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Google Urged the U.S. to Limit Protection for Activist Workers (bloomberg.com)
749 points by pseudolus on Jan 24, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 440 comments

These comments read like a bunch of low-income retail shoppers defending Walmart because they provide something they otherwise couldn't get.

I think these types of debates are bellwether for programmer/IT professional unionization. These are the exact types of lawsuits brought against organized labor as it was trying to get organized to prevent exploitative behavior.

It's disturbing to see these same anti-organization arguments rehashed simply for a new industry.

The difference is that software engineers, especially those at Google, have high social mobility and are well educated. I think that unions are inefficient, but I'm sympathetic towards or even support most of them because those workers don't have a better option. Googlers just come off as entitled. They should be intelligent enough to acknowledge when they're making clickbaity populist arguments that misrepresent complex issues, but they turn a blind eye to it. Calling out these arguments doesn't mean I support large corporations trampling over the weak.

Funny how people only ever use "entitled" to describe labor demanding better treatment from management, but never to describe management demanding that labor do more for less.

> Funny how people only ever use "entitled" to describe labor demanding better treatment from management, but never to describe management demanding that labor do more for less.

“Entitled” is a term used by elites to describe their lessers seeking to be above their rightful station. It's only ever used to punch down.

Other terms are used for the already powerful seeking to retain power including some that reflect the speaker's perception that it is unjust power involved, but “entitled” just isn't generally used in that direction.

I regularly see "entitled" used as a slur against those seen as assuming privileges they should not have or do not deserve. I've seen it attached to the Covington teenagers more than once.

With that in mind, I think the word may have a general-purpose use to describe people grabbing for things the speaker things they should not have.

Adam Smith discusses this asymmetry in Wealth of Nations. He basically says both business owners and labor try to organize, but business owners tend to win because it's easier for them to make it illegal for labor to organize.

Edit: This is the passage I was thinking of

"We rarely hear ... of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines ... that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate.... Masters, too, sometimes enter into particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen, who sometimes, too, without any provocation of this kind, combine, of their own accord, to raise the price of their labour.... But whether their combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters, upon these occasions, are just as clamorous upon the other side, and never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which ... generally end in nothing but the punishment or ruin of the ringleaders."


I often wonder how many of those who purport to follow the ideas of Smith actually read his works.

Have you ever lived or worked in a third world country and seen people struggle to make ends meet? I mean really struggle. I have. It makes me wish I could drop my kids off in Afghanistan or a Syrian refugee camp for two weeks so that they can see just how good they actually have it when they curiously find things to bitch about.

I have worked immediately next to a former South African military officer that now works as a senior software engineer at one of the most profitable companies in the world. This person has also seen and experienced unimaginable poverty first hand and its amazing how quickly these experiences bring people into a common understanding or appreciation.

I think the world entitled is completely appropriate in this context. To reaffirm that when employees walk out of Google for a protest it isn't the contractors or employees in the various support jobs who walk out. It is the entitled software engineers whose jobs are more mobile and face less income insecurity. Ask any Googler that walked out about that stratification.

Ok, but you haven't actually addressed the main point of my comment. If it's entitled for labor to demand better treatment when there are kids starving in Africa, why is it not also entitled for management to demand said labor do more work for less? Your comment is entirely orthogonal to this tension.

Those two things are highly subjective. If the treatment upon the labor could be improved then what are the problems worthy of addressing? It seems software developers at Google have it pretty nice.

As for management demanding more for less that is far more complex than it sounds. Does that imply pay reductions, improvements to efficiency, increased labor education, automation, something else, or a mix of various factors? Demanding more for less is perhaps one of the most solid ways a small shop can compete and take share from a giant titan.

> To reaffirm that when employees walk out of Google for a protest it isn't the contractors or employees in the various support jobs who walk out. It is the entitled software engineers whose jobs are more mobile and face less income insecurity. Ask any Googler that walked out about that stratification.

It does depend why they are walking out. If a software engineer walks out in support of a cleaner then this is the opposite of entitled behaviour. Unfortunately e.g. the UK has made this illegal.

You do realize that several of the walkout demands were specifically designed to improve treatment of temps, vendors, and contractors as well as full-timers, right? Most of the Googlers who walked out explicitly did so in support of the folks who couldn't.

This reminds me of the French Revolution. Originally started by the wealthy middle class, soon more disaffected people joined and then heads rolled.

Management can "demand" whatever they want, and employees can refuse whatever they want. It's how supply and demand works, and how free markets work.

The problems happen when the government interferes in this process. For example, recently Washington State removed the exemption mentally disabled workers have from minimum wage laws. This was hailed as a victory for justice and fairness. The result is those workers can't get a job anymore.

"free" markets aren't necessarily "ideal" markets. See concepts like: leverage, cost externalization, etc. The "free" market argument is so tired.

Free markets are the worst basis for an economy, except for all the others.

Citation needed

The spectacular performance of the US economy, 1800 to the present, relative to countries with varying levels of socialism. The poor performance of socialist industries in the US. The failure of any socialist/communal agricultural system to produce enough food to feed itself. (Even the Soviets gave up on collective farms.)

Was the market in 19th century America truly free?


Was it a perfect free market? Nope. Nothing human is perfect. But it was a workable approximation of one.

This isn’t a moral judgment. But a market propped up with strong tariffs is by definition not a free market. The American economy you’re lauding was a mixed economy.

You can't make water 100% pure, either. That doesn't mean you're not drinking water.

Your claim that it must be perfect to be considered a free market is argumentative, not substantive.

Ha-Joong Chang might disagree[0], but okay I’ll dodge the No True Scotsman accusation.

What’s your definition of free market, then?

[0] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/ha-joon-...

It consists of transactions among freely consenting adults that do not use force or fraud.

Sounds like that's compatible with the German social market, or Nordic social democracy. Or even the protectionist Asian Tiger states.

The law is use of force. Examples: setting wages, employment terms, price setting, quotas for women on corporate boards, etc.

Protectionism isn't free market, either.

You've just mentioned activities an employer (or government) does.

Market doesn't do any of these. Prices or wages do not set themselves "because market wills it". They are set because people will not accept a different outcome. If the employer is stubborn and there are few other options, nobody can really drive the wages up.

Taking anot market is like talking about evolution. It is not even a force, just a label for emergent behavior.

So the market is as free as people are, and the main damper are actually mobility and debt. People who cannot move are limited to local market which can have a very different equilibrium. People who are in debt are forced to take immediately available offers.

And finally, a typical person cannot outwit or outwait a corporation, much less government.

Information asymmetry and availability of various instruments of pressure is vastly different.

By the way, corporate law and setting wages is also use of force. You do not get to really negotiate any of it from equal position. Likewise you are very limited in negotiating credit. The difference is, law is at least slightly transparent and corporate law is not.

So, where it's this "free" in the market?

Force: do this or I will beat you or kill you or imprison you

Not Force: do this or I won't give you something of mine

Also Force: do this or I will undercut you, bankrupt you, or sue you into oblivion

Suing is using force via the legal system. Undercutting someone is not. "bankrupting" someone depends on how they go about it.

The tariffs article literally describes the U.S. as very protectionist up until it implemented the income tax.

Power imbalance is ok though.

What can Bill Gates make you do?

That's just trade.

Well yeah. Not being able to make ends meet while working is more morally justifyable than not being to make ends meet while unemployed, I guess.

Making ends meet isn't really the issue. Mentally disabled people are usually taken care of by relatives. They can't live on their own.

But they want to feel valued and do worthwhile things. By pricing them out of a job, they are denied that opportunity.

This is a strange logic. Your description of a job is more that of a glorified hobby.

Meanwhile, are you expecting that the relatives (if they exist at all) shoulder all the burden and costs of caring themselves?

Only because someone does not live alone doesn't mean they don't have a cost of living. Indeed, a disabled person's cost of living is likely higher than an able-bodied one. Nevertheless, they should be expected to compensate this with a lower income than everyone else?

The trouble with your position is it renders the person unable to get a job, i.e. it makes the situation worse.

There's a difference between "entitled" and "self-entitled"; so many people abuse the word.

if the quote is

>Googlers just come off as entitled

then "entitled" does seem to be the same concept you refer to as "self-entitled" ...

I don't mind people proposing different uses of language, but the person you are responding to literally quoted "entitled" which in original context meant exactly what you refer to as "self-entitled"

so I really see no value in your "correction" or was that a "self-correction" ?

> There's a difference between "entitled" and "self-entitled"

The former is a superset of the latter and the former term is often used for the latter, as here, where the specific subset being referenced is clear from context.

> so many people abuse the word.

Not particularly; natural language is just subject to more contextual nuance in meaning than most computer code.

