February 13, 2023

How to Respond to Tech Layoffs

Reading through Ed Zitron's Tech's Elite Hates Labor, I was reminded of the Lucas Combine's battles over job losses with defence firms in the 1970s.

Faced with factory closures and downsizing of the workforce, the workers themselves drew up plans for other technology that could be developed. They proposed things like wind turbines, fuel cells, and more—which could open new markets and provide for employment whilst also benefitting society more than tanks and bombs.

In a book written about the Lucas Plan (the name given to the proposals drawn up by the group of unions at Lucas Aerospace) we learn:

The reasons for these cutbacks have not been "technical". Rather they were a result of corporate priorities and financial objectives. This helps us to rule out at least one explanation of why negotiations did not take place over the Combine's Plan.

and further on:

Lucas Aerospace, however, is not in the habit of looking for new markets. In fact probably one of the main reasons why the company wants to stick with military aerospace is that it can then forget about "marketing", relying instead on profitable cost-plus defence department contracts.

Management asserted its power over the workers by refusing to pursue these ideas; even though in some cases there were already orders for the work on the table. There's more background on the plan in my dog-eared pages notes for the Lucas Plan book.

Of course, history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Tech workers should definitely join a union, particularly if they're going to continue working for somebody else.

There are a few bright spots of hope for ways that things could be better this time round.

One is the work that the CoTech community are doing to encourage and help tech folk set up as co-operatives.

And the other is the fact that digital tech workers tend to own the means of production. It was hard for the Lucas workers to set up their own production facilities, given the capital cost of the machinery required. I think hackspaces and makerspaces are starting to shift the balance there; but it hasn't really existed in the digital world for my entire multi-decade career, especially with the continued rise of open source. That said, there are always companies looking to reverse that, with things like Github's Copilot, or AWS's myriad of services and APIs which try to lock you into a single provider.

Still. Opt out of closed tools and languages; make careful decisions (at least considering your escape route) about platforms; and resist the siren song of easy VC money. More co-operatives, indie manufacturers and indie developers please!

Posted by Adrian at February 13, 2023 12:42 PM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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