Most if not all of the people let go from these companies could be retained, but corporations - and in particular tech companies - have consciously colluded with each other to push a false narrative about how they are the victims of an economy that continues to enrich them. And that’s because their leadership isn’t judged by how well they treat their employees, but rather by how they protect the interests of their shareholders.
And really that’s what’s happening. Everybody is laying people off, and thus it’s an easy time for huge corporations to justify doing so based on vague economic forces. This is a coordinated public relations campaign to trade human capital for working capital. It’s either that or these executives are utterly ignorant of the economic forces affecting their companies.
This isn’t a bug, but rather a feature of modern market capitalism. Tech execs are playing from a rulebook that’s fundamentally devoid of empathy, compassion, and respect for human beings. By the standards of shareholders, they’re doing their job. But from any moral standpoint, they deserve to be kicked into the sun.
Mr. Pichai appears to have plenty of money to have fun with - as all of these CEOs do, because they are being paid so much that they have entirely left the realm of human concerns.
Even if it’s something far more craven - that profits are fine, and they are just using this as an excuse to cut “excess” - layoffs do not work. They make the company less profitable and the remaining employees less effective.
Imagine if a single employee made this big of a screw-up. Would they be retained? Would they survive? No. They would be shitcanned in seconds and told that it was a “difficult decision.”
Here’s an easy decision: fire Sundar Pichai, fire Satya Nadella, fire Doug Herrington, and fire any executive that has to lay off hundreds or thousands of people because they got too excited about making their shareholders money.
Here’s the thing: we need politics in the workplace. Politics—that is, the act of negotiating our relationships and obligations to each other—is critical to the work of building and sustaining democracy. And the workplace isn’t separate from democracy—it is democracy. It is as much a part of the democratic system as a neighborhood association or a town council, as a library or youth center or food bank. By the very nature of the outsized role that work plays in our lives, it’s where most of us have the potential to make the biggest impact on how we—and our families and communities—live. Workers across industries have organized to secure a legal minimum wage, won laws against unpaid overtime, established workplace safety guidelines, improved patient care standards at hospitals, kept school classrooms to a manageable size, ended private collaboration with the military and border control, worked to pass laws condemning gender and racial discrimination, and the list goes on. They’ve done this not only within their own workplaces, but for all of us.
Because if remote work gives us anything at all, it gives us the chance to root ourselves in a place that isn’t the workplace. It gives us the chance to really live in whatever place we have chosen to live—to live as neighbors and caretakers and organizers, to stop hoarding all of our creative and intellectual capacity for our employers and instead turn some of it towards building real political power in our communities.
Ken Klippenstein: Documents Show Amazon Is Aware Drivers Pee in Bottles and Even Defecate En Route, Despite Company Denial (The Intercept)
An email that Brown received from her manager this past August has a section titled “Urine bottle” and states: “In the morning, you must check your van thoroughly for garbage and urine bottle. If you find urine bottle (s) please report to your lead, supporting staff or me. Vans will be inspected by Amazon during debrief, if urine bottle (s) are found, you will be issue an infraction tier 1 for immediate offboarding.”
While Amazon technically prohibits the practice — documents characterize it as a “Tier 1” infraction, which employees say can lead to termination — drivers said that this was disingenuous since they can’t meet their quotas otherwise. “They give us 30 minutes of paid breaks, but you will not finish your work if you take it, no matter how fast you are,” one Amazon delivery employee based in Massachusetts told me.
Asked if management eased up on the quotas in light of the practice, Brown said, “Not at all. In fact, over the course of my time there, our package and stop counts actually increased substantially.”
This has gotten even more intense, employees say, as Amazon has seen an enormous boom in package orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon employees said their performance is monitored so closely by the firm’s vast employee surveillance arsenal that they are constantly in fear of falling short of their productivity quotas.
Dear Fuck Up: How Do I Figure Out What I Want in Life When Every Day Feels the Same? (Jezebel)
That these are sad times and it feels bad to live in them is hardly insightful, but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s not so much the sadness but the sameness. Watching wicked people prosper over and over, having the same conversations about powerful men and the consequences they will never face, witnessing suffering that was easily anticipated and avoided, asking again and again what can be done about it and being told again and again, essentially, “nothing.” For a moment, early on in this present calamity, it felt like perhaps this could be a real rupture, but by now it’s clear our response will be more asking and more answering with “nothing,” more suffering, more pointless conversations, more prospering for a few of the expense of the rest.
The vast majority of people have jobs that are boring, at best. I recommend cultivating a healthy resentment toward your work. Put in just enough effort to keep your job and no more. The fantasy that an exciting career is enough to sustain a life is one of the most harmful of the modern age—you were never going to find meaning there.
