Thinking of strikes, it is easy to imagine coal miners, railway workers and automobile assemblers with shop stewards quoting Trotsky, Gramsci and Marcuse, and brandishing a well worn copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a naive and foolish stereotype. As this example from Yahoo! shows, industrial action is alive and well in the high tech industry. Valleywag reported on a strike at Yahoo in France.
(watch the video here if you dont see the embedded player)
Carol Bartz‘s lacerating eccentricity may captivate Silicon Valley, where she’s cutting costs left and right. Not so in Europe: When Yahoo tried to shut down operations in France, workers made this surreal, defiant video. And went on strike, naturally.Their point: Yahoo made about 1 million euros per worker from Yahoo France alone last year, and used to hype how “it’s important to have [locally] concentrated engineering activities… to innovate” in France, where it would base “one of [its] most important centers in Europe.” Yahoo France’s engineers will now stop working until Yahoo agrees that they shouldn’t have to stop working. At least they’re fact checking the internet company’s hype along the way.
There is a lesson for all “global” high tech companies. HR practices that work in the US don’t necessarily travel well. I have quite a bit of research in the pipeline on a related topic. I have seen global HR projects derailed because of worker and union opposition, forcing system redesigns and huge delays.
I’ll predict that the software industry will face increasing collective and industrial action. Social software makes it easier to organize and motivate around an issue, and create a strong collective even without the presence of a union. It makes it easy to reach the broader public too. We have seen the power of the disgruntled customer using social media to mobilise support and opinion. Employees have access to the same tools and media. Executives of global software companies will need to get a lot more savvy about global HR issues. Gosh, that degree I did in Industrial Relations might actually be useful one day.