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Workers in the technology sector are beginning to organize on an international scale to defend their labor rights and demand more ethical and responsible management from their employers. Thus, workers at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, have announced the creation of an international union, following a similar move by Amazon employees last May.
Thus, at the end of last month, representatives of 13 unions from 10 countries announced the creation of a new international alliance, called Alpha Global, with which they seek to improve the working conditions of “employees, temporary, suppliers, and contractors” and build a “more ethical and responsible” company in the face of the monopolistic turn of the company led by Sundar Pichai.
Alpha Global’s statement of principles notes that Google “is a place where many working men and women came to change the world, to make it more democratic, only to find Alphabet suppressing free speech and cracking down on worker organizing while consolidating monopoly power.”
A movement “for all tech workers”
Among its commitments, the Alphabet union alliance has pledged to “create a common strategy” that supports both national grievances and their common goals, “work side by side to build local organizations that reflect the values and interests of employees,” and add more unions to its “movement for Alphabet workers and for all tech workers.”
This movement stems from the creation in November of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), a minority union representing employees of Google’s parent company in the U.S. and Canada, the first such grouping in Silicon Valley. However, its origins lie in the protests of Google workers against sexual harassment in the company and later against their work for the US border authority.
Subsequently, as AWU membership grew from 230 employees to more than 700 in one week, according to The Verge, the movement of Alphabet employees has grown to include workers from the US, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and Sweden. However, it is not yet present in Spain, where Google has around 200 workers of the nearly 120,000 it has worldwide.
Alpha Global is affiliated with UNI Global Union, which represents more than 20 million service, technology, and communications workers in 150 countries around the world. Its general secretary, Christy Hoffman, said after its creation that“the problems at Alphabet, and those created by the company itself, are not limited to a single country and must be addressed on a global scale“.
Hoffman asserts that workers at Google’s parent company “are using their collective strength not only to transform their working conditions but also to address social problems caused by the increasing concentration of corporate power.” However, this past weekend, AWU representatives have criticized not being aware of Alpha Global’s existence until its creation was announced in the press, according to The Verge.
Amazon’s global union does have a presence in Spain
UNI Global Union also coordinated the creation of Amazon Workers International, the global union of employees of the e-commerce multinational, in which Spain is represented through the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), which hosted the first international meeting of delegates of this federation, held in May in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).
In the case of Amazon, the weight of its employees in Spain is more significant, with some 12,000 employees in the country out of the nearly 800,000 it has worldwide. For the moment, in addition to the CGT on the Spanish side, there are also representatives of the multinational’s workers in Germany, France, Poland, the USA, Italy, and Slovenia, who are demanding improvements in the face of the precariousness of their working conditions.
However, Amazon workers in Spain had already carried out several strikes against the imposition of unfavorable working conditions by the company, such as those held in 2018 and 2019, which are added to the 2019 protests in several countries during Amazon Prime Day and the mobilizations of its employees in the US and Germany during last year.
However, the company led by Jeff Bezos has met these movements in its workforce on a global scale with hostility. In fact, Amazon has reportedly hired detectives from the Pinkerton spy agency, known for its anti-union activities in the U.S. in the late 19th century, to monitor the organizing efforts of the company’s European workers, as Motherboard revealed last November.
In addition, a month after Amazon’s spying on employees and journalists covering the company was leaked, the US Labor Relations Board assured in a report that Google had also illegally spied on its workers to prevent them from organizing into unions and went so far as to fire 2 employees at the end of 2019 to curb their activity among the company’s workers.
Spain on the sidelines of Alphabet’s global union
For the moment, CCOO, which is part of UNI Global Union, has not had contact with Alphabet or Google workers, as recognized to Business Insider Spain by Carlos Gutiérrez, secretary of Youth and New Realities of Work of this union, who states that “the technology sector is very diverse”, distinguishing companies in the New Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector from the digital giants of Silicon Valley.
Thus, Gutiérrez reveals that in the ICT sector “they have a collective agreement, which can be improved and there is a lot of precariousness and turnover, but there is a base and an organization of workers” in which his union participates. Meanwhile, in the case of the new digital platforms that are being implemented in Spain, he points out that “work is being done to try to accompany the workers so that they can organize themselves and claim labor rights“.
Within this second group, Carlos Gutiérrez highlights Amazon, “which is growing very significantly in Spain, with its logistics centers throughout the country, and union elections are being held, agreements are being negotiated and there is a conflict, let’s say, between capital and labor that is normalized”, unlike what happens in online platforms, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.
The head of Youth and New Realities of Work of CCOO states that in this type of platforms it is difficult the union task “because they are not seen, the riders of Glovo or Deliveroo you see them on the street and you can make a union action”, while in these virtual platforms “it is very complicated to link or get in touch with workers because they are at home or because they go from one house to another to clean, for example.”
Regarding the riders, Gutiérrez stresses that his union is present at the social dialogue table negotiating the law prepared by the Government to put an end to false self-employed in home delivery companies and points out that “it should be useful to order the world of digital platforms, because one of the great conflicts that are occurring in Glovo, Deliveroo and others will surely continue in the future if it is not regulated properly.”
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