people to get promoted based on merit reviews instead of seniority, put that into the contract.

    The attitude and tone some of you have in your posts, it wouldn't surprise me if a couple of you have been "laid off" because you just rub people the wrong way. You'd think you'd want some protection from that too.

  • by Rodong ( 906804 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:00PM (#15312478)
    I'm in my country's equivalent to IWW []...Being a wobbly techie type works absolutely fine...even better, you can stay in the "one big union" even if you change jobs or assignments..i get legal help (and supply some as i go along and learn labour law), i get camaraderie, and i get to meet'n chat with all sorts of people of all classes and professions, hell it even helped me get hints in employment opportunities. Nothing is stopping you from joining the union I realise i sound like a union-bot right about now, but it's that good, noone should stand alone, no matter their profession.
  • Re:Union? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SnapShot ( 171582 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:00PM (#15312483)
    I've worked within a union within the State government (at a University no less). Despite my knee-jerk liberalism, I'm not sure I would voluntarly join a union again. In my anecdotal experience, the union didn't appear to save jobs when the State budget tightened and seemed to protect employees that probably should have been let go. On the other hand, I'll be enjoying my weekends, health insurance, overtime pay, paid holidays, and other benefits that were brought to us by unions [] whether or not I join one myself.

    Anyway, more to the point, the issue shouldn't be a "Rush told me unions are bad" or, even, "unions will save our jobs". The cheap labor conservatives [] (e.g. the nanny state conservatives []) love arguments like this since it pretty much distracts everyone from the fundamental point: the U.S. economy balance of power is tilting so far in the direction of the corporate entities that by the time we're done argueing about unions it will be too late.

    I'm not sure about banning multi-national corporations because it would be pointless as long as all world corporations were similarly limited including pseudo-governmental corporations (e.g. from China, Dubai, Russia). How about a much smaller step: bring in 33% of the Federal Reserve Board's voting membership from labor organizations instead of from banks? At least in one aspect of the economy middle class American's interests could be represented.
  • by AlphaWolf_HK ( 692722 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:01PM (#15312500)
    Your basic responsibility to society is to procreate. The reason society puts up with capitalism is that it allows people to procreate. If you can't do one or the other, there's a failure someplace.

    I don't know about you, but I live in the land of the free. Free of despotism, and free of that bastard stepchild of despotism known as communism. I am free to do (in the words of Penn Jillette []) "whatever the fuck I want." I don't owe society anything. I am my own person, I am not some drone that belongs to a hive.

    Here, society gives back whatever you give to it. If you give it nothing, you get nothing in return, and your life becomes somewhat meaningless. How much you give to it, and how much you accept in return, is entirely up to you. Whether or not you want to procreate is entirely up to you. You don't have to answer to anybody but yourself. That is the glory of freedom, you ought to try it one day; let go of those borg like shackles you're wearing.

  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:15PM (#15312653) Homepage Journal
    You are correct that some people do lose out in a union. The people who would otherwise be able to make demands at a job for whatever they want wont be making an unfair salary anymore.

    If that person is so valuable that they can make demands on management and get them met, how is that salary unfair? In IT in particular, the best employees are often hugely more productive than their peers, to the tune of 100% or more as opposed to low-skill workers in fields like manufacturing or warehousing, where 20-30% may mark an outstanding performer.

    Either way, you need to have the freedom to reward the best employees.
  • decent article (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arakis ( 315989 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:25PM (#15312752)
    I think the article pointed out a good contrast of social trend against actual sentiments. The dearth of anti-union comments on here is unsurprising, but also misleading. Never heard of WashTech before either, so that was very interesting. Just more proof that a union isn't all that of a toxic or alien concept in how people work.

    My marketing teacher in college just busted out a very insightful comment one day on the subject of unions and whether it was right to be for or against them. She just looked at us all and said:

    "You are going to have organized management, so you are going to have organized labor." Matter of fact it is just a part of everything.
  • by Capitalist1 ( 127579 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @05:25PM (#15312756)
    There is one and only one "social contract": everyone keeps their hands to themselves. If you believe in Marxism, you fail at: history, philosophy, politics, economics, and simple goddamn common sense.