Every time an Googler has a minor complaint about something that is miles away from their area of expertise expertise, it blows up to the front page of Hacker News. That's what I find entitled. They can't accept that one of the largest companies in the world is not going to bend to the wills. This happened with the Damore memo or project Maven, so they feed misleading information to the media to get populist pressure on their company. Now, everyone is acting suprised that Google is looking into protective measures.

>Every time [...] it blows up [... on] Hacker News.

Or only every time you hear about it?

Yes, employees are fighting for their wills. What's wrong with that? If you don't fight you don't get anything

There is a fair and dirty way to fight. I think most people on HN agree that Damore was out of line to milk all the controversy when his memo leaked out. I would argue that similar things happened with Maven, Dragonfly, and exit payouts to execs, but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole.

There is no dirty way to fight Google. It's not a person. Google lost its face years ago. Are you seriously arguing being nice to a lifeless construct? It's a mechanism, a machine, and it has buttons to interact with. Not everyone can reach the same buttons but that doesn't mean that some are dirty.

> What's wrong with that?

Being employed by Google should not give you special political or social privilege. For someone to have the privilege of deciding what one of the worlds largest companies does, they should stump up the resources to become a shareholder.

You do not want corporations becoming political. Grocers should not choose their customers based on their political leanings. That would be bad. The principles are the same.

Corporations are already political.

Google, while known for software engineering, employs also people in other professions:

- salespeople,

- tech support,

- cooks,

- childcare providers,

- all kind of office support folk,

- data entry, hmmm, technicians?

- probably many more I can't think of.

Not all of them can have it as nice as we do.

Almost all the cooks/childcare providers, office support, etc are contractors not employees. A significant amount of SWE and other technical roles are contractors as well.


The mechanism by which they get paid (W2 vs 1099) isn't important. The parent comment was listing several occupations that people fill at Google that don't fit the idea of "highly compensated software engineer" as examples of people who may be interested in organizing in search of better working conditions.

For what it's worth, I don't agree with the implication of the comment--it isn't fair to say software engineers can't have any reason to organize or protest against things that their company does.

And one of the main themes of the walkout was to deal with that.

> Not all of them can have it as nice as we do.

As nice as we do right now for a subset.

You know who companies spend a lot of time and resources trying to replace (even when it doesn't make sense)...their highest paid employees (that aren't executives, they earn their money! /s).

We get away with what we do because the number of (competent) programmers has lagged the demand for programmers since I was a kid back in the 80's.

It won't last.

I'm specifically referring to the well-compensated Google full time employees. These are the ones who are usually talked about in articles like this one.

If those at Google are truly top-tier talent (which I think many are) and if they work in an industry and for a company that is all about disruption, why is this even a valid mentality?

"This thing sucks, so let's just do business as usual." If they are truly talented disruptors, their mentality would be "this thing sucks, we can make it better and bring it into the 21st century."

Who says the company is all about disruption?

According to Keith Rabois: https://www.quora.com/Why-have-so-few-successful-startups-co...

"In addition, after Google became successful, the type of candidate who applied and was hired shifted from the entrepreneurial to the smart yet homogeneous type. (Shift was pronounced by 2005.) As I have observed previously, only disruptive people create disruptive companies. (Stated differently, great entrepreneurs do not tolerate rules and constraints very well). Google has screened out personalities of this sort since at least 2004 and maybe since 2002."

Well their moonshot (project X or whatever) companies/ideas say this. However, it is true that their a massive company and thus are less about disruption than start-ups. However, Silicon Valley and the people that work their seem to love to talk about "being disruptors," it seems to be quite the badge-of-honor even if your only knowledge of it is via HN.

Or are those with high social mobility and education more likely to be software engineers? Part of this issue is the need to include those with less social mobility at birth and those with less education in the software process. Correlation doesn’t imply causation: this goes both directions.

let me try to help you fill the data you assumed with concrete examples.

search H1b applications for google and other companies. you will see google hires with 60-100k salaries.

being stuck for 10yrs on the lowest end of our category pay is very far from "high social mobility"

Only one data point but this [1] suggests otherwise. It invalidates the idea that the median is in the < 100k range however it does not speak to mobility, i.e. that you may be stuck with an entry level salary for a longtime because you are indentured to the company that facilitated your H1b.

[1]: https://h1bdata.info/index.php?em=GOOGLE+INC&job=SOFTWARE+EN...

Google sponsors its H1B employees for green cards. If the goal was to lock in the workforce to pay them less, they wouldn't be doing that.

Most actual H1B abuse happens in companies like Tata and Infosys, that are structured around it.

Median $127K on that search, FWIW

Well over $100K, but that won’t go as far in San Jose as it would in Sacramento :-)

$60-100K sounds really unlikely for engineering positions. A poster a bit down claims $127K, which sounds low but not unbelievably low for base salary.

I can only really talk about my own experience, but I think the paysa total comp numbers are close enough to throw rocks at the truth.

Yeah those salary markers don't include the RSU :)

Software engineers don't get hired to Google with 60-100k salaries, not even close.

They do: I was. Admittedly, at the top end of that range, and so one might argue that inflation has hopefully made that statement not true now (I would hope Google's hiring salaries have kept up), but the person you're responding to is also discussing H-1B, and I would expect the salaries there are not as attractive as normal hires.

Salaries for h1b cannot be lower than salaries for others by law. And nobody gets a total comp under 100k anymore.

> Salaries for h1b cannot be lower than salaries for others by law.

Yes that is the law. And companies break that law all of the time.

Because all these ideas (regulation, minimum wage, laborisation, etc) protect existing workers and harms lower skilled or newcomers, foreigners, minorities, etc. Many computer professionals still remember how nice it was to be able to get an edge by giving up something (undercut competitors to get the first crucial project in the portfolio, not being judged by your credentials, etc)

My prediction - time will pass and the idea of a labor organization will become the norm in IT world as well. Perhaps even a requirement to be certified by some kind of professional organization to be hired at all. But this will hurt newcomers.

>Because all these ideas (regulation, minimum wage, laborisation, etc) protect existing workers and harms lower skilled or newcomers, foreigners, minorities, etc

Classic retcon argument, which sums up why we can't have nice things any more. Don't unionize it might hurt foreigners or minorities!

Almost as good as Hillary Clinton's observation that breaking up the big banks won't end sexism or racism. So like ... why bother I guess? We can all be serfs who strive towards antiracism and antisexism while under the oligarch heel?

Not talking about some abstract ideas. Me personally, as a foreigner, with an unrelated degree, with low language skills, shaky immigration status, flexibility to pick where to give up something to get a job benefited tremendously.

To put it another way - being able to allow being exploited allowed me to secure a better future. Without this ability, I would unlikely to have a life as good as I have it now.

Today I am in the position where labor union, some mandatory certification, would be a benefit to me. But I do remember where I started and would hate the idea of having barriers to get into this job. But my kids, or grandkids, if they will be in IT, probably forget these hurdles and will happily vote for regulation/laborisation/certification/etc.

It isn't a particularly good idea to build something on survivorship bias. For everyone who got into computers and found a booming industry there were people who were into something else which didn't boom, or never got he chance to be into something in the first place. There are talented people who should but can't get into the tech job market, working lowly IT jobs or in other ways aren't doing so well. Undue regulation can be bad, but providing a way for people to do something isn't. By saying that something shouldn't be formalized you essentially being protectionist as well. Just from organized rather than unorganized competition.

I agree with that, where I got a life chance someone else probably did not get a pay raise or got fired. Now the question is what is fairer, can it be more than zero-sum game, and is there a set of regulations that will make everyone benefit.

Everyone benefits from a society with high labor costs. Except maybe short term looting interests of top tier capitalists. Even Henry Ford understood this.

High labor costs are why people want to live in the US in the first place; it sure ain't the food or the beautiful architecture.

> Everyone benefits from a society with high labor costs.

False. China wouldn’t have grown to be such a powerful economy if their labor costs were high. The average Chinese is better off than they were 30 years ago.

As far as why people want to live in America? That one is easy: opportunity. Try to start a business in India. Now, try to start that same business in the US. That diff is why people want to be in America. A narrow example, but very illustrative. France has higher labor costs than the US as a percentage of revenues, but the US consulate in Gaungzhou had lines around the block for immigrant visas while the French consulate does not. Switzerland has higher labor costs than the US, but their consulate in Bogota is practically empty, while the US consulate is swamped. It isn’t the labor costs, it’s the opportunity.

> "Everyone benefits from a society with high labor costs." False.

> [...]

> The average Chinese is better off than they were 30 years ago.

You were trying to highlight how China has become a much more powerful economy - but you forgot some crucial steps there. As recently as 20 years ago "Made in China" was printed on every cheap thing in America and the populace of China was no better for it, the economy was entirely geared toward export and there was very little international purchasing power available. In the past two decades wages and internal consumption have shot up in China and this has allowed the ascent of the economy, all of the Chinese ports in Africa and Asia and infrastructure investment is being driven by internally generated wealth - that economic power isn't derived from American pocket books.

