呼吁“废除硅谷”,彻底改造科技产业,渐进式变革能否改变未来?

A Call to ‘Abolish Silicon Valley’ and Remake the Tech Industry for Good

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软件工程师刘文迪(Wendy Liu)对科技行业表示失望,他主张进行渐进式变革,以利于公众利益。
2016年,Wendy Liu与广告初创公司的联合创始人会面后,与一位有意收购其公司的业务合作伙伴一起飞回蒙特利尔。企业家们,都二十出头,头晕目眩,头昏脑胀。这位商业伙伴已经把他们空运到他的美国总部,讨论他们的分析软件的条款,这些软件有成为"广告商的美德"的承诺,他们要求800万美元。
在坐回家的飞机上,这群人猜想,这个发票可能是什么:600万?四百万?她们至少要服用20次。刘晓波对提案的制定作用几乎一般——不仅仅是因为她对这个过程很了解,还因为她对这个过程很了解,而且因为在科技界,投资者有时可以在非常投机的基础上提供巨额资金,而似乎没有真正的理由。
刘在回忆录《废除硅谷》中反映,可能的票"都是如此武断,完全脱离了任何物质现实;在这个行业中,收购金额通常基于直觉,而不是实际指标。
最后,她和她的团队失望了:合伙人只出价100万美元。"我们以重视我们的独立性为由拒绝了这个提议,"刘写道。"实际上,这是因为我们认为自己的价值高于别人对自己的评价,而我们并不真正相信自己的使命,财务状况的黯然失色就是我们。
此后,刘晓波加入了技术叛逃者的行列,他们离开了这个行业,带着改革行业的想法,以及数据提取和监控资本主义的行业模式,走进了公众的视线。这本书主要讲述了她大学时在谷歌实习的软件工程师到创业失败的经历。对于一个看似针对科技行业同行的交付,刘晓波毫不掩饰自己真诚地相信该行业的资本主义神话——其千万富翁之所以如此富有,是因为他们应得的,他们让世界变得更美好,例如,亚马逊仓库工人在大流行期间每小时挣15美元,根本就没有努力去繁荣。("是的,这是真的,如果我成功了...我不会写这本书的,"她承认。
废除硅谷意味着将技术的发展从一个总是将技术从一个从属角色中它还属于一个次要角色的体系中释放来:即巩固现有的权力关系。
Liu的接受是她的主要观点。不仅仅是仓库工人和优步司机最终被硅谷的经济模式疏远了——那些从谷歌获得绝妙报价的白领技术工人也可以。对于刘晓波来说,这种错觉在经历了多年的艰苦工作后还在继续,因为她和创业公司的共同创始人已经从一个商业模式转变为另一个模式。当他们试图理解他们的初创公司未能爆发成财富时,事情开始变得不自在。他们是工作不够努力,还是太努力?是100还是2000美元的公司?他们并不真正关心自己的产品是什么意思?"广告商的道德" 究竟会如何扰乱现状, 让世界变得更好?
现年28岁的刘女士最终意识到,她一直在掌握不存在的逻辑。科技产业不受精英制度的支配,努力工作得到数百万美元的奖励。取而代之的是,科技公司利用员工来提供他们成功所需要的物质资源。她在书中断言,那些热衷于构建有用技术的人最终会感到与劳动隔绝,因为硅谷的创新文化是由市场约束而不是公共利益所引导的。
"我曾相信我可以逃脱,"刘写道。"我准备加入这个新公司,希望能有机会当自己的老板:根据自己的时间表和环境工作。然而,尽管我认为我会变成虚幻的自由——我的初创公司仍然受到同样的市场力量的支配,而且它开始看起来在这个体系中没有真正的自由。
在书的最后,刘概述了一系列她认为可以有效地“废除”硅谷现状的重新组合,比如使用公共投资基金为集体受益的创业提供资源。她还呼吁扩大工人的权利和公共服务,改革知识产权法,使更多的技术开发和应用符合公众利益,并利用监管限制技术对广告和消费主义的关注。
刘承认,这些想法可能至少会让一些人觉得“不可能激进,但提出要求的目的是在土地上投入一部分股份”,为“在其他情况下似乎无法实现的更温和的可能性”铺平道路 她写道:“废除硅谷意味着将技术的发展从一个总是将其置于从属地位的系统中解放出来:即巩固现有的权力关系。”。“这意味着把我们的世界从资本的非法统治中解放出来。”
尽管刘对如何实现这一目标的细节含糊其辞,但她显然认为,收回劳动首先要采取集体行动。正如她之前在网络杂志《来自下面的笔记》和《新社会主义者》上所说的,白领和蓝领科技工作者之间的联盟和组织也许是使科技产业成为一股建设性力量的最大希望。
如果刘晓波认为统一的劳工运动是前进的方向是正确的,那么在蓝领科技工人的杠杆作用被削弱之前,白领科技工人将从中受益。 刘说,优步的软件工程师是技术工人,而司机是承包商而不是员工,这是劳动力的战略性分工,旨在防止工人集体行使权力。科技工作者实际上分为两类:一类是被重视的白领工人,他们的薪酬足以认为他们没有理由组织起来;另一类是长期薪酬偏低、被视为可有可无的兼职员工。
刘认为,这种分离只是表面上的——毕竟,她指出,在资本主义制度下,没有工人是真正不可或缺的。她承认,大型科技公司赚的钱足以支付工程师的薪水,而如今,有许多空缺职位供少数工程师使用。“但是供需不平衡不会永远持续下去,”她写道,“事实上,许多科技公司已经在投资增加未来工程师的供给。当资金枯竭,或者科技公司意识到他们可以通过更低的报价逃脱惩罚时,会发生什么?”