I don’t think we really find meaning at all. We build it, most often with others. The only real antidote I’ve found to a sense of ever-present sameness is to attend to things that grow and change: living things. Care for something alive—start with something small and pitiful like a plant, if you want. A cat; a friend; a neighbor. Be wasteful and unproductive in your pursuits.
“Don’t call us heroes”: Life on a Production Line, by Angry Workers
Today’s newsletter is written by a member of Angry Workers, a collective of people who have dedicated their working lives to changing this system from the inside, observing it and embedding themselves in it, trying to change minds one by one. The member who wrote this has been working at Bakkavor for the last four years and has witnessed first hand how these places operate and are designed to wear workers down, keeping them disempowered. For their safety they have asked to be anonymous. The sacrifice involved to do something like this is beyond the imagination of most of us, even those who organise, so if you wish to support them in any way, even if its just by buying their book, then there are links at the end of this piece on how to help.
Not all food workplaces are so downtrodden – but there is something about how this kind of work is organised that lends itself to bad behaviour and repressive practices. Firstly, the whole thing about line work is that it enforces a passivity onto you – you have no control over the speed of the line and so you’re always working to someone else’s schedule. You can’t break out of it unless you want to seriously piss off everyone else down the line who’ll be affected if you fuck up or bow out. Being chained to one spot, with no autonomy, slowly robs you of something as the months and years go by. After around four months I realised that my gait had changed, my shoulders slumped forward, I felt more subservient, my fate controlled by the arbitrary commands of some idiot middle manager who thought he was better than me just because he wore a different coloured hairnet.
Some people think that ‘being unionised’ creates this ‘right situation’, but I think this is naïve. My factory, like many food factories, already has union recognition – but this has hindered, rather than aided, workers’ power. Most workers, especially the women, were still languishing at the bottom end of the wage scale, 16p above the minimum wage. Now the National Minimum Wage has superseded that, so they are on minimum wage again. Having been a member and shop steward within the mainstream unions, I can safely say that the union structures themselves are pretty rotten. Reps are often handpicked either by management or the self-serving incumbent reps. Many reps are managers themselves, undermining the trust workers have in them to be on their side in a dispute against management. Reps are bought off and given perks that make them reluctant to rock the boat. Unions partner with management to preserve their recognition agreements. When the union feels it’s losing its grip on control they suppress workers’ own initiatives. In my factory, the union actively participated in the development of a new skill grading structure that not only divided the workforce, but sold out all the women assembly line workers by regarding them as ‘unskilled’ and putting them on the lowest pay.
I came to realise that being in a union and having a real and collective strength in a workplace are two entirely different things. A real collective strength requires encouraging workers’ own actions – for them to start relying on themselves and each other rather than waiting around for ‘the union’ to sort things out for them, and then being disappointed when they don’t. To think about their own power and how to use it directly to put pressure on management, without necessarily having to put their heads above the parapet and be singled out for victimisation. To create their own independent structures. There is strength in numbers, but the workplace is divided in so many ways that this can’t be fixed overnight with a simple call for ‘unity.’
It’s worthless to be labelled as ‘heroes’ or even ‘essential’ workers when in reality this doesn’t translate into even a basic level of respect – the expression of which would be higher pay and the confidence to demand better terms and conditions, especially in these scary times.
‘Heroes’ are expected to go above and beyond, and risk their lives for the benefit of others. ‘Heroes’ don’t expect recognition or a wage set to a level that actually corresponds to the social necessity of their work. ‘Heroes’ can just be applauded for their altruistic ways and we don’t have to question a world where people who work in the City, or in advertising, are valued exponentially more – both financially and in terms of social status – than the people who actually make it go round. So let’s ditch all this ‘hero’ talk and instead let’s think about why the people who make the meals you eat, who are on the bottom rungs of the labour market, are really continuing to put their lives at risk. It’s not heroism. They just don’t have a choice.
Judith Shulevitz: Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore (The Atlantic)
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
When so many people have long or unreliable work hours, or worse, long and unreliable work hours, the effects ripple far and wide. Families pay the steepest price. Erratic hours can push parents—usually mothers—out of the labor force. A body of research suggests that children whose parents work odd or long hours are more likely to evince behavioral or cognitive problems, or be obese. Even parents who can afford nannies or extended day care are hard-pressed to provide thoughtful attention to their kids when work keeps them at their desks well past the dinner hour.
What makes the changing cadences of labor most nepreryvka-like, however, is that they divide us not just at the micro level, within families and friend groups, but at the macro level, as a polity. Staggered and marathon work hours arguably make the nation materially richer—economists debate the point—but they certainly deprive us of what the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described as a “cultural asset of importance”: an “atmosphere of entire community repose.”
