...F a MAC
Apple boss slams US teachers' unions - Education - Macworld UK: "Associated Press reports that Jobs was sharing the stage with Dell CEO Michael Dell. Both men were discussing their vision of how digital technologies can boost educational achievement."
This just in from my esteemed colleague Erik Love over at The Most Important Blog...Ever. I hate to sound like a broken record, constantly harping on the anti-union attitudes of the tech class and their intellectual heroes. However, it's just so bad up there in Silicon Valley and Seattle that I just can't help it.
Here we have Steve Jobs being his usual heroic, giant-slaying self, taking a break from fighting for market share against Microsoft by attacking the greedy and shiftless teachers unions. They impede technological development and protect "bad teachers", according to educational and industrial relations expert Jobs. Michael Dell demurred, saying that the only reason there are unions is because of bad employers. These two statements encapsulate the thinking about unions and the labor movement dominant in the technoclass: at worse they are anachronistic and get in the way of progress, at best they are an understandable but unfortunate reaction to bad employer behavior. Of course, in the utopian world of the new economy, employers are nice and generous. They even let you wear sneakers to work.
There is a lot of interesting work being done around organizing high-tech and freelance labor, a move that will require some creativity and flexiblity on the part of existing unions. Barbara Ehrenreich has been an outspoken advocate of opening the labor movement up to skilled, contingent and high tech workers even when traditional collective bargaining agreements are not on the short term agenda. The Freelancer's Union, the UAW's National Writers Union, and even the AFL-CIO's Working America are all related to this effort. The Communication Workers have been organizing computer programmers around health care and job security. Unions are necessary wherever there are employees. Period. This is especially true in the insecure and volatile world of the old "new economy".
However, the assumption that employers and employees in the tech industry have some kind of special relationship that differs from the traditional manufacturing or service sector is dangerous and wide-spread. I'm skeptical of this notion: the tech sector is undergirded by brutal working conditions and environmental insanity in the "hardware" industry, the cult of flexibility has burned up thousands of worker's benefits, capital speculation caused a crash that took the whole economy with it, and programmers are increasingly "proletarianized" through outsourcing and insane work speedups. Bosses in jeans are bosses. They may be nicer in some ways than the Wal-Mart CEO, but they operate in the same market under the same logic.
The Center for American Progress recently underwrote a study by consultants Celinda Lake and Jim Grossfeld on attitudes toward work and unions among high tech workers. They found that the insecurity of the industry has created a wide opening for labor organizing, but that Silcon Valley employees want unions which, among other tings, are geared toward cooperation with management. An article based on their findings appeared online at TAP. It's quite interesting. There is an old debate within both academia and the labor movement about "white collar" workers and their attitudes toward and "identification" with management. Many have argued there are huge differences between such workers and agricultural, service or industrial employees. This may or may not be empericaly true, and it's an open question as to whether this is a convenient mythology or describes some actual difference of conditions.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that the engineers at Boeing don't see themselves as having a special relationship with the company that tried to gut their health care and wages a few years back. At one point in time, Henry Ford was seen as the scion of a new, generous paternalistic capitalism that didn't need unions. Thank god that his employees had the bravery to strongly disagree. We all benefited from the prosperity they helped wrest from the coffers of American business. Even Steve Jobs.