The Alphabet Workers Union is the result of a years-long organizing effort in Google offices and projects, and it’s finally ready to go public. The new union seeks to represent workers across the parent company of Google and its various subsidiaries. The union has so far gotten started with more than 200 employees signing on.
The union will be represented by the Communications Workers of America as its parent organization. The union put out a statement laying out some of its plans for the future to build solidarity and power among Alphabet workers.
“We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”
“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a Google software engineer, said in a statement. It sure is, and we wish them the best of luck.
The effort comes after years of work on the part of many of these organizers. Another high-profile development that led to this was the Project Maven scandal. In 2018, thousands of the workers signed a petition against a US Department of Defense partnership with Google to use facial recognition as an anti-protest tool. Google likes to claim it would have only been used to track dangerous criminals. The reality is that law enforcement routinely relies on facial recognition for even minor offenses—often because no limits are placed on law enforcement reach, all while they are routinely resistant to even toothless reform. Considering that backdrop, it’s no wonder people might not want to help them incarcerate more people.
Later on, 20,000 Google workers staged a walkout over the handling of sexual harassment within the company. So to say that this was needed, is a big understatement. And judging from Google’s union-busting past, there’s a long road ahead.
The union will need to gather sufficient support from Alphabet’s 120,000 workers to form a union and vote on the prospect. As these efforts often go, Google will no doubt hire a union-busting law firm and engage in rampant anti-union propaganda. Google has been notorious for breaking union efforts, as are many big tech companies. in recent time, IRI Consultants, a top union avoidance firm, has been hired by Google for this purpose.
Could video games be next?
There have been plenty of efforts to unionize in the games industry, especially in recent years. There has been an equally tenacious effort to break those unions as well. Folks in the UK managed to form their own union for game workers a while back. And then on the other side you have folks like Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick was very open about his feelings for unions. Although given his history with loot boxes and investor-friendly rhetoric, that’s not really surprising.
So whether not video games can follow in the footsteps of the Alphabet Workers Union is a big ask. Even though all unionization efforts take time, there may be a lesson here worth learning. It’s long-term activism that will break the opposition to collective power, and give the workers more power as a result. And that’s the end goal of Alphabet’s new union. Instead of trying to pull tens of thousands of workers into the fold, the idea is instead to build a more receptive culture without having to necessarily be part of the union. A decentralized but united effort like this could certainly find fertile ground in the games industry with ongoing crunch issues and other probelms.