A guest contribution from CLN member Stephen McMurtry
On Friday, 20 January, Google parent company Alphabet announced that it would cut 6% of its workforce, or 12,000 employees. Alphabet was one of the last of the big tech corporations to do so: Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon had already fired over 10,000 workers each, and tech companies broadly have cut almost 250,000 positions since the start of 2022. Thousands of now-former Google employees in the United States woke up to find that they could not log into their corporate laptops—access had been cut in the middle of the night. The workers were promised generous severance, but they were not allowed to say goodbye to coworkers or even enter their offices for at least 60 days.
Alphabet is the only large tech company that has a company-wide union for corporate workers, the pre-majority Alphabet Workers Union—Communications Workers of America (AWU—CWA). The union does not represent most workers—with some exceptions—as it has chosen a pre-majority organizing model, in which workers publicly form a union and commit to building power to win over majorities of their coworkers.
The week after the layoffs were announced, our union sprang into action: we hosted a mass Zoom meeting with over 1,500 attendees and then followed up with in-person actions at Google offices around the country. Workers—many for the first time—tabled, held information sessions, and even threw a 500-person goodbye party for their fired coworkers at the Cambridge, MA office.
The following week, union members kept up the pressure by rallying outside of Google’s New York City office while executives were touting the layoffs in their Q4 earnings call. In conjunction with the layoff response at Google proper, groups of Alphabet subcontractors organizing with AWU—CWA conducted their own actions. “Raters” who tune Google’s search algorithm delivered a petition to Google’s Mountain View headquarters demanding that they be paid the $15/hr that Google promises to its subcontracted “extended workforce” but which these workers do not receive. At the end of the week, workers who help run the YouTube Music service went on ULP strike after their contractor, Cognizant, ordered them to return to the office after they filed for recognition with AWU—CWA.
There is a lot of work to be done before every Alphabet worker has adequate layoff protections, just wages, and a voice on the job, and we the workers of AWU—CWA will keep fighting to show our coworkers why they need to stand together in their union.