by Poppy Coburn
Wednesday, 25
August 2021
Reaction
11:05

Meet AppleToo, the latest woke pseudo-union

Tech employees are organising — but not in the way you might think
by Poppy Coburn

Apple is unionising. This week, a group of disgruntled employees announced their plans to begin organising under the header ‘AppleToo’, releasing a press statement on their website setting out their demands.

The content of the statement may be somewhat unexpected to those who still associate industrial action with material issues like working hours and pay. Apple’s employees are far too sophisticated to worry about that: they are more concerned with “patterns of racism, sexism, inequity… and unchecked privilege” in the company, and the “gaslighting” they receive from management.

AppleToo is relatively insignificant, at least for now – there are only 15 employees directly involved in the organising effort. It’s undeniable that the group has made a splash, with one activist claiming to have received “hundreds” of stories from employees, and finding herself having to choke back tears from all the “self-gaslighting” on display. AppleToo’s twitter account is awash with raised fist emojis and proclamations of ‘solidarity’.

Perhaps the strangest thing about the #AppleToo fiasco is that it is not the first time the tech world has formed a pseudo-union. Employees at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, launched their own unionisation drive last year under the name ‘Alphabet Workers Union’ (AWU), with an even more woke list of demands — and just as apathetic towards the issue of worker pay.

Silicon Valley has historically proved difficult ground for organising, thanks to a lack of demand coming from the extremely well-compensated ‘knowledge workers’ employed there. After all, what’s a pay rise when you’re busy saving the world?

This messianic mindset still seems to guide the organising ethos of the new tech unions. A Wired profile sums up the AWU mission well:

While most workers band together to demand better pay and working conditions, the Alphabet union instead seeks to organise workers around issues from fighting gender-based and racial discrimination to policing the ways they see the company as straying from its original ‘Don’t be evil’ slogan.
- Wired

It is easy to laugh at these big tech organising drives — after all, they aren’t creating a labour union in the traditional understanding of the term. However, they do have a certain degree of internal coherence: if a union is understood as any organisation that exists to promote the interests of its members, then we get a better picture of what values this group holds.

Tech unions show just how irrelevant old-school class struggle has become to those who would paint themselves as being on the Left. Groups like AppleToo are now expected to hold the same role the utopian socialists of old saw themselves fulfilling: the moral conscience against the worst excesses of liberal capitalism. Never mind those at the bottom of the pile at the mercy of tech oligarchs: hire more of our cohort as diversity consultants and indulge our propensity for performative activism, and we will stay in line. So dedicated are the unionised workers to ensuring success of Apple and co. that they have put themselves forward as full-time Human Resources commissars.

The young employees hired to work at these prestigious institutions are ambitious, and rightly so. Prospects for graduates seeking to enter the work place are bleak — and there is more competition for the few high-status jobs available than ever. No wonder, then, that those trying to carve out a position for themselves are willing to use whatever tactics at their disposal. In practise, this means the weaponisation of marginalised identities to mark yourself out from the competition — and freeing up more senior positions by harshly enforcing the ideological line you have set out. The similarity of the branding #AppleToo to #MeToo is no coincidence: employees are desperate to oust the ‘pale, male and stale’ from their coveted positions, cloaked in the language of victimhood.

The public-facing CEOs representing Big Tech are easy to blame (and to hate), but Tim Cook isn’t hunched over his laptop scheming which 10k-follower anon account to ban next. A good number of his workers, however, seem to be. If these woke pseudo unions succeed in their takeover, we may all be nostalgic for the simpler days of cold, hard, market capitalism.

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Norman Powers
Norman Powers
10 months ago