《废除硅谷》是在Covid-19流感大流行对美国经济造成破坏之前出版的,但有迹象表明,刘翔认为高薪技术工人不稳定是正确的。裁员。仅供参考该机构追踪了自3月11日世卫组织宣布流感大流行以来科技初创企业的裁员情况,近几个月来,全球约有8万人从初创企业中下岗。数据显示,Uber是湾区裁员人数最多(6700人)的罪魁祸首,统计了失业的全职员工,但不包括像拼车司机这样的合同工。
与此同时,全球受流感影响最严重的是临时工,数百万人失去了收入或工作,还有许多人被迫在危险的条件下工作。例如,据当地立法者称,据估计,宾夕法尼亚州东北部亚马逊仓库的100多名工人感染了Covid-19。与此同时,科技企业的利润自年初以来大幅上升。例如,亚马逊在2020年第二季度的利润翻了一番,赚了52亿美元。
如果刘晓波认为统一的劳工运动是前进的方向是正确的,那么在蓝领科技工人的杠杆作用被削弱之前,白领科技工人将从中受益。如果白领科技工作者不能从数量上看到自己的权力之路,也许他们会出于良心加入劳工运动。有些已经死了;根据《卫报》公布的数据,技术工人的行动数量在过去十年里呈指数级增长。尽管2011年至2018年,蓝领工人主导了大多数行动,但2019年是白领工人主导更多行动的第一年。
非工会组织在努力中取得了重大胜利。技术工人联盟,一个强调白领和蓝领团结的组织,帮助反对谷歌开发人工智能以支持美国国防部的无人机项目。谷歌的一份内部请愿书收到了3100多个签名,谷歌最终宣布不会寻求与政府续签合同。
唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)当选后不久,社会福利组织“科技团结”(Tech Consolidation)制定了“永不重来”的承诺,数千名科技工作者誓言拒绝为政府创建数据库,这些数据库可用于基于种族、宗教或民族血统的人群——比如穆斯林美国人。承诺传开后,Facebook、微软、苹果、谷歌和其他大公司加入Twitter,承诺拒绝开发此类技术。
另一个由支持蓝领工人的劳工组织支持的联盟硅谷崛起(Silicon Valley Rising)正在开展各种活动,以促进更公平的选举,鼓励技术承包的公平性,并迫使谷歌签署一项协议,以确保其计划在圣何塞的80英亩校园不会让工薪家庭流离失所。纽约市民主党社会党管理着一个专门针对技术的工作组,极力反对亚马逊在纽约皇后区建立第二个总部的计划,但亚马逊放弃了这一计划。
这些组织与针对具体问题的活动和公司内部的努力密切配合,取得了至关重要的进展,但它们的力量无法与实际的工会相比。美国五大科技公司——苹果、亚马逊、微软、谷歌和脸书——8月份的总资产超过7万亿美元——都没有加入工会。正如《时代》杂志最近发表的一篇文章的标题所宣称的那样,“科技产业工会化的失败将活生生地吞噬劳工运动。”
科技公司也采取行动阻止工会化的努力——悄悄地雇佣法律和咨询公司来破坏谷歌、亚马逊和其他公司的组织计划。亚马逊甚至最近甚至发布了一份招聘清单,供分析师研究“针对公司的劳工组织威胁”,然后突然将其撤下,声称职位描述不准确。
但最近也出现了一些令人鼓舞的事态发展。今年2月,众筹网站Kickstarter经过与管理层的长期斗争,投票决定成立一个工会,这是业内第一个针对白领员工的工会。据Axios称,随着疫情恶化,卡车司机、办公室和专业员工国际联盟(Office and Professional Employees International Union)和美国通讯工作者(Communications Workers of America)都报告说,随着疫情恶化,技术人员和临时工作人员都在进行询问。

Disenchanted with the technology sector, software engineer Wendy Liu advocates progressive changes to redirect it in the public interest.