An export focused economy is very vulnerable to international pressures and it's quite hard for nations or regions in this state to actually fund internal education and business development, it's much more likely that every spare inch of profit margin is held hostage by the importer's majority status and extracted from the county.

> The average Chinese is better off than they were 30 years ago.

There is like Zero reliable data to base this observation on. Also you want the modal income because average and median are misleading when it comes to ignoring the most miserable.

China, as an entity, has grown its economy. Big whoop for mankind /s.

I'd move from the US to Switzerland in a heartbeat if they'd let me in.

Your examples are basically saying "the US is giving away residency too cheaply and those other countries are not." If it had something to do with prosperity through cheap labor; everyone would move to China, wouldn't they?

What union actions have you been seeing that would impede this kind of onboarding story today?

There's ample historical precedent of unions in US being anti-minorities and anti-immigration. It may be a far fetched worry in this climate (although given electoral demographics, I wouldn't be so sure), but it is a legitimate one.

Here's history:


Here's a recent example of unionized workers exhibiting racism:


Using identity politics to divide the working class is a well practiced maneuver.

It's why a lot of leftists decry identity politics while still recognizing intersectionality and fighting for the rights of various groups.

Because all these ideas (regulation, minimum wage, laborisation, etc) protect existing workers and harms lower skilled or newcomers, foreigners, minorities, etc.

I don't understand your point at all. Unions explicitly fight to support all of these people. The standard argument against unions (esp. in the tech sector) is that they harm high-skilled overperforming workers by capping the maximum benefits they can receive.

> Unions explicitly fight to support all of these people.

Unions fight to support newcomers? Common union tactics such as closed shops and seniority-based pay agreements are deliberately and severely hostile to newcomers.

> overperforming workers

Only a union supporter could argue that a worker can 'overperform'! Tell them to stop doing so well they're making everyone else look bad!

Why couldn’t a union created by presumably innovative, disruptive tech workers, invent a better mechanism than seniority-based pay? All of this anti-union rhetoric imagines that unions are inherently stuck in the 19th century and lack imagination.

Most white collar unions don't negotiate pay, other than maybe initial and minimum salary.

Edit: I must say I don't think most people here get it. Unions negotiate with employers. The idea that a tech union would agree with tech companies to set salaries is ridiculous. If that is what tech companies wanted they could have already done it. What white collar unions do is to negotiate for the things most people don't consider. They don't negotiate salaries, they negotiate that you should have salary review every e.g. year and some framework for that. That doesn't make a difference for those who already have that, but it does for everyone else. And that is how it is for every area. I don't know if there is a white collar collective agreement available in English online, but if there is one could just read that to get an idea.

Edit2: I found one: "Collective Agreement between The Employers’ Association of the Swedish Banking Institutions and ~Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations" https://www.jusek.se/globalassets/pdf/avtal-privata/collecti...

There's always human nature to wreck a good idea.

And yet, Silicon Valley seems to be currently focused less on tech itself than using tech to reshape many long-running social conventions. Why would labor relationships be any different?

Why would labor relationships be any different?

Well it seems like there's some interest to take that on at least from a product perspective when you look at these HR, Payroll, Employee Relations platforms coming out that could be argued try to take a portion of the market away from HR giants like ADP.

And then you have the various interviewing services (interviewing.io is an example I often point to), developer bootcamps with (presumably, at least by some of the verbiage used by said bootcamps) deep connections and mentor programs that ostensibly exist to get people hired.

Then there are your ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that claim to have revolutionized online recruiting and staffing.

Maybe the question isn't "why would labor relations be any different" but "how can tech make more of an impact in labor relations than just getting people hired and automating payroll?"

I don't have that answer, just thinking through my keyboard here.

The system as it currently stands is also being wrecked by human nature, though...

> Only a union supporter could argue that a worker can 'overperform'! Tell them to stop doing so well they're making everyone else look bad!

You must be very sure of yourself that you theoretically belong to these "over-performers", yet somehow very insecure and contingent about being recognised for it. Like you want to get paid well so you can point to that and claim it means you performed well, regardless of whether you did.

Overperformance is when a worker overexerts themselves, by working themselves harder or for longer. Overperformance is a problem because it exerts pressure on the other workers to do the same, leading to a runaway effect of increasing expectation for results while workers are left exhausting their bodies and their time, and often their own personal resources, trying to meet that expectation in order to not be fired or miss out on bonuses or promotions. They are not "making everyone else look bad" they are raising the bar higher than most could even reach.

Are you implying that performance is proportional to hours worked? Research shows that this is not the case for most people and that returns past a certain work/life balance ratio are marginal or negative.

I don't think that is the implication. What is being said is that people start e.g. working 10 hours a day and that becomes expected regardless of performance. This type of thing is very common in Asia.

That doesn't sound like overperformance, but toxic culture to me.

I have a difficult time understanding this world view. A worker choosing on their own to work extra to get ahead is called sacrifice, and is one of the things that differentiates people who do enough to get a paycheck and people who get noticed and promoted.

Coming up with a way to say someone who outworks you is somehow the bad guy because they make you look bad is exactly the kind of mentality that makes me want nothing to do with union membership.

Say you have two employees. One is smarter than the other. That employee will work relatively hard and deliver constant results. The other will take a big chance and work everything they have for a year. Say the chance of them performing better than the smarter employee is 50%. So measured over one year they essentially perform as well, but over three years the smarter employee wins since the other employee can't keep up their pace.

So what is the problem? Well, now imagine there are multiple less smart employees. Even over three years it might then seem like those employees perform better since they are more and a few might succeed for the whole three years. So now the smart employee might get fired. Performance is therefor no longer about work, but who essentially is lucky enough to not burn out in e.g. three years. Soon enough all the smart employees also have to work similar hours, so now they burn out after a few years as well. All the less smart employees will love it because they feel they have a chance.

For a while MSFT had a labour review that ranked employees, this would elevate high performers and cull out any people on the bottom of the pile - this is a terrible thing.

When you go to work for a company you are producing something and being paid money to do it, generally what you are reimbursed with is well below the value of what you're producing as a developer - your labour is building a product that needs to be marketed, it needs customer support, it needs a lot of things. There is a classical economic ideal that the market will quickly settle into an equilibrium where your labour will be about equivalent to your whole contribution to the revenue of the company - but that's a classicist economic view, more modern takes on the economy agree that a stagnant economy will settle into such a state but that innovation will constantly fight that effect and widen the profit margin, the end result is that most of the companies we techies work in should not be viewed as a zero sum game. Any money that is being reinvested into the company is part of the fruit of your labour and employees shouldn't be motivated internally or by management to see their salaries as a highly constrained resource that they need to compete against fellow employees for to earn.

This is a super unhealthy state for a company to be in for morale and for growth.

You should be able to see all this as a manager and talk to your people about it. Why does a union need to get involved?

That is assuming there aren't also less smart managers who have short term interests of showing swift progress until the project collapses. Management will in best case take a long term interest in the company. They won't take a long term interest in employees. Certainly not employees who doesn't seem to be performing. That is what unions are for. To represent the employees concerns about the future.

And you're assuming there aren't also less benign unions who are just working to protect their senior members the expense of both me and the company.

Only I truly have my own interests in mind - not the company and not the union.

No I am not. I don't think this discussion is worth much more than this though.

> Overperformance is when a worker overexerts themselves, by working themselves harder or for longer.

Nonsense! 'Overperform', not 'overwork'. Someone could out-perform you in fewer hours than you work, by being more efficient, or just by being better at the job than you.

I think overperformance is a flowery term for a race to the bottom. A vernacular red-herring whose adoption implies an argument. The contention is compromising human dignity and living in the name of getting ahead of ones peers in the workplace doesn't help anybody in the end. I propose we call it what it really is, an egotistical pursuit to instill a heirarchy where one should not exist.

> I don't understand your point at all. Unions explicitly fight to support all of these people

They really don't. Unions fight to protect the pay and job security of their existing members. They do not generally try to make it easy to join the profession.

Right, an interesting read that covers this a little is "The Origins of the Urban Crisis" by Sugrue. Black people and Women entering the workforce was against Union interests since it increases the labor force.

In many cities, building trades were essentially white only into the 80s. (I've heard pretty awful stories about the carpenter's union in town into the 90s too. Explicit statements of no Blacks allowed.) This was on purpose. Automotive unions were nearly as bad.

So a baffled, "What? How can Unions be racist?" seems disingenuous.I don't think racism is inherent to unions, or that a tech workers union would even be likely to be racist against Indian people. But a blanket denial seems like trying to gaslight people.