    So, you have a "right" to a job? Provided by whom? At whose expense? You have a "right" to someone else's time, effort, and resources? And anyone who doesn't want to go about enslaving whoever might possibly provide these resources is a failure in your eyes?

    The concept of the social contract and the formation of governments are meant in part as a means of protecting ourselves against people like you.
  • by ClamIAm ( 926466 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @06:13PM (#15313183)
    your fault for not being financially solvent.

    Yeah, I'd like to point out here that if you see a homeless person, guess what? It's their fault for being homeless! The system is working fine, and any person who has fallen on hard times can't blame anyone except themselves. Sure, there are tons of lazy bastards who claim things like "I can't afford health insurance", but don't listen to them, they don't know what they're talking about.

    Oh, and if anyone tries to make any argument other than this, they're a commie pinko terrorist and should be corralled for re-education.

  • by TheGrapeApe ( 833505 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @06:39PM (#15313361)
    I see a lot of threads on here smack-talking the idea that we should unionize based on arguments like "It rewards lazy programmers", "Just quit if you don't like your job, etc." ... I'm a little sad to see this narrow and corporate view of what unions are and what they do coming from you guys; Unions are more than just collective bargaining-bins - They offer a way for people who have a common interest to communicate and organize around those interests - to take *action* to see that those interests are protected...A way to communicate with each other. That's why it makes me so sad to see my brothers here, who I think are the best communicators and organizers in the world - if not always the most eloquent, trash-talking the idea that we should have a system...a network...through which we can share information to our mutual benefit. We don't have try to strong-arm companies or force anyone to join...but what the hell is wrong with sharing information with each other? Isn't that what are core competency really is, at the heart of it? We've created this huge internet..we maintain the channels through which everyone else communicates...So why shouldn't *we* use those channels to share information about what employers do to us...not strongarm them...but just to make sure that our brothers are aware when someone treats us poorly...promotes the bad programmers over the good ones...offshores our jobs and then tries to hire us back to fix the mess...Shouldn't we be telling each other this stuff? Maybe just to give those companies something to think about? (i.e. "If I treat my programmers like crap, I won't be able to hire good programmers because they'll all know about me") Wouldn't that help all of us?

    You know, I think that Slashdot *is* our union in a way...We're all here reading and posting at the same place and we should start communicating with each other about this kind of stuff; It could be a force that doesn't just *punish* companies that treat their IT workers badly, but *rewards* the ones that treat them well (i.e. "If I treat my programmers well, all the good programmers will want to work for me.) That's not "communist" fact, I would argue that it doesn't get more "free market" than that in any flavor.
  • by uimedic ( 615858 ) on Thursday May 11, 2006 @06:46PM (#15313420)
    As a doc, I can't help but wonder where you got your data about physician compensation. I assure you, the mean compensation is not 300K. It may be the mean for some sub-specialists (especially surgical), but it sure ain't the average overall. Academic neurologists are often lucky to make over $100K, and I can say comfortably that $300K is far more than double the median salary for general pediatricians. Pediatricians, representative of most generalists, have 7 years of post-graduate education. Neurologists have 8 years. I'm a pediatrician and went to state medical school. During my three years of residency (after 4 years of medical school), I made less than the starting salary of many engineers with whom I graduated. I currently owe over $120,000 in student loans (with accumulated interest), and I'm one of the lucky ones with no undergrad debt.

    I'm not saying that physicians are "under-paid." However, it's a long road before they start collecting "real-doctor" pay. Physicians do have substantial job security and we are reimbursed well. The AMA has had something to do with that, but it is not a sine que non relationship. That organization is hemorrhaging members and it certainly cannot call a strike. Docs have job security because of demographics, disease, and the third-party payer system (which, as currently structured, essentially destroys the supply demand relationship). As you rightly point out, the cost of health care has been rising substantially. However, utilization has been increasing faster! In such a market, how could one NOT have job security?!!