In2016, Wendy Liu was flying back home to Montreal with her advertising startup’s co-founders after meeting with a business partner who was interested in acquiring their company. The entrepreneurs, all in their early twenties, were giddy and exhausted. The business partner had flown them to his US headquarters to discuss terms for their analytics software, which had the promise of being a “Tinder for advertisers,” and they had asked for $8 million.
On the plane ride home, the group guessed at what the counteroffer might be: Six million? Four million? They had once considered taking no less than 20. Liu had little sense of how the proposal might work out — not just because she was new to the process, but because in the tech world, investors can sometimes offer enormous sums of money on a very speculative basis, seemingly with no real rationale.
The possible counteroffers, Liu reflects in her memoir, Abolish Silicon Valley, were “all so arbitrary anyway, completely divorced from any material reality; in this industry, acquisition amounts were usually based on gut feeling more than actual metrics.”
In the end, she and her team were disappointed: the partner offered just $1 million. “We rejected the offer on the grounds of valuing our independence,” Liu writes. “Really, though, it was because we thought we were worth more than their assessment of us, and given that we didn’t really believe in our mission, the pale prospect of future financial validation was all we had.”
Liu has since joined the ranks of tech defectors who have left the industry and stepped into the public eye with ideas for reforming it and it’s industry model of data extraction and surveillance capitalism. Her book, which mostly spans from her days interning as a software engineer at Google during college to when her startup begins to crumble, is admirable in its honesty. With a delivery that seems aimed at her tech industry peers, Liu makes no bones about having sincerely believed in the industry’s capitalist mythology — that its multimillionaires become so wealthy because they deserve to, that they make the world a better place, and that, for example, Amazon warehouse workers earning $15 an hour during the pandemic simply haven’t tried hard enough to prosper. (“Yes, it’s true that if I had succeeded… I would not have written this book,” she concedes.)
Abolishing Silicon Valley means freeing the development of technology from a system that will always relegate it to a subordinate role: that of entrenching existing power relations.
Liu’s admission sets up one of her most important points. It’s not just the warehouse workers and Uber drivers who end up alienated by Silicon Valley’s economic model — white-collar tech workers who were extended fabulous offers from Google can too. In Liu’s case, the disillusionment takes hold after years of drudgery, as she and her startup’s co-founders pivot from one business model to the next, panning for gold. Things begin to feel unmoored as they try to comprehend their startup’s failure to explode into wealth. Were they not working hard enough, or too hard? Was the company worth $1 million or $20 million? What did it mean that they didn’t really care about their product? And how exactly was “Tinder for advertisers” going to disrupt the status quo and make the world better?
Now 28, Liu eventually realized that she had been grasping for logic where it didn’t exist. The tech industry isn’t governed by a meritocratic system where hard work is rewarded with millions of dollars. It’s instead fully actualized by tech companies exploiting workers to provide the material resources they depend on for success. People who are passionate about building helpful technologies can end up feeling isolated from their labor, she asserts in her book, because Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation is directed by the constraints of the market rather than the public interest.
“I had believed that I could escape,” Liu writes. “I set out for this startup in the hopes that it would be a chance to be my own boss: to work on my schedule and on my own terms. … Yet whatever freedom I thought I would have turned out to be illusory — my startup was still governed by the same market forces, and it was starting to look like there was no real freedom to be found within this system.” Toward the end of her book, Liu outlines a series of reclamations that she suggests could effectively “abolish” the Silicon Valley status quo, such as using public investment funds to resource entrepreneurship that’s collectively beneficial. She also calls for expanding workers’ rights and public services, reforming intellectual property law so that more tech is developed and deployed in the public interest, and using regulation to limit tech’s focus on advertising and consumerism.
These ideas, Liu acknowledges, may strike at least some people as “impossibly radical, but the point of making a demand is to put a stake in the ground,” paving the way “for more moderate possibilities that would otherwise seem unachievable.”
“Abolishing Silicon Valley means freeing the development of technology from a system that will always relegate it to a subordinate role: that of entrenching existing power relations,” she writes. “It means liberating our world from the illegitimate reign of capital.”
