Google workers vow to fight firings of activist co-workers

Four Google employees, named the “Thanksgiving Four” by the Tech Workers Coalition, were fired Nov. 25. Engineers Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland had already been suspended for “allegedly accessing and sharing data without permission.” Their co-workers maintain management was retaliating against them for organizing against workplace inequities and actively opposing policies of the company, especially its collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Some 200 Google employees and other tech workers rallied in San Francisco on Nov. 20, calling for the reinstatement of Rivers and Berland — who risked their livelihood to act in keeping with their pro-worker and humanitarian principles. Three days later, bosses fired Rivers, Berland and two other employees. The multibillion-dollar company’s goal: to crush worker organizing.

Google executives hired IRI Consultants, a union-busting law firm. Around  the same time, the company made it a “fireable offense to even look at certain documents.” said Google Walkout for Real Change. It was “an excuse to retaliate against organizers. With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation against workers engaged in protected organizing. This is classic unionbusting dressed up in tech industry jargon. We won’t stand for it!” (Twitter, Nov. 25)

Stop systemic racism and sexism!

Last year, 20,000 workers walked off the job on four continents Nov. 1 in the coordinated “Google Walkout for Real Change” to protest multimillion-dollar payouts to male executives found culpable of sexual misconduct. Going even further, the organizing committee objected to the company’s rampant racism, sexism and discrimination, and expressed solidarity with vendors as well as contract and temporary workers, many of them African-American, Latinx, immigrants and lower-paid workers.

After the walkout, Google management reformed some practices regarding sexual harassment complaints, but would not make other changes. Since then, the company has carried out a campaign of intimidation intended to stifle workers from speaking out and organizing against workplace inequities. It curbed what political topics could be discussed at work, even online. There were reprisals against key walkout organizers, forcing out longtime employee Claire Stapleton and artificial intelligence researcher and ethicist Meredith Whittaker. Others left too. 

Recently, bosses canceled the weekly all-employee meetings to stop staff questioning of and vocal opposition to company practices. Meanwhile, workers found out about an internal tracking tool put on their web browsers — a blatant invasion of privacy. The so-called “open” culture at Google became rife with intimidation, censorship and suspicion, say employees. There are reports of retaliation, especially against women and LGBTQ+ workers. Two of the fired employees are transgender.

The scare tactics, restrictions on internal speech and dissent, hiring of an anti-union law firm and now the firings reflect management’s alarm about — and steps to curtail — the upsurge of worker activism. Employees are increasingly demanding their rights and seeking to ensure that their labor is used for ethical purposes. 

Google workers have also objected to company exploitation of subcontracted workers, mishandling of sexual misconduct charges, contracts with the Pentagon to develop technology to streamline drone attacks, work for fossil fuel corporations and collaboration with ICE. In August, 1,500 Google employees signed a petition, created by Rivers, opposing the company’s signing a contract with ICE, citing its “human rights abuses.”

Workers call for solidarity

Amr Gaber, another walkout organizer, charged on Twitter that bosses fired the four workers because they alerted co-workers about company complicity with ICE and the Border Patrol in separating migrant families and caging children. He said instead of “reversing course on child abuse and human rights violations, Google has chosen to punish the brave people who are standing up for themselves and others.” 

Gaber stressed: “I, and several others, are not willing to accept this. If we don’t [unite] to make our voices heard, then Google’s divide-and-conquer strategy will be complete. There will be no one to oppose the racist, sexist, precarious and climate-ending future that Google is steering and massively profiting from.” He said Google’s attempt to silence its workforce won’t succeed, because “the boss knows we have power when we stick together.”

Walkout organizer Stephanie Parker epitomized many workers’ attitudes on Twitter: “I’m still here, still fighting, and not afraid.”

Google workers strongly assert: “For every one they retaliate against, there are hundreds of us who will fight. Together we will win! One of the most powerful companies in the world wouldn’t be retaliating against us if collective action didn’t work.”

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