Even if you aren’t asked to pull a weekend shift, work intrudes upon those once-sacred hours. The previous week’s unfinished business beckons when you open your laptop; urgent emails from a colleague await you in your inbox. A low-level sense of guilt attaches to those stretches of time not spent working.
Wall Street demands improved quarterly earnings and encourages the kind of short-term thinking that drives executives to cut their most expensive line item: labor. If we want to alter the cadences of collective time, we have to act collectively, an effort that is itself undermined by the American nepreryvka. A presidential-campaign field organizer in a caucus state told me she can’t get low-income workers to commit to coming to meetings or rallies, let alone a time-consuming caucus, because they don’t know their schedules in advance.
Reform is possible, however. In Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco, “predictive scheduling” laws (also called “fair workweek” laws) require employers to give employees adequate notice of their schedules and to pay employees a penalty if they don’t.
Then there’s “right to disconnect” legislation, which mandates that employers negotiate a specific period when workers don’t have to answer emails or texts off the clock. France and Italy have passed such laws.
It’s a cliché among political philosophers that if you want to create the conditions for tyranny, you sever the bonds of intimate relationships and local community. “Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She focused on the role of terror in breaking down social and family ties in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. But we don’t need a secret police to turn us into atomized, isolated souls. All it takes is for us to stand by while unbridled capitalism rips apart the temporal preserves that used to let us cultivate the seeds of civil society and nurture the sadly fragile shoots of affection, affinity, and solidarity.
Clio Chang: How to Save Journalism (The New Republic)
The shift to an organized industry also has political implications—and not just because journalists are becoming more active through their union work. In the larger scheme of things, unionized media workers are starting to see the world and themselves in a new light. Journalism, like other creative-but-poor industries, is predicated on the idea that its practitioners are just lucky to be doing what they love; they’ve long been conditioned to believe that there’s something inherently prestigious, even noble, about this type of white-collar work. But as media jobs become more precarious, undermined by the same monopoly forces affecting workers in other parts of the economy, media workers are increasingly seeing themselves as workers first.
This is what Marxist-minded leftists have long termed class consciousness, and that consciousness is spreading, within legacy and digital media brands alike.
To reclaim the foundations of a free press in America, media workers need to get serious about dismantling tech monopolies and implementing policies that would reverse our new Gilded Age. It seems to be no coincidence that countries that operate the freest press regimes, such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, also have comparatively low income-inequality. The Jonah Perettis of the world think that they can solve the media crisis in isolation, without acknowledging that they are integral to and have benefited from the system that gave rise to this crisis in the first place.
What’s more, union activism can help bridge the yawning power dynamic that now separates tech monopolies from the flailing media sector. Tech companies will have to feel threatened if they’re going to implement reforms and meet media companies more than halfway—and the companies themselves clearly pose no threat at all. The way the media business works now is that Facebook and Google and Apple News reap the bulk of the profits produced by the labor of journalists—either by leapfrogging the ownership structure entirely or enlisting short-sighted owners, who mostly compete with one another, to give away their content for a pittance.
How many slaves work for you? There are 27 million slaves in the world today. Many of them contribute to the supply chains that end up in the products we use every day. Find out how many slaves work for you, and take action.
Jeremy Bushnell: Class Actions (Real Life Magazine)
Studies suggest that, like the RateMyProfessors rankings, student evaluations too reveal predictable patterns of gender bias (and likely biases regarding race, age, and sexual orientation as well), and yet it’s mandatory for instructors to submit to their assessment. Student evaluations are deeply embedded in the body of educational institutions both logistically and ideologically — so much so that one can’t even begin to critique them without seeming like one is trying to defraud students somehow, deny them an oversight that feels somehow to be “rightfully” theirs. Even as I write this I feel the need to perform within the ideological space they inscribe: I want to showcase their deliciously quantifiable numbers, the ones that prove that I’m a good instructor, or at least above average. These numbers are available to the system; they help me to keep my job.
It’s going to be hard, over the next four years, to have a conversation about gender bias in student evaluations or about the conditions of part-time contingent faculty or about doing the hard work of making the tools of a liberal education more accessible to marginalized populations. It’s going to be hard, because it’s hard to have difficult conversations when it feels like you’re under assault; it’s hard to look critically at your colleagues when it feels like it’s time to lock arms against the oafish villains roaring at you.
