Photo credit: Tech Workers Coalition
More than 120,000 workers across the tech industry have been laid off in the past year. Facebook and Amazon each fired around 10,000 people. The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, fired at least half of Twitter’s staff. Networking company Cisco let go of 4,100 workers, and payments company Stripe 1,100. Other companies with less media scrutiny have eliminated thousands of roles, throwing tens of thousands into a state of financial instability. Tech is an industry known for relatively high pay and decent conditions, but the layoffs show that without a union no worker has rights.
Stripe and Facebook widely publicized the separation terms they forced on the fired workers. Exit packages provided multiple months of severance, payment for health care, and an insulting offer of “career support.” Although these packages were presented as generous, in reality these terms are at or barely above the legal minimum required by law. The California WARN Act requires companies to provide at least 60 days’ notice to employees of mass layoffs. This would give workers time to make the adjustments they need and to begin preparations for searching for a job. Yet, this meek reform can be sidestepped if companies offer a large enough severance.
Such packages, however, are tied to heavy strings. Workers who accept the packages often need to sign Non-Disparagement and Non-Compete Agreements. These are legal contracts that forbid workers from talking negatively of the company in public or private, and prevent a worker from seeking employment at a company with a similar business model to the one they left.
Workers were forced to choose between their First Amendment rights and their financial stability for the next few months. Even 16 weeks of severance pay, however, does not change the daunting reality that faces newly-unemployed tech workers: a job market flooded with people desperate for work.
Layoffs mean more work for less pay
Layoffs are not just mass firings: They are mass eliminations of jobs. Capitalist media in times of the boom cycle fawn over billionaires as job creators. When the boom cycle busts, the billionaires ruthlessly destroy those same jobs.
These highly-planned operations are usually carried out with the help of management consulting firms, who are often paid millions of dollars. Layoffs are a way for capitalists to push the burden of the economic crisis onto the workers instead of cutting into executive pay.
One capitalist investment firm published an open letter to the CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, demanding mass firings and cuts to pay, openly stating, “The company has too many employees and the cost per employee is too high.” The firm referenced the recent layoffs for their motivation, noting that, “[n]early all technology companies are reducing costs.” Mass firings at one firm provide the cover for others to cut their number of workers.
Men collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars published exaggerated statements “taking accountability.” Layoffs, however, are a choice: They are a tool for capitalists to discipline the workforce and maintain profitability. Those who remain do so with fear, while those fired are plunged into instability.
Immigrant workers on H1-B visas have just two months to find a new employer or they are forced to leave the country. Women, who make up just 25 percent of workers in tech, are also disproportionately impacted. At least 18 women reported being fired at one company while on or planning maternity leave on the anonymous workspace chat group, Blind. One woman was fired from communications company Twilio while seven months pregnant.
Layoffs are a choice the capitalists make to intensify worker exploitation, push wages down and speed up work. There is no reason that the burden of the recession can’t be placed on the capitalist bosses and their billion-dollar profits. Tech workers are workers. Tech workers are faced with a choice: collective bargaining through a union or individual begging. The time is now for tech workers to organize.