Untrue.. if you take a look at what existing software unions are right now lobbying for in congress

Ummmm, no. Unions are run by existing members of the industry.

There are example after example of unions trying to screw over new comers by putting over barriers to entry, to keep out competition.

Putting up barriers to entry, to keep wages up, is basically the entire purpose of many unions.

I am not against unions but having spent a career trying to get business to tell me what exactly they want I tend not to put too much faith in large organisations. I feel the administrative overhead of getting all us programmers to agree on specific principles as part of a union is literally going to be impossible. Try putting some developers using electron, PHP, Java and Postgresql in a room and see if you can get past the introductions without a flamewar.

You seem to be arguing that the employee actions described in the article didn’t already happen.

Trivialities like favorite technologies can be put aside when it comes to questions of values and fairness.

I was responding to parent on why programmers are reluctant about the idea of unions. I used a rather silly example on programming languages. To bring it back to the issues discussed in the story. I would certainly agree with holding management to task in the manner they handled the sexual abuse. I am not so sure I agree with all the diversity talk (I speak as a black man, I have to put that in) and as someone who lives in a city where gangs literally own parts of the town, I don't see anything wrong in empowering law enforcement/army with high tech weapons. They are bad motherfuckers out in the world and we need some good badass motherfuckers otherwise we as the world would be in trouble. In a roundabout way, I guess I am trying to say where do you draw the line on which positions the union should take. It would become another system where whoever is elected gets to decide what position we as the workers should take.

> Try putting some developers using electron, PHP, Java and Postgresql in a room and see if you can get past the introductions without a flamewar.

Try asking them how much they think programmers should be paid and I think you'll find they come to agreement pretty quickly.

Maybe some famous people will pen something like the 'Agile Manifesto' for unionized knowledge work, and it will slowly catch on. It could happen (though it would be risky for anyone who isn't self-employed to be an authors)

As I’ve mentioned before, software engineers will embrace unions once they accidentally reinvent the concept from first principles under a different name.

I am not sure if you deliberately chose Agile as an example of something we all agree on or you are taking my example to the next level. Either way you get an upvote from me :-).

A tech union seems inevitable at this point. It seems like there has been some false starts, but there is a "market need" that is being unmet. Silicon Valley has shown it's very good at meeting unfulfilled market needs.

While true, how do you do that and still maintain the flexibility of moving from lets say Javascript to Golang or Swift development? A Union would stifle or add friction for people wanting to quit your current job work with different technologies they want to work on professionally.

From what I’ve seen the unions forming in tech right now are way more fluid than the corporations they’re working inside. These are very decentralized federations of employees. It’s not some old Italian family who has been controlling the FORTRAN labor market in San Jose for 30 years.

Why? A tech union need not operate in the same way previous unions have.

Programmers, maybe ones on HN especially, are super conservative and anti-labour for some reason. I don't know the history of Silicon Valley enough to figure out exactly why

I think you can just look at the surface and see it as a natural consequence of a relatively easy, high-income, unregulated profession, with high demand for workers. Many of the benefits of collective bargaining aren't applicable to people who are relatively easily able to switch jobs or work as a consultant. That then tends to lead to… complacency, I guess? I would expect that relatively few people in that field have recently been in a situation where collective bargaining would have been a benefit to them, and that allows them to see only the downsides.

I do notice some agitation in the direction of unionisation from some parts of the industry – particularly in game development, where conditions can often be worse.

I can think of a mountain of things that programmers could collectively bargain for that would benefit everyone. I'd like for bargaining to happen about parental leave, what "unlimited vacation" actually means, what "on-call" duties really entail, compensation for overtime, and whether or not engineers can be reasonably forced to perform illegal or unethical behavior (data collection, dark pattern designs).

You are not forced to do any of those things. You are able to find a new employer whenever you want.

I might not able to find a new employer whenever I want. I might not have time to job search because I have children. I might have dependents or I myself need critical medical care that cannot be interrupted by job hopping. I might have a family emergency that has destroyed my savings to look for a new job. I might be in the point of my career in which leaving for a new job so soon would be a red flag to employers. I might have just made a large purchase (a home, for example) that means I cannot afford to find a new employer at the exact moment my current asks me to be on-call for the next 72 hours nonstop.

And if it's not me, it might be my co worker, who I know is a new parent and cannot afford to stop working to care for their child. It might by my mentor, who is dealing with ageism making it difficult to find work. It might be my mentee, who is being discriminated against because of their H1B status. It might be my new hire, who accepted a lowball offer because they have no knowledge of price transparency. It might be a software developer I just met at a data science meetup, who is being worked to the bone at a startup but doesn't have enough experience to be hired anywhere else.

Life is not so easy. We're all struggling. We should be working to back each other up so that individual people are not being exploited and then have to fight by themselves against an entire corporation.

> Life is not so easy. We're all struggling. We should be working to back each other up so that individual people are not being exploited and then have to fight by themselves against an entire corporation.

Exactly this.

This is why I work the requested 40ish* hours per week that my employer purchases in bulk from me, and rarely more. It's not because I'm lazy or unmotivated. I work very hard while I am working and I do more than the baseline my employer requests of me. My management thinks highly of me and I am well-compensated for my efforts, so clearly my employer values the contributions I make.

I do the work hours I do and how I do them, pushing back on unreasonable on-calls and repeatedly staying late, because I am senior so I have the voice to be able to discourage management not staffing our group appropriately and not setting unreasonable deadlines. I make sure my juniors know, too, that the way to your personal success is a healthy work-life balance that works both for you and for the group of people in which we are ensconced. I also make sure I mentor my juniors and I do what I can to help others be more efficient and effective.

No one should have to burn the candle at both ends just to be able to be seen as doing a good job.

* There are exceptions, of course. I am not inflexible, because that's unreasonable, but my employer pays for approximately 40 hours per week of my valuable single life in this universe and 40 hours, roughly, is what it shall receive.

Agreed.. thank you for being aware of these issues. I find the tech industry to be pretty toxic & corrupt overall, usually rewarding the employees that are the least ethical.

Not if you want to actually have a career. This isn't day labor. To be successful in the industry you have to be part of good projects. Those often require at least a couple of years investment. And that is in addition to building a life outside of work.

Although vips7L is getting downvoted into the gutter, their response is exactly the attitude I observe permeating Silicon Valley that can help explain the lack of interest in collective bargaining.

This. And due to the high demand of our skills, we're able to effectively negotiate salaries and comp in a way that at least lets us think we're doing better than average (see: salary transparency, or lack thereof).

Plus, we're not a group generally known to like more layers of bureaucracy.

> And due to the high demand of our skills, we're able to effectively negotiate salaries and comp in a way that at least lets us think we're doing better than average (see: salary transparency, or lack thereof).

So even with a history of Silicon Valley playing tricks to suppress what developers get paid[1], the typical HN reader is humdrum about salary because it's "better than average?" I have a hard time believing that.

> Plus, we're not a group generally known to like more layers of bureaucracy.

I get that.

But doesn't this seem weird:

1. Devs apparently don't care for the bureaucracy of the taxi medallion service. So two companies build a nationwide service that does an end run around it.

2. Devs apparently don't care for the lack of salary transparency. So they create a cryptographic system that... oh wait, nope, there's no app for that.


[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11843237/Apple-G...

> So even with a history of Silicon Valley playing tricks to suppress what developers get paid[1], the typical HN reader is humdrum about salary because it's "better than average?" I have a hard time believing that.

Yes, because the "pay suppression's" effect was to knock people making six-figure salaries down to six-figure salaries, on average. It actually had very little observable negative effect.

(Note that if you go back to the original lawsuits, they were regarding gentlemen's agreements around headhunting. Given that SV's default attitude is "individuals are responsible for themselves," an agreement against headhunting isn't interesting---if an employee is dissatisfied, they know where the competition is and who to talk to about changing companies. If anything, there's a weak positive to an anti-headhunting agreement for employees at the companies in question: it was one fewer recruiter squads pumping spam into an employee's inbox).

Note that if you go back to the original lawsuits, they were regarding gentlemen's agreements around headhunting. Given that SV's default attitude is "individuals are responsible for themselves," an agreement against headhunting isn't interesting---if an employee is dissatisfied, they know where the competition is and who to talk to about changing companies

You may be interested to learn that one of the corrupt agreements was that in the event that an employee does talk to the competition about changing companies and one of the other colluding companies makes an offer to the employee, that company will not counter-offer beyond the first offer.

So, "little observable negative effect" is not quite as dispositive (or even as visible) as you portray it would be.

It's still, on average, a choice between two very cushy six-figure-plus-stock-options deals. No doubt collusion like that puts downward pressure on salaries, but with so much inequality in income in the US, you could put a LOT of such downward pressure on salaries before anyone's going to bat an eye.

(Hm... There's either an economics or sociology paper in the making there about the consequences in employment practices when the wealth inequality in a nation skews large).

This is one of the most worker-hostile perspectives I've read in a long time, certainly in a dismissiveness-per-sentence sense.

Ask yourself: after these allegations came to light, did people flee from these companies? We are still talking employees with massive bargaining power and opportunities. "Apple," "Google," and "Lucasfilm" carry a lot of clout; the wronged employees could probably have found work anywhere in the market of their industry of choice if they chose to leave in protest over this mistreatment. We're not exactly talking unskilled labor or easily-replaceable skillsets here.

Did the companies shrink or grow their workforce?

If they grew, wouldn't that suggest to you that the workers themselves aren't seeing the hostility you are?

This is pretty close to a Gish Gallop.

A "Gish Gallop" with hours of gap-time between posts? Please.

If you don't want to offer counterpoints you are not obligated to, but it's rude to simply attach insulting adjectives to the message without trying to argue it.

You need antitrust laws to work not unions, when SV companies had secret agreement.

And for 2 - there's app for that, but I don't think the statement is generally true.

It's more "temporarily embarrassed billionaires" imho. Many HN denizens are angling to either work at google or launch a startup that is acquired by google or grow to the scale of google. Why offend the future employer / acquirer now over proletarian issues?

In case you aren't familiar with the Steinbeck quote:

> Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Seems like a massive projection, but okay.

I'm not sure the pro-union crowd are doing themselves any favor by constantly telling people they don't know what they want, insisting things could only be better, inventing straw-man arguments, and so on.

"Embarrassed" -> "disenfranchised" has a nice ring to it.

This is misquoted quite a bit. Here's the actual quote.

"Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the so-called Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. I remember a woman in easy circumstances saying to another even more affluent: 'After the revolution even we will have more, won't we, dear?' Then there was another lover of proletarians who used to raise hell with Sunday picknickers on her property. "I guess the trouble was that we didn't have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist. Maybe the Communists so closely questioned by the investigation committees were a danger to America, but the ones I knew—at least they claimed to be Communists—couldn't have disrupted a Sunday-school picnic. Besides they were too busy fighting among themselves."

What is different then the acting though? Actors have unions that protect their rights but don't affect their salaries AFAIK (maybe they were abused so much that the history if fresh for them still?)

The difference is that actors were treated like shit first. Even the stars. Just look at what they did to Judy Garland, not to mention everyone else on Wizard of Oz.

That hasn't happened yet to developers.

> That hasn't happened yet to developers.

I know a fair number of developers who aren't doing that great, or at least not as well as they should. Life quality issues are very common. It is for instance very common to get screwed on salary, pension or vacation at some point of your career, be let go because a project was mismanaged, having a dysfunctional work environment or any number of issues were developers draw the last straw.

Edit: To add to this. I think people don't understand the "failure mode" of being unorganized. It isn't that it is going to be bad all the time. It is that since you don't have a voice other people don't have to consider you. Which means that the likelihood that you will be negatively affected by both small and large decisions of other people increases over time. And that isn't necessarily something you can correct after the fact. Getting unduly interrupted in your career, working in a bad environment or not getting credit is something seemingly small can really affect your life long term. And at least many people I know have these types of stories.

You may want to think back just 25 years to the early to mid-nineties when developers where considered “code monkeys” who couldn’t think past their current module and needed “business analysts” to write requirements for them.

It wasn’t slavery by any stretch, but working in programming was akin to working in “IT” and thought of as a department full of weird nerds who cost the company money.

Separate business or system analysts managing requirements documentation weren't (and aren't in the many places where they are still a thing) about developers being “code monkeys” with limited and not particularly valued skills, in fact, it was and is usual for such analysts to be considered inferiors to the programming staff who do work that is beneath programmers worth.

The reason they exist is because the organization values (or is subject to mandates for) documented requirements, and doesn't want programmers to have to bother with the tedious work of developing and maintaining them, focussing on actually developing the software.

Thank you for your perspective.

Was this always the case though? Perhaps my position is colored by my experience working for a former IBM manager who thought of programmers as those who “just write the code” based on the requirements written by the “more senior” business analysts.

That particular experience reeked of superiority of managers, project managers, and the business analysts who worked directly for them. I admit that my experience could have been anecdotal, however I’ve asked several senior programmers who were active in the nineties who have confirmed the relationships were by and large toxic at the time.

Correct, but perhaps unions didn't arise from that because the model failed---that era of Silicon Valley died in the dot-com bust.

The second generation of dot-coms that succeeded centered developers as domain experts and essential to company survival (broadly-speaking; there is certainly variance).

Remember this story from not too long ago about getting rid of older workers at IBM?


Here's a choice quote:

"But, the new documents added, employees had to waive the right to take their age cases to court. Instead, they had to pursue them through private arbitration. What’s more, they had to keep them confidential and pursue them alone. They couldn’t join with other workers to make a case."

Tell it to the workers in the video game industry.

Videogames, in particular, should be a fascinating case study in lack of unionization.

I assume it's because there's always another batch of fresh-out-of-college young people willing to throw their bodies onto that grindstone that we haven't yet seen successful unionization in that space?

I think video game developers are a subset of developers and that subset is almost entirely passionate about video games. Very few people end up working in game development if they are not passionate about it. I think any time you have a workforce who are passionate about their field you can get people to work for less than if they held the same job in a different field that wasn't full of passionate fans.

Do you think the passion keeps them working more then 80 hours a week or there is some pressure?

I worked 16 hours a day for a week, it was horrible, I don't think I can do 2 times more in 16 hours then in 8 and I gave up the money and just worked the 8 hours(now I am doing 4 hours a day , screw the money)

I think the passion is definitely a force that on average pushes developers to take more punishment to get ahead of their peers. That adds up a lot pretty quickly when it's everyone in the industry. (4 hours a day sounds quite nice)

Actors' unions do impact salary. Union contracts set and enforce minimum amounts that all working actors have to be paid, for example. An actor earning these amounts is said to be "working for scale."

For illustration, SAG-AFTRA's current rate sheet for TV productions can be found here: https://www.sagaftra.org/files/2017%202020%20wages%20TV%2010...

So isn't ok of setting some minimal salary? I do not see why the developers would be against this, only the companies would like to abuse the developers and work them extra hours and not pay.(so probably companies are spreading the FUD against unions? )

The major benefit of the acting unions is the ability to limit the labor supply. In a growing industry like tech, this isn't necessary as the demand has always been greater than the supply of talent.

Can you explain why do you think that?

I am aware only of actors getting protection from dangerous activities, exploitation, bad work condition.

> Many of the benefits of collective bargaining aren't applicable to people who are relatively easily able to switch jobs or work as a consultant.

The other side of the coin is that collective bargaining itself makes switching to a different employer or working as a consultant a lot more difficult than if the sector wasn't unionized. Sure, some people will have trouble doing these things anyway, especially at the low-end of the income distribution. But that's why we should support policies like Basic Income, or at the very least expanding things such as the EITC and getting rid of e.g. payroll taxes for low earned incomes. And I think that many people here on HN would agree, whether or not they self-identify as libertarians.

> ...particularly in game development, where conditions can often be worse.

Game development is the sort of industry that everyone thinks they'll want to work in, only to change their minds very quickly once they see how the sausage is made. Even just raising awareness about the work conditions in the industry - and making it clear that they're not representative of "tech" more generally - would help a lot.

Thank you. As someone who worked in a union before switching jobs, it is not all rainbows and unicorns like so many people try to present it. In one shop I worked in, I was a truck driver delivering fuel to airplanes. If my truck broke down in any way, even something as stupid as the key got jammed, if I pulled out my leatherman and pulled it free, I could be fired for violating union agreements. Even most of the mechanics agreed how dumb it was. I was the sucker sitting out in 100 degree summer sun in the airport with zero shade, waiting 30 to 60 minutes for somebody to come do a job that would take me 10 seconds.

That's before we even talk about collective bargaining. Getting a pay raise was completely out of the question, as raises were almost entirely based on seniority and how long your ass had been in the chair. It was highly punitive to younger people like myself. We also got crap shifts because shift preference was also awarded by seniority in the union. The non-unionized shop paid a shift differential, so people willing to work 2nd and 3rd shift got more money for their time. That was a great solution, as it increased the supply for shift work to approximately the levels of demand (basic economics).

So tl;dr: unions have and had a place, but the cure can sometimes be worse than the disease. Acting like unions are this amazing shining solution with no downsides is pure ignorance.

> Acting like unions are this amazing shining solution with no downsides is pure ignorance.

People are talking about the benefits of unionization in a specific industry in response to the near-automatic narrative that unions are bad.

You gave an example of an absurd regulation in a completely different industry. How does that tie into what collective bargaining in software dev would look like?

Great question. Of course unions in software aren't really a widespread thing, so speculating at what they would look like is fraught with all the problems of speculation, but this is what I think of:

Currently at work, I'm more of a "devops" guy but I get into things all over the stack sometimes too. In previous places I've been a "backend" guy that occasionally got into the frontend, etc. I view this as the optimal arrangement: blurry lines of responsibility (so people aren't pigeon-holed), but you can still develop depth and expertise in an area of specialty.

In a world of unions, if it were analogous to my past experience, there could be a "front end" union, a "back end" union, a "dev ops/operations" union, etc. These unions would then draw up lines, much like the "driver" and "mechanic" unions did in my past. Need to change a line of javascript? Talk to a "front end" guy. Tweak a deploy script? Not if the union agreement forbids it.

Those seem like ludicrous thoughts based on where we are now. But I'm sure at one time the idea that a driver can't effect any repairs to the truck, no matter how small, probably seemed ludicrous as well. Yet here we are.

I know I probably sound very anti-union, but to clarify my position, I'm only anti-forced unions. So long as I can opt out of the union if and when I please, I have no qualms. Sadly that is not the case in many places in the United States.

P.S. If I could edit and re-word this line, I would. I think the language is unclear and unnecessarily harsh:

> Acting like unions are this amazing shining solution with no downsides is pure ignorance.

I would change that to: "Thinking of unions as all upside with no downside (or vice versa) is an argument from ideology, not one from experience."

I can definitely agree with your rephrasing. Unions can be large organizations too, and are certainly not immune to bureaucracy and the pursuit of short-term wins over long-term gains for the people they represent.

These are great comments because they underline pain points that 21st century labor unions can work to solve and iterate upon

Please keep talking about issues like this. There’s too many preaching a cure from an armchair and not enough recounting actual experience.

I started out anti-labor due to my own experience in a minimum wage job. I was forced to join the union and pay union dues, yet I still received only the minimum wage, so being a union member resulted in a sub-minimum wage!

Another objection I had to unions is, they tend to promote an "us vs them" mentality, when instead, everyone should be working together.

The destruction of the middle class shows that the balance of power is too extreme on the side of the employer, and something has to be done.

> Another objection I had to unions is, they tend to promote an "us vs them" mentality, when instead, everyone should be working together.

You're aware that several major US tech companies were colluding to keep employee wages lower than they otherwise would be[1], right? Once a company's size exceeds Dunbar's number[2] (and often long before then), it's de-facto us vs. them from the executives' point of view.

[1] http://time.com/76655/google-apple-settle-wage-fixing-lawsui...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

It was as though it was the employers who unionized against the employees in that case...

> Another objection I had to unions is, they tend to promote an "us vs them" mentality, when instead, everyone should be working together.

Look up prior posts here about salary negotiation for developers. You'll find that most of the advice and the resulting comments are in the "fuck you, pay me" vein.

When doing day to day work, you and your employer are on the same team. When it comes to negotiating the conditions and compensation for that work, you are 100% on different teams.

Almost every programmer I've met in real life, and certainly most of the folks on HN, are very liberal yet are largely anti-organized labor. Don't conflate a general disdain for one policy with an entire political ideology.

That's because a decent programmer (especially one working at Google) has many companies fighting for him trying to offer more than others. It's usually easy to leave and that often comes with a hefty raise and it will be your former boss' problem that his direct reports are leaving. Unions are seen from this perspective as bureaucratic organizations run by not very smart people who want to get their piece of the pie by regulating what they don't understand. Unions are good for the opposite market situation when there are too many workers and they have to fight for the limit number of jobs.

Not all are. Unfortunately, the need to unionize period is a sign that employers are neglecting the employee side of the partnership, largely in a never-ending quest for growth of shareholder value.

No one WANTS unions. We would like to be dealt with individually in a fair manner. But when tithe business you want to employ you has an entire department intended to get you to sign on for the smallest cost possible... Well... Some union starts to look like a pretty good idea. Even if it does end up causing a lot of grinding since common sense goes out the window once lawyers and contracts come into the picture.

Liberalism is a right-wing ideology...

You are technically right yet still downvoted. These days these words have so many different definitions for different people that they've become nearly meaningless.

To be fair, I was expecting the downvotes. For two reasons:

1) For a long time, there was no "institutional" left in the United States; so in the US - liberalism was seen as the "left". This is slowly changing now...

2) The tech crowd wants really to believe to be progressive (because they work on "progressive" technologies); but in fact, I never saw so many real life liberals like among tech workers.

Tech workers seem to tend towards social liberalism, but economic conservatism bordering on libertarianism (if not actual, avowed libertarianism).

It's an interesting combination that doesn't fit super-well into America's dominant left-right political axis.

It all depends on what you want to be liberal about. You could be liberal about gun rights and advocate laissez-faire capitalism, but not be liberal on social issues such as gay rights and religion. Liberalism is not technically left or right-wing. When someone on the right is saying they don't like "liberals" they mean they don't like social liberals.

You can think of the political spectrum as a two dimensional plane, so you have the libertarian axis, but on the part of the economy you have a quite different dimension! Interesting that everyone is picking his favorite features when they define their political spectrum.


That's an equivocation. The word has been around for hundreds of years and represents many different things. For example, "Liberalism" in the US is both associated with American Libertarianism and with FDR's New Deal, and those two things have about as much in common as oil and water.

In every context besides economic journals it refers to social liberalism: the progressive left. No one is calling reagan or bush liberals even if they are by the economics definition of the word.

You can be "socially liberal" and not be terribly progressive at all, and in fact that's what I usually see in the tech industry.

Eg. Support gay rights and environmental causes, but don't really give a shit about poor people.

That has been my experience as well

But "being very liberal" is not the same as "being very pro USA Democrats".

Liberals are often right wing parties in other countries. Basically you have a scale from socialism where everything in your life is dictated by social contracts to liberalism where almost nothing in your life is dictated by social contracts. The left in the US calling themselves liberals is kinda like the north korea calling themselves "democratic people's republicc". Their only liberal agenda is freedom from the Christian social contract.

Yet we are on a U.S. based website talking about a U.S. company and its American workforce and a story published in a U.S. newspaper, so we will stick with the common convention and not go on semantics tangents.

we are on the internet

Being pro-labour is one of the cornerstones of being leftist. I think you are using the word liberal differently than the antonym of conservative - which I am implying to be "right-wing". Maybe "social liberalism" is a good term for what you seem to be saying.

Being pro-employee does not necessarily mean being pro-union.

Technically no, but practically it does, so long as massive corporations exist. I think you can argue that with smaller scale business you can work to better employee conditions without collective action, but given the power and resources that a corporation can bring to bear it's hard to imagine effective bettering of employee conditions without collective action.

Most of us have no way of evaluating that. I don't WANT to be in a union, from what I know of them, but I've never worked in one, so I can't say. There's no control group.

My wife has worked the same job in and out of unions. She didn't want a union, it was a drawback for her. Her union job seems okay. Some things are better, some are worse. They've got some absolutely asinine policies that everyone hates that don't change and haven't changed for a decade or more despite the union "power".

Also, her job requires a masters, soon to be a Ph.D, and still pays less than most of tech (though it pays very well).

And of course because PART of the industry is unionized, it is impossible to say to what extent non-union jobs are free-riding on the "benefits" of a union.

> Technically no, but practically it does, so long as massive corporations exist

That's an interesting assertion that you seem to be accepting as universally axiomatic.

(... or perhaps, a self-referential definition. Maybe a company isn't "massive" until one observes behaviors that suggest the company is purposefully acting counter to employee quality-of-life wishes?)

I think it's simply because many people here dream of some day becoming the next Gates, Bezos, or Elon and they don't really empathize with the thousands and thousands of people whose hard work actually creates that ridiculous amount of wealth.

I'm not sure that's true; the 1%/10% dichotomy gets abused a lot, but there are some salient differences; most of my professional circles in their 20s are making up to half a million dollars in their 20s at a large tech co. Whether you consider it myopic or not, it's easy to see why they (and those aspiring to be them) would consider a labor movement to be against their interests. And it certainly represents a much larger (and more reasonable) group than those asusming that they're going to make billions from founding a startup.

I don't know how much correlation between the 'secret' history and the rest of SV's history but if you're interested Steve Blank covers the secret history nicely:


Programming historically involved access to expensive equipment and intellectual property, and involved pretty heavy math education. Once the industry professionalized (meaning here that the professional was expected to provide his own qualifications rather than being trained), the previous workforce of largely women was replaced by people drawn from privileged classes. Those people ultimately became management, established a culture, and replicated that culture by hiring people who came from the same backgrounds; so the effect lasted long after programming became far more accessible (although still requiring large amounts of leisure time.)