Though Liu is vague on details about how to achieve this, she clearly believes that reclaiming labor starts with collective action. As she has previously suggested in her contributions to the online journals Notes from Below and New Socialist, allyship and organizing between white- and blue-collar tech workers is perhaps the greatest hope for making the tech industry a constructive force for good.
If Liu is right that a unified labor movement is the way forward, white-collar tech workers would benefit from banding together with blue-collar tech workers now, before their leverage is eroded. The notion that Uber’s software engineers are tech workers while its drivers are contractors instead of employees, Liu says, is a strategic division of the labor force that’s intended to prevent workers from collectively exercising power. Tech workers are actually split into two groups: white-collar workers who are valued and paid enough to suppose they have no reason to organize, and gig workers who are chronically underpaid and seen as dispensable.
Liu suggests that this separation is merely superficial — after all, she notes, no workers are truly indispensable under capitalism. She acknowledges that large tech companies make enough money to pay engineers well, and that today there are many open positions for few engineers. “But the imbalance of supply and demand wasn’t going to last forever,” she writes, “and in fact many tech players were already investing in ways to increase the future supply of engineers. What would happen when funding dried up, or tech companies realised they could get away with lower offers?”
Abolish Silicon Valley was published before the Covid-19 pandemic’s disruption of the American economy, but there are signs that suggest Liu is right about highly paid tech labor being precarious. According to Layoffs.fyi, which tracks layoffs among tech startups since the WHO declared the pandemic on March 11, roughly 80,000 people have been laid off from startups worldwide over recent months. Uber was responsible for the highest number of these layoffs in the Bay Area (6,700), according to the data, which counts full-time employees who lost their jobs but not contract workers like rideshare drivers.
Meanwhile, gig workers were among the world’s hardest hit by the pandemic, with millions of people losing income or their jobs altogether, and many others being forced to work under dangerous conditions. For example, more than 100 workers at an Amazon warehouse in northeastern Pennsylvania are estimated to have contracted Covid-19, according to local lawmakers. At the same time, tech companies’ profits have risen greatly since the start of the year. Amazon, for example, doubled its Q2 profits in 2020, making $5.2 billion.
If Liu is right that a unified labor movement is the way forward, white-collar tech workers would benefit from banding together with blue-collar tech workers now, before their leverage is eroded. And if white-collar tech workers can’t see their way to power in numbers, perhaps they’ll join the labor movement for reasons of conscience. Some already are; according to data published in the Guardian, the number of tech worker actions has grown exponentially over the last decade. Though blue-collar workers led the majority of actions from 2011 to 2018, 2019 marked the first year that more actions were led by white-collar workers.
Non-union labor groups have notched significant victories from efforts. The Tech Workers Coalition, an organization that emphasizes white- and blue-collar solidarity, helped advocate against Google’s development of artificial intelligence to support a US Department of Defense drone program. An internal Google petition received more than 3,100 signatures, and Google eventually announced that it would not seek to renew its contract with the government.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s election, the social welfare organization Tech Solidarity developed the Never Again pledge, with thousands of tech workers vowing to refuse to create databases for the government that could be used to target people — such as Muslim Americans — on the basis of their race, religion, or national origin. After the pledge circulated, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google and other large companies joined Twitter in promising to refuse to build such technology.
Silicon Valley Rising, another coalition backed by labor groups that advocates for blue-collar workers, is running campaigns to facilitate fairer elections, encourage equity in tech contracting, and force Google to sign an agreement to ensure that its planned 80-acre campus in San Jose does not displace working families. And the New York City Democratic Socialists of America runs a tech-specific working group that vigorously advocated against Amazon’s plan to build a second headquarters in Queens, New York, which the company abandoned.
These organizations, in close coordination with issue-specific campaigns and internal company efforts, have made vitally important inroads, but their power cannot compare to that of an actual union. None of the five largest American tech companies — Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, whose collective worth topped $7 trillion in August — are unionized. As the headline of a recent article in the labor movement magazine In These Times declared, “The Failure to Unionize the Tech Industry Will Eat the Labor Movement Alive.”
Tech companies have also taken action to impede unionization efforts — quietly employing law and consulting firms to bust plans to organize at Google, Amazon, and other companies. Amazon even lately went as far as posting a job listing for analysts to research “labor organizing threats against the company” before suddenly taking it down, claiming that the job description was inaccurate.
But there have also been some encouraging recent developments. In February, after a long battle with management, employees of the crowdfunding site Kickstarter voted to form a union — the industry’s first for white-collar employees. The Teamsters, the Office and Professional Employees International Union, and the Communications Workers of America all reported fielding inquiries from tech and gig workers as the pandemic worsened, according to Axios.

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