On November 1 more than 300 Google employees left their Sydney office en masse, joining a global walkout against sexual harassment and assault in their workplace.
It was an historic action with an estimated 20,000 Google workers participating in around 50 cities across 14 countries. Never before has such widespread coordinated action taken place in the tech industry, which is largely non-unionised.
Inspired by the #MeToo movement, the workers walked off the job for several hours in direct response to how Google protected and rewarded one of its senior executives. Andy Rubin left the company with a $90 million payout despite complaints of sexual assault against him.
Sydney Google workers congregated in Metcalfe Park and listened to harrowing stories of workplace abuse and harassment from some of their peers. Several workers stressed that they believe this is part of the company’s culture.
The global walkout was united around a list of demands, one of which is the demand to replace the forced arbitration process at Google with a better process to report abuse and misconduct.
The workers are also demanding that the company release data on the gender and ethnicity pay gap, and commit to take action to eliminate it.
There is no doubt that one of the biggest companies in the world can afford to pay its workers properly and treat them with respect. But while feigning concern for the workers, so far Google management has refused to meet the workers’ demands.
When asked about the walkout, CEO Sundar Pichai said “We don’t run the company by referendum”.
While this action was a great step forward, clearly more pressure needs to be exerted on management if the workers are to get everything they are asking for. Big companies like Google put profits before all else, so actions that impact their ability to make profits will be the most effective.
The Google workers’ fight would be strengthened immensely if it was organised on a more permanent basis. While spontaneous walkouts like this can be successful, long lasting changes will only be secured if the workers are properly organised.
There is a desperate need for workers at Google, and other tech companies, to get unionised. This will help ensure that management are not able to sweep the important issues raised under the carpet.
A fighting union for tech workers would need to be independent of management and democratically run in order to harness the collective power demonstrated at this walkout.
The Socialist Party offers our full support to the Google workers. Let’s build on this fantastic action and step up the fight to win all of the workers’ demands!
By Triet Tran