Those groups of people from a non-indigenous, non-minority, never-enslaved, non-female background have always been conservative, consisting largely of 1) white men, and 2) immigrant professionals (generally drawn from more privileged groups in their country of origin and statistically more conservative than the average for their country of origin.)

These same demographics, no matter what profession they're in, are conservative. Their world has generally treated them well, and changes in their world are dangerous for them. If the world were to change for the better (for them), they imagine themselves, or somebody who looks like them, making those changes.

Calling SV programmers, or even just HN, "super conservative" betrays a hugely simple-minded view of the political spectrum with no relation to reality. Politics is a lot more complex than a single 1D liberal/conservative metric, and even if you were to force it into this model, calling SV "super conservative" is an utter joke.

"Programmers, maybe ones on HN especially, are super conservative"

I think spots on a left-right political spectrum is a sloppy way to represent people. There have got to be over 100 valid 'axes' to position a person on, 'projecting' everybody onto a single line forces people to 'sit next to' positions they do not appreciate.

>'projecting' everybody onto a single line forces people to 'sit next to' positions they do not appreciate.

That's the point.

If someone has an opinion you don't like but is hard to dismiss or prove "wrong" then you can dismiss it by association with a group of "wrong" opinions. An easy way to make this association is by attributing it to a group whose opinions are known to be "wrong" by whatever the local in-group is. Once you have associated the inconvenient opinion with a bunch of "wrong" opinions it is easy to dismiss.

For example I were to say "every implementation of gun control is inherently racist and classiest" (probably not a welcome opinion around here because most here like gun control) then people would use that to assume that I am anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and all the other things that the HN user-base generally agrees is bad about the modern American republican party and dismiss my opinion.

I could say the same exact sentence in a context where the dominant group is ardently racist and classiest but not pro gun control they would use the bits about race and class to assume that I am some crazy leftist who wants the proletariat to seize the means of production and use the association to dismiss my opinion.

It's quite hard to dismiss a statement like "every implementation of gun control is inherently racist and classiest" when you have to fight it head on. By associating a statement like that with people who also have a bunch of views that are "known to be wrong" by the local majority or in-group the playing field is tilted and it's easier to dismiss.

I don't see how programmers are super conservative. In my experience, especially on HN, they tend to be fairly progressive on average. However, they also tend to be somewhat libertarian.

And so far, software development hasn't been an industry that really needed unionisation. But that could always change in the future, of course.

Personally, I generally support unions, though I don't see the need for them in software development. Though as a self-employed freelancer, I do see the use for an organisation that argues on behalf of freelancers on the national level, and I'm member of an organisation that does that. It's not really the same thing as an actual union, but it fills one of the roles of a union.

I've found that programmers tend to be socially liberal (pro-gay rights, abortion rights, etc.) but financially conservative (don't like their money being spent on public goods). Which somewhat overlaps with libertarianism, yes.

Wouldn't say "somewhat"...promoting personal sovereignty (all of the stuff you mentioned and more) is one of the main tenants.

I would call it libertarianism if most of the people I've written to seem to actually believe in minarchist government and having rights limited only as much as absolutely necessary. I don't think that's what most people on here believe. I think most people here hold a few political-social ideas they strongly believe in (such as LGBT issues or clean energy), a smattering of other fashionable social opinions, and then finally an entirely selfish collection of fiscal ideas which objectively seem to benefit themselves the most.

I dunno if that's true either. Things like UBI were wacky ideas popular in SV culture long before their recent mainstreaming. I think the libertarian streak is better described as a mistrust/realism (depending in your views) of the _competency_ of any given government program.

The government's advantage is that it lets us directly align objectives in a way that markets often don't, but it's disadvantage is that it'll generally optimize much less efficiently for the objective it's targeting. This means that government action and markets are appropriate in different situations; I'm not crazy about the fact that we're the least competent at transit construction in the developed world, but I'm still a supporter of transit investment despite the eye-popping levels of waste.

Live in San Francisco long enough, and you get a really strong sense of how detached a government can get from reality, and how much its actions can reflect the selfishness and idiocy of part of its constituency instead of any pretense of benefiting society or achieving its goals. It's unsurprising that you'd see a portion of the population, especially one used to more well- functioning institutions, start to drift towards support of government policy that doesn't rely on individuals within govt making complex decisions. UBI and other such hands-off policies fit directly into this. They're not anti-govt spending, they're anti-centralized decision-making

Many programmers I know have no problem with money getting spent on public goods, as long as they're public good and not public stupidity, pork barrel spending, vanity projects, and that sort of thing.

That said, I do think American-style right-wing/capitalist libertarians are overrepresented among programmers compared to the average public, as are left-wing libertarian socialists/anarchist.

Because a lot of programmers on HN are at the upper edge of their field’s income distribution for a variety of reasons, location definitely being one of them. When a field unionized, the people near the top typically stand to lose the most, even if everyone as a whole are more enriched.

I would bet money that the most elite members of car manufacturing were also not particularly enthused about unionization, although I have no clue what specific job would qualify as elite.

  > When a field unionized, the people near the top typically stand to lose the most,
  > even if everyone as a whole are more enriched.
Not necessarily. From what I understand, some pilot unions do the exact opposite.

Care to explain?

From what I've read, older, experienced pilots get the safest, convenient, day-time routes and the best pay, while inexperienced pilots get the harder routes with little sleep and less pay. (Some of?) their unions represent mostly the interests of the older, experienced pilots and not so much the younger ones.

You succeed at programming by spending countless hours on your own with a computer. Your career is a direct result of your own hard work and passion. From that perspective, organized labor seems like an unnecessary dependency. Programming is a form of extreme independence many will be hard fought to give away.

Developers (some) aren't super-conservative, they're libertarian.

I don't know if this is true. My career is also a result of the excellent mentors I have and continue to have, the wonderful peers I cooperate with, the selfless professors who taught me fundamentals, the excellent technology already built by those who came before me, etc.

I really can't say that my career is a result of my own hard work and passion as if my own hard work and passion is the primary thing that allowed my career to succeed. It doesn't matter how passionate and hard working I am if my environment wasn't condusive to computer science as a profession.

Tech makes an alternative path available to others though. You can be a self taught programmer and become very successful. It's one of the only fields where you can achieve an upper middle class lifestyle without accreditation. You'll definitely be working hard to make that happen though.

I couldn't be self taught without learning materials that others have produced, the programming languages that others wrote, or the technology that others built.

I'm also not speaking mentors and peers just in school. I mean literally I do not believe I could be self-taught with 0 outside mentorship or learning materials or community and be considered a highly successful developer. I needed learning materials and mentors to teach me best practices in software development. I needed programming languages that I didn't write myself. I needed a computer, whether paid for by myself, family, or the public taxes via libraries.

Not stopping to recognize that I program on the shoulders of giants would make me arrogant and foolish, I think.

That said, such independence can be taken away just as quickly by the megacorps through all manner of illegal dealings and anti-competitive practices. We worked hard to earn the money we do, it's our right to defend ourselves against another "no poaching" agreement or, god forbid, another attempt to use our hard-learned skills to support the oppression of others.

> You succeed at programming by spending countless hours on your own with a computer

... which requires access to time and computers to train on. Not everyone is quite in that state. And not everyone is an autodidact either, it's not the only valid route to programming.

> Your career is a direct result of your own hard work and passion

Not completely - it's a result of getting accepted by hiring managers, and then retained by internal performance processes, both of which are incredibly subjective and vulnerable to prejudice.

Moreover, some people care about things beyond themselves. A key component of unions is solidarity: caring about how your colleagues are treated. This may also extend to how your employer is treating the wider society.

> Your career is a direct result of your own hard work and passion.

If your code isn't using your own libraries compiled by your own compiler hosted on your own OS running on your self-built machine using a CPU you designed, no, it isn't. Sure, your own hard work and passion goes a long way but you rely heavily on the works of others and the privilege of being able to use them.

This is an unproductive reductionist gatekeeping response to a genuine description of the effort and toiling many have gone through to reach their position.

I'm developing in 2019. If I was developing in 1976 I would have been working on something much farther down the stack. Either way requires an immense amount of time in front of a computer to be a top performer and in either time period putting that time in would lead to success.

But people who developed those libraries allow anyone to use them, so you have the same chance as yor neighbor to develop the next Google, and there are a lot of smart people trying to do it, and not all of them will succeed.

So, your career is a direct result of your own hard work and passion.

> you have the same chance as yor neighbor

That assumes you're starting from the same place and head in the same direction. You have to know a library exists before you can use it. It has to be compatible with what you're using. There are many things out of your immediate control that can influence these things (imagine my next door neighbour only has an i3 and the fancy functions of the library which make it 100x faster require extensions of an i7. I immediately have an advantage. There are many subtler advantages that can come into play.)

Except that being powerless before a boss is hardly a form of independence.