    Finally, this is not some kind of gravy train. This too will end. You can bet that there will come a reckoning. No union will be able to prevent that, and, to the extent that unions inject rigidity when flexibility is necessary, one could almost certainly make it worse.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Thursday May 11, 2006 @06:54PM (#15313475) Homepage Journal
    And just what the hell would you know about DNA to say it's our nature to stay fucking put? We started out as NOMADS, HUNTERS/GATHERERS, MOVING AROUND to where the FOOD was to SURVIVE. We still do this TO THIS VERY DAY, CIVILIZED OR NOT.

    I generally enjoy your posts, but this one is just pure and simple BULLSHIT!!!! (Sorry Penn & Teller,) and I'm calling you on it. DNA... what are you, a geneticist?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 11, 2006 @07:41PM (#15313767)
    Originally, corporations had to be in the public interest and benefit as well, at least inside the US a long time ago. They are "granted" a charter, no one automatically has a "right" to do business as a corporation. You do as an individual, but not as a corporation, the public oversees your business. That was the original theory anyway, and how it was run for awhile. Now corporations are worse than patents, just a rubber stamp and rarely if ever is a corporate charter revoked.

    As to transnationals, I don't have a problem with them as long as they consider themselves to have ceased being citizens of the nation in favor of being globalists. Their choice. I think it's perfectly fair to let them do business, but not to vote or lobby or hold office in the nation. Want the big bucks, swell, here's the trade, you want to live globally, make money in a big way globally, then become a global citizen and renounce US citizenship, you get the corporate law and give up flesh and blood human law. If some other nation wants to give you their citizenship, none of our business, but you can never vote, lobby, etc or re-apply to go back to being a US citizen. Make up your mind, citizen of the world, or US citizen. Loyal to no one and only to cash, that's your call. Loyal to nation/neighborhood/tribe/family first, then you would never think of being a globalist.

    What you guys* want (I am speaking generically,guys* means corporate apologists and globalists,non-nationalists, I noticed the .ca suffix of course) is to have it both ways, you want to be able to exploit BOTH the domestic workers AND foreign workers and to hide behind corporate citizenship which gives you more rights and less responsibilites than unincorporated people.

    Yes, I would call that a sweet deal if that is your thing, it is certainly effective enough, and you have proven to all be great at the exploitation racket and in getting yourselves "elected" into what is supposed to be nationalistic type governmental offices.

    It has been quite the conjob, kudos! You guys are the kings of the grifters!

    BTW, there is a 4th option, and it is a dandy!
  • by Project2501a ( 801271 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @03:28AM (#15315860) Journal
    Since we are talking about Unionising and since I consider myself an anarchosyndicalist [], please let me point out that Anarchy [] does not imply disorderly conduct, but rather a lack of structure. Thanks :)

    ~/o come on you good workers o/~

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 12, 2006 @11:10AM (#15317729)
    When I was in 1st/2nd grade I was told that I was only allowed to select books from the 1st/2nd grade "area" of the library. Nevermind that I had been reading at that level since I was 3 or 4, and could easily handle the 5th/6th grade stuff (highest level available at that library). No, that would be too difficult for the teachers to handle. God forbid a kid takes on a challenge!

    My parents had to bitch and complain for months before the teachers realized that it would make their lives easier if they let me at the more advanced material. Thank god my parents were so tenacious. Lesser mortals would have given up; instead, my dad decided to run for and was elected to the school board as a result.

    Unfortunately, from what I hear the situation is worse today anyway. The money just isn't there to do good gifted education in a small district, and of course there is the attitude that "oh, well, they're smart, they don't need anything extra, just let them sit quietly and do the work like everyone else." In the meantime, the "special ed" kids get tons of extra help. But let's be honest here. Which of these groups is going to be leading their country, whether it be in science, technology, politics, business, etc?

    Posting anonymously because my mom now works at that school and I don't want her getting in trouble...

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner