My one experience with a union was unpleasant. The union boss came into the restaurant I worked at as a teenager and told the manager that she either had to cut my hours or I had to join the union. Since I was only a part-time employee and working to support my 1962 Chevy Impala moneypit, I refused to join the union. So, my hours were cut further and eventually I found work in a non-union shop.
So, when I say I’m supporting the Hewlett-Packard workers in the United Kingdom as they prepare to go on strike, it’s not from some innate pro-union bias. It’s because IT professionals today need a strong union. And the only way for a union to flex its muscles is to strike.
Globalization has tipped the scales dramatically against labor. Companies pack up and move operations (product and service quality be damned) to wherever they get a better break on labor costs. But workers cannot get up and move to areas where there are jobs. Even if they could, local laws would forbid non-locals from taking the jobs for which they are qualified.
IT workers have been duped over the years to believe that they management considers them special. They have been wooed into jobs with workaholic hours and promises of rewards to come. But they are not special people to management and those rewards are not coming, unless, of course, you consider just keeping your job the special reward you deserve.
IT professionals have largely also adopted management’s anti-union bias, believing they didn’t need one because management told them how special they were. So, as their jobs are sent overseas or taken in the U.S. by H-1B visa holders, the vast majority of downsized IT pros only have a single recourse: the unemployment office.
If IT professionals had a strong union, management would certainly pause before shedding jobs, especially if they were intending merely to shift the work overseas. The fear of striking workers would have to be calculated into the plan. Management would have to consider the negative affect a strike would have on its customers. It would have to consider that those customers might choose a different vendor with better union relations. It would also have to worry that a strike would set back its product development plans, which, in a highly competitive market, could be devastating.
Yes, it’s time for strong unions representing IT professionals. And it’s time to support the strike against HP in the UK.