> Programmers, maybe ones on HN especially, are super conservative and anti-labour for some reason. I don't know the history of Silicon Valley enough to figure out exactly why

That's not quite right, HN is full of anti-labor libertarians. And I think it has something to do with startup culture, which is a lot about working to get a golden ticket to join the capitalist class. That causes a lot of people to identify with that class and its interests, despite actually being laborers themselves.

yes. and in addition, programmers in general while technically workers have a pretty cushy middle class existence.

So did doctors and lawyers, at one point.

Maybe not every anonymous account on HN corresponds to a real individual?

Da. I'm just uploaded brain scans of the California Spiny-Tailed lobster. I honestly struggling with the idea of being an individual myself.

Believe your GP is trying to say someone could be astroturfing anti-labor sentiment.


I mentioned this in other comments, actors have unions but they still have different salary(superstarts will earn much more then a new unknown actor) and they seem very eager to join the union(or guild or how it is named I am not from US).

So it seems that programmers were scared by some bad stories that everyone will have same salary.

Unions also often times throw up massive barriers to entry in order to keep out new comers.

I absolutely do not want everyone to be forced to get a degree, and a certification just to be allow to make a freaking web app.

Right now there is nothing preventing companies from hiring someone who just went to an 8 week bootcampers, and this is a good thing. I know many people who have done this route.

Nobody is talking about unionizing at a sub-10 person shop, aka the type of place where bootcamp grads learn the ropes.

The companies unionization would affect are behemoths (FAANG but also HP, IBM, Oracle etc) that hire enormous numbers of people, few to none of whom would be a fresh bootcamp grad.

> The companies unionization would affect are behemoths (FAANG but also HP, IBM, Oracle etc) that hire enormous numbers of people, few to none of whom would be a fresh bootcamp grad.

Even large companies are willing to hire people who have taken non-traditional paths, if you can get past the initial HR screening (typically by finding the right engineer or manager to talk to directly). Let's not break that.

I know lots of bootcamp grads who got their first job at large and mid sized companies (100+).

You should go look up the companies that grads from places like hack reactor go to. There are many big names in there

(and grads that I know personally, that have gone to work for places like Uber, Airbnb, and LinkedIn).

I have a friend who's a Hack Reactor alum. There is simply no comparison between the rigor of their program and what the majority of bootcamps require. HR is incredibly selective in who they pick; they behave like an elite school in that regard. Their cohorts would likely be successful as self taught devs anyway, so HR knows they can push them hard.

Most bootcamps focus on commerce first; if you can pay, you can attend.

I don't disagree that most bootcamps are lower quality.

What I am instead saying is that I strongly oppose barriers to entry, that a union would implement, to keep out the highly qualified people from the top places like hack reactor.

It would not be possible for people like that to succeed if unions started throwing up barriers to entry, regardless of how good the bootcampers are.

And this applies to top tier self taught programmers too.

Why an union formed by you and your pears would put those barriers? I am under the impression that the programmers that are not having the CS education are not few so they can surely make sure they are represented.

It is like you telling me that you heard that some police officers did some horrible things somewhere so it is better to not have police at all.

> Why an union formed by you and your pears would put those barriers?

Unions are run by majority rule, not by me. It is perfectly possible for the majority to implement rules that I disagree with.

The history of almost every union in existence, proves implementing barriers to entry is extremely common.

The fundamental reason, as for why unions try to screw over new comers is obvious. The reason is become people who aren't already in the industry don't get a vote.

It makes perfect sense as for why people who already have a job might want to screw over people who don't have a job, to prevent them from competing.

And it turns out that a lot of people are horrible individuals who want to discriminate against newcomers because "F you, they got theirs!".

> It is like you telling me that you heard that some

It is not some unions that do this. It is instead most of them.

Screwing over new comers to protect the established members is almost the entire purpose of unions.

> I am under the impression that the programmers that are not having the CS education are not few

Those people would be grandfathered in, if they already have a job, likely. The people who would get screwed are the ones in college right now, who aren't allowed yet to vote on union rules.

> they seem very eager to join the union

The actors/aspiring actors I know are only eager to join the union because a) it gets them access to union-exclusive jobs (not a benefit that would exist if the union didn't exist) and b) it gets them access to better negotiated health insurance, which can be difficult with intermittent employment (which is the case for most people in the theater world, well-paid or not). B probably shouldn't be an issue for a thriving developed country, but we all know how that argument goes.

A real union would not work as a club, if you are employee you have the option to chose an union, but actors are different.

How I learn about them was from actors that were put in unhealthy conditions and they appealed to the unions to fix the working conditions.

I don't like your Walmart analogy.

You are right, there are lots of low-income shoppers who buy things at Walmart they couldn't otherwise afford.

To these shoppers, Walmart provides a better way of life. I don't think they'd rather be low-income shoppers buying from more expensive stores that offer fewer choices.

Walmart is beneficial for the shopper. If it wasn't so, Walmart wouldn't be successful.

If the employee side is numerous enough to unionise, the employer side should also be numerous enough to establish an employer organisation.

> the employer side should also be numerous enough to establish an employer organisation.

They are and they have; see US v. Adobe Systems Inc., et al. From the wiki article:

"DOJ alleged in their Complaint that the companies had reached "facially anticompetitive" agreements that "eliminated a significant form of competition...to the detriment of the affected employees who were likely deprived of competitively important information and access to better job opportunities."


Unions organize in public, employers collude in secret. The fact that the companies proposed a settlement the day the suit was filed indicates they simply priced that into their cost-benefit analysis when they were colluding.

I meant a formal employers' union, not a secret agreement.

What would be the remit of such a union? These companies likely compete with each other; Adobe and Apple for example have competing video editing products, and Jobs's letter sent Flash, another popular Adobe product to an early grave.

So what would this employers' union do exactly?

The whole point of unionization is the employer side has the advantage of being way less numerous.

Employer organisations also consist of multiple employers. In a fully unionised bargaining, both employer and employee unions attend bargaining process.

There are sufficient number of software and database companies to establish an employer organisation for software.

Fairness depends on the ratio of employee employer monopoly power. There may be enough tech companies to form a union, but that just means employees need to be more consolidated to match. Your "fully unionized bargaining" case is just one point in the blanced subspace. A many-to-many relationship where the employers per employee matched the employees per employer (along with other hierarchical symmetries) would be an (outlandish) other such point.

Historically anti trust laws in the united states considered unions as potential trusts that the government would be able to break up. However, they later repealed that piece because it's completely absurd. Even the most powerful union is unable to form a trust in the way that companies can do in order to systemically underpay workers.

I guarantee 100% that if there is a ever a union for IT workers. First ask would be,

Ban H1B

No one could really say what the absolute position of a union would be in that question. Unions are membership organizations that work in the interest of current, and to some extent future, members. The rest is politics.

A union would have incentive for foreigners to e.g. come to the US, so the US get a larger slice of the market. On the other hand they don't have an interest in those workers e.g. having lesser rights or lower compensation. Because then foreigner workers become more attractive than their existing members, thereby preventing those members from having long term success. So it depends on how you view e.g. H1B.

It really isn't that complicated if you think about it.

Do you have an example of such pro immigration labor union?

You are unlikely to find a western labor union that is specifically pro immigration these days. Since labor has been in decline in the west for the last few decades. Before that I am sure you could find those who were pro labor immigration. The Nordic countries have for example had relatively large labor immigration under social democratic governments (which are usually associated with the labor unions).

Also it depends what you mean by pro immigration. No union is going to be pro liberal immigration rules, since they don't want to undermine their own members. For it make sense for a union it has to be employees who are lacking, either in numbers or skill, in the country and can therefor expand the country's share of the market.

The IWW.

Why? Would the union only consist of American workers?

Because that's what unions do. They protect current members at the expense of everyone else, including unionized colleagues.

If one holds strongly a principle that opposes monopolies and supports strong anti-trust protections in the market, it would explain why the same argument is made regardless of industry.

Also, the issue focusing on using the company email system sounds to me like a bit of a strawman. Why in the world would you want to use a communication medium owned and controlled by your opponent for such a thing? And even if you wanted to, being not allowed to doesn't in anyway limit your ability to organize in any practical way. I mean seriously, these are presumably some of the smartest tech people on the planet. They can't figure out a way to commmunicate independently?

Congratulations! You figured out that this isn’t about “theft of services” or anything like that.

It’s about

1) Legalizing retaliation in case you mention the union meeting to a coworker over a Slack private message.

2) Drastically reducing the visibility of union organization in the workplace. That makes it much harder to reach critical mass.

To me the primary issue has nothing to do with unions. It has to do with private property. The company pays for and owns the property. No one should have any "rights" to using it.

Right??! What kind of upside down world of entitlement are we sliding into? With google on your resume just go work somewhere else that fits your ideology better if you aren’t happy with the present’s behavior.

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