Another great essay by Poppy. Why is she still only a trainee? That makes no sense, I can’t tell any difference between her articles and anyone else’s.
Having worked in tech my feeling is that Apple is less exposed to this trend than Google, Facebook or Twitter. This stuff comes primarily from people who went straight from being new grads into the Valley firms. They’ve never known anything except a fantastically easy life. Their output rides on the success of much older projects so even mediocre work ends up being used by everyone, they are very well paid, their colleagues are all mostly competent and so on. The normal rigors of working life are unknown to them, so they look for other challenges to grant meaning and goals.
Most successful tech firms are by this point overwhelmingly dominated by this young cohort, but it wasn’t always so. When I joined one of these firms many years ago the workforce was primarily (very) experienced hands from around the industry, with many different backgrounds. I was teased for being the youngest team member because in my department at the time, there actually weren’t any people who had come straight from university except me.
This ended due to a culture of hiring without any connection to need. Hiring was seen as an end in and of itself, not a means. So these firms and especially Google just never … stopped … growing. They couldn’t grow forever by hiring experienced people because the software industry just isn’t that big (~21 million engineers worldwide), so they ended up heavily relying on the flow of new grads.
Apple has never been quite so obsessed as the others with needless hiring. They aren’t that good at it for one: within the industry it’s an open secret that they aren’t an especially attractive employer. Their workforce is mostly loyal old hands as a consequence, indeed, at least 10 years ago it was another open secret that there was really only one competent team at Apple whom Jobs kept moving around between projects, hence why progress on macOS stopped a few years before the iPhone came out, and the iPhone stalled before the iPad came out. Also, they were historically always based in Cupertino and didn’t see much reason to expand their (non retail) employee base outside that area, where as especially Google did aggressively expand internationally so they could keep hiring even after exhausting the available pool of experienced engineers in the USA. Their donut shaped HQ is a good example of this “we’re big enough” mentality – a donut being of course an attractive looking shape that cannot be expanded. Contrast with the sprawling Google and Facebook “campuses” and the difference is obvious.
So you have a combination of an older, more experienced workforce that’s seen both good times and bad, and a company that’s less able to influence people via control of information, which is fundamentally what draws the left to genuinely internet-based firms (third open secret, Apple is relatively bad at running online services). Given all this I would expect #appletoo to stay a fringe phenomenon. The others on the other hand, do need to worry about extremism amongst the workforce. They need to worry a lot.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Another great essay by Poppy. Why is she still only a trainee? That makes no sense, I can’t tell any difference between her articles and anyone else’s.
Agreed. She seems to have gone up the learning curve very fast. Pretty soon we’ll be reading about ‘Unherd Too’ which aims to displace the ‘pale, male, and stale’ from the top spots at Unherd. Freddie S look out! 🙂

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

edit – I tried to say I wish her thumbnail was happier as it sets a kind of world weary vibe to me, and so on the story a little – but I suppose that is inappropriate, I like your writing – sorry.

Last edited 10 months ago by Galeti Tavas
G A
G A
10 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

She’s good on Twitter as well.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

I agree with your comment, but the author points out the real reason behind this pseudo-unionizing:
this means the weaponisation of marginalised identities to mark yourself out from the competition — and freeing up more senior positions by harshly enforcing the ideological line you have set out. The similarity of the branding #AppleToo to #MeToo is no coincidence: employees are desperate to oust the ‘pale, male and stale’ from their coveted positions, cloaked in the language of victimhood.
Ultimately it’s an attempt at a power grab. But we have to take these childish people seriously because they, and their cohorts at Facebook etc, will control the digital landscape in the future.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Totally agree – this is a “survival of the fittest” competitive strategy that has already had great success in breaking up old established cabals. Little to do with equality and rights and lots to do with claiming the top spot.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
10 months ago

’employees are desperate to oust the ‘pale, male and stale’ from their coveted positions, cloaked in the language of victimhood.’
So it’s ‘good’ racism then! And they’ll get jobs that they maybe wouldn’t have got under the ruthless meritocracy that made Silicon Valley in the first place.
The Chinese and other US competitors have got another thing to laugh at.

Last edited 10 months ago by Pete Marsh
Scott Norman Rosenthal
Scott Norman Rosenthal
10 months ago

This is no joke. Society fro Disability Studies. The venerable Poetry Foundation in Chicago. This included replacing the beautifully compsed photograph at their site with a vapid White and Red computer logo. The list goes on and on. Seniority, experience, hard work mean nothing.
The movement is heavily Marxist influenced. The interconnectedness is astounding.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
10 months ago

There are four mega-trends that are collectively driving the decline of the west: the rise of non-democratic capitalism, the abandonment of growth (as expressed in Net Zero goals), the rise of corrosive technologies, and ideological decadence.
This lot are both the victims of- and drivers of- the last two. Their attention spans and the quality of their discourse have been destroyed by social media, which has driven them to tribalism, extremism, and intolerance. From there they are easy prey to purveyors of pseudo-scientific theories of “power” and the role of radical scepticism, that values the suppression of free speech and the replacement of the rule of law by mob rule.
The only way to tackle this would have been for Cook to have been as ruthless with his narcissistic, entitled children-staff as he is with those who compete with Apple. I doubt he will.

Rod McLaughlin
Rod McLaughlin
9 months ago

It was the workers more than the bosses at Google whose demands led to the sacking of James Damore, for producing a memo