Anna Holmes: Has ‘Diversity’ Lost Its Meaning? (NY Times)
Many Silicon Valley firms are scrambling to hire executives to focus on diversity — there’s an opening at Airbnb right now for a ‘‘Head of Diversity and Belonging.’’ But at the biggest firms, women and minorities still make up an appallingly tiny percentage of the skilled work force. And the few exceptions to this rule are consistently held up as evidence of more widespread change — as if a few individuals could by themselves constitute diversity.
Why is there such a disparity between the progress that people in power claim they want to enact and what they actually end up doing about it? Part of the problem is that it doesn’t seem that anyone has settled on what diversity actually means. Is it a variety of types of people on the stages of awards shows and in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies? Is it raw numbers? Is it who is in a position of power to hire and fire and shape external and internal cultures? Is it who isn’t in power, but might be someday?
Over the past few years, numerous editors have reached out to me asking for help in finding writers and editors of color, as if I had special access to the hundreds of talented people writing and thinking on- and offline. I know they mean well, but I am often appalled by the ease with which they shunt the work of cultivating a bigger variety of voices onto others, and I get the sense that for them, diversity is an end — a box to check off — rather than a starting point from which a more integrated, textured world is brought into being. I’m not the only one to sense that there’s a feeling of obligation, rather than excitement, behind the idea. DuVernay herself hinted at this when she, too, admitted that she hates the word. ‘‘It feels like medicine,’’ she said in her speech. ‘‘ ‘Diversity’ is like, ‘Ugh, I have to do diversity.’ I recognize and celebrate what it is, but that word, to me, is a disconnect. There’s an emotional disconnect. ‘Inclusion’ feels closer; ‘belonging’ is even closer.’’
Joe Keohane: In Praise of Meaningless Work (The New Republic)
Yes, we should all hope—demand, even—that the workplace of the future will be governed more by respect and sensitivity than cupidity and the Peter Principle. But until that day comes, we should embrace not the meaningfulness of work, but its meaninglessness. The cold, unromantic transaction. The part that keeps food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. The part that, theoretically, gives us our nights and weekends. Let’s demand that recompense, first and foremost, and deal with the rest later. With unemployment falling to pre-recession levels, employees are hopefully gaining the leverage to say enough. The prayer is that the line will be drawn, and managers will then see that the way forward is actually very simple: Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home.
What these two moves share is the underlying view that some kinds of affective labor and digital interactivity are good–the kinds that Swift can both control and extract the most surplus value from–and some kinds of interactivity are bad–the kinds that Swift doesn’t control and extract enough surplus value from. The bad kinds feminize Swift–they put her in the position of feminized laborer, of wife. We can think of Swift’s two moves this week as attempts to Lean In, that is, pull herself out of structural/economic feminization.
Miya Tokumitsu: In the Name of Love (Jacobin Magazine)
Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?
David Graeber: On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs (Strike! Magazine)
This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work.
Cord Jefferson: When People Write for Free, Who Pays? (Gawker)
All in all, the creative landscape is starting to look more toxic than it's been in our lifetimes: Artists with million-dollar checks in their pockets are telling other artists that they shouldn't expect to get paid; publications are telling writers that they shouldn't expect to get paid, either; and meanwhile everyone wonders why we can't get more diversity in the creative ranks. One obvious way to reverse media's glut of wealthy white people would be to stop making it so few others but wealthy white people can afford to get into media. But in the age of dramatic newsroom layoffs and folding publications, nobody wants to hear that. So we trudge on, forgetting what a luxury it is to do what you want to do for a living rather than what you have to do to survive.
Leslie T. Chang: Do Chinese Factory Workers Dream of iPads? (The New Yorker)
The simple narrative equating American demand and Chinese suffering is appealing, especially at a time when many Americans feel guilty about their impact on the world. It’s also inaccurate and disrespectful. We must be peculiarly self-obsessed to imagine we have the power to drive tens of millions of people on the other side of the world to migrate and suffer in terrible ways. China produces goods for markets all over the world, including for its own consumers, thanks to low costs, a large and educated workforce, and a flexible manufacturing system that responds rapidly to market demands. To imagine that we have willed this universe into being is simply solipsistic. It is also demeaning to the workers. We are not at the center of this story—we are minor players in theirs. By focussing on ourselves and our gadgets, we have reduced the human beings at the other end to invisibility, as tiny and interchangeable as the parts of a mobile phone.
‘Mr. Jobs’s magic has its costs. We can admire the design perfection and business acumen while acknowledging the truth: with Apple’s immense resources at his command he could have revolutionized the industry to make devices more humanely and more openly, and chose not to. If we view him unsparingly, without nostalgia, we would see a great man whose genius in design, showmanship and stewardship of the tech world will not be seen again in our lifetime. We would also see a man who in the end failed to “think different,” in the deepest way, about the human needs of both his users and his workers.’