Silicon Valley is commonly portrayed as the epicentre of innovation. A place packed with start-up nerds, neoliberal workaholics, and brilliant freethinkers designing the technologies to save us all (and becoming billionaires in the process). The “Californian Ideology” implies that the internet is always and everywhere a force for good and that all of those industry “creatives” and “entrepreneurs” are driven solely by their passion and purpose. Like Steve Jobs once said, they do what they love.
At the same time, when performing their jobs as engineers, designers, product managers and so on all of these people are also workers. These workers aren’t inspired by a higher calling, but by necessity. At the end of the day, they’re just selling their labor to make a living.
Recently more and more of them have begun to see themselves as workers and build a common identity based on mutual interests and in opposition to Silicon Valley elites.
These members of the new tech worker movement don’t sound much like the “hippie yuppies” of Californian Ideology lore. They embrace a more collective, worker-driven politics and building alliances with the shuttle drivers, security guards, janitors, and cafeteria staff who make up the industry’s “invisible workforce.”
At Amazon, employees petitioned CEO Jeff Bezos for “a choice in what [they] build, and a say in how it is used.” At Google, tech workers are challenging their employers to drop contracts with the Pentagon, ICE, and other government agencies. They organise for workplaces free from sexual harassment and discrimination and demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions for the contractors who supply much of the labour that makes the industry run.
Join Moira Weigel and Ben Tarnoff to talk with Ines Schwerdtner about the role of tech workers in challenging neoliberal hegemony.