The most remarkable aspect of the walkout at Google last week may not have been that an estimated 20,000 people participated or that it had global reach, or even that it came together in less than a week. It was the way the organizers identified their action with a broader worker struggle, using language almost unheard-of among affluent tech employees.
“This is part of a growing movement,” the organizers wrote in a news release, “not just in tech, but across the country, including teachers, fast-food workers and others who are using their strength in numbers to make real change.”
At the beginning of their protest near the company’s San Francisco offices, the organizers even expressed support for Marriott workers on strike in the city.
For decades, Silicon Valley has been ground zero for a vaguely utopian form of individualism — the idea that a single engineer with a laptop and an internet connection could change the world, or at least a long-established industry. Class-consciousness was passé. Unions were the enemy of innovation, an anchor to the status quo.
But the issues that contributed to the walkout at Google — the company’s controversial work with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence, its apparent willingness to build a censored search engine for China, and above all its handling of sexual harassment accusations against senior managers — proved too large for any worker to confront alone, even if that worker made mid-six figures. They required a form of solidarity that would be recognizable to the most militant 20th century labor organizers.
“The myth of Silicon Valley is that all the power you need is embodied in you as an individual — if you want more money, go somewhere else,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley. “What they were saying here was that all the economic power they had as individuals wasn’t enough.”
“硅谷的神话是,你需要的所有权力都体现在你个人身上——如果你想要更多钱,就去其他地方,”加州大学伯克利分校的劳工专家哈莉·谢肯(Harley Shaiken)说。“而他们在这里说的是,作为个人,他们拥有的所有经济权力都是不够的。”
And the consequences of that dawning realization, Shaiken and other labor experts said, could reverberate across the entire tech sector.
Tech executives have long maintained that unions are inefficient — Intel co-founder Robert Noyce once described unions as an existential threat — and that skilled tech workers don’t need formal protections because employers can’t afford to alienate them. Many tech companies also promote themselves as inherently pro-worker because they are less hierarchical, and more democratically run, than old-economy businesses.
科技行业的高管长期坚持认为工会效率低下——英特尔联合创始人罗伯特·诺伊斯(Robert Noyce)曾将工会描述为生死攸关的威胁——娴熟的技术工人不需要正式保护,因为雇主离不开他们。许多科技公司也宣传自己天生亲近员工,因为他们比旧经济企业更少等级制度,运作时更民主。
Google, for example, points to countless ways for workers to communicate with senior executives: Employees can raise a concern with the chief executive at a TGIF meeting that happens a few times each month. They can ask questions on an internal company platform before meetings, and management will respond to the ones that receive the most “up-votes.” Workers can even circulate petitions, and those that prove especially popular can earn their authors a sit-down with management.
谷歌罢工的组织者向旧金山万豪酒店罢工的员工表示支持。 Ben Margot/Associated Press
Underlying the back-and-forth is the belief that truth bubbles up from an unregulated exchange of ideas. But some employees complain that it rarely leads to lasting change.
“As far as mechanisms for expressing feelings, there are plenty of them,” said Meredith Whittaker, a 12-year Google veteran who oversees a research group at the company and helped organize the walkout. “But as far as opportunities for agency and power — for real power over decision-making — some of what you’re seeing is a recognition that the former doesn’t equal the latter.”
“说到表达情感的机制,这里有很多,”梅雷迪斯·韦特克(Meredith Whittaker)说,她是一位12年的谷歌资深员工,负责监督公司的一个研究小组,是这次罢工的组织者之一。“但就代理和权力——在决策上的真正权力——的机会而言,你看到的一些事情在告诉你,两者是不平等的。”
When The New York Times reported in late October that Google had given a high-ranking official a $90 million payout as he left the company after allegations of sexual harassment, organizers said, it ignited these simmering frustrations.
The question is how far this sense of individual powerlessness has spread within Google. The walkout organizers argue that the feeling is quite widespread — extending from software developers to hardware engineers and from employees to contractors.
Some observers agree. Michelle Miller, co-founder of, which educates workers in tech and other industries on how to assert their labor rights, said that employees at Google “had to start thinking of themselves as some kind of collective” last year after a memo by an employee asserted that women tend to be innately less capable of certain technical work.
一些观察者同意这一点。对科技和其他行业员工进行维护劳工权益教育的网站CoWorker.org的联合创始人米歇尔·米勒(Michelle Miller)表示,在去年一名员工发布备忘录声称女性天生就缺乏某些技术工作的能力后,谷歌员工就“不得不开始将自己视为某种集体”。
She said workers who criticized the memo and defended diversity efforts on internal forums were threatened by people sympathetic to the memo’s author, James Damore, and had to band together to defend one another.
她说那些批评这份备忘录并在内部论坛上为多元化努力辩护的工作人员,受到了那些同情备忘录作者詹姆斯·达莫尔(James Damore)的人的威胁,并且不得不联合起来互相争辩。
Since Damore’s ouster, Google workers have steadily received evidence that management will only heed collective action, Michelle Miller argued. That includes an ad hoc worker revolt that preceded the end of the company’s controversial Pentagon contract.
Google may have been uniquely vulnerable to a worker uprising given its ostensibly progressive values, including the company’s longtime exhortation, “Don’t be evil,” and the openness of its corporate systems. Organizers note that they executed the entire walkout using Google’s internal platforms and other company resources.
They say they’re confident that the protests will only escalate if the chief executive, Sundar Pichai, and his team don’t put forth a plan to act on some of their demands, among them a worker representative on the board of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and an end to employment contracts that prevent class-action lawsuits and require individual arbitration for discrimination and harassment cases.
他们表示,如果首席执行官桑达尔·皮查伊(Sundar Pichai)和他的团队没有给出计划对他们的一些诉求采取行动,他们相信抗议只会升级。这些诉求包括在谷歌母公司Alphabet董事会中设置一名员工代表,以及终止那些阻止集体诉讼并要求对歧视和骚扰案件进行个人仲裁的雇佣合同。
“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” Pichai said in a statement. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”
Labor experts said any changes precipitated by the walkout could spread through Silicon Valley.
梅雷迪斯·韦特克(Meredith Whittaker)(图中使用扩音器者)参与了上周谷歌罢工的组织工作。她说,公司为员工提供了很多表达意见的方法,但员工对公司决策的影响力太小。
梅雷迪斯·韦特克(Meredith Whittaker)(图中使用扩音器者)参与了上周谷歌罢工的组织工作。她说,公司为员工提供了很多表达意见的方法,但员工对公司决策的影响力太小。 John Taggart for The New York Times
“These companies are competing for employees,” said Matthew Bodie, a law professor at St. Louis University who is a former lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board.
“这些公司正在为员工竞争,”圣路易斯大学(St. Louis University)法学教授马修·博迪(Matthew Bodie)说,他是全国劳动关系委员会(National Labor Relations Board)的前律师。
“If employees at Facebook are looking at this and saying ‘Wow, that was impressive,'” Bodie said, then Facebook may have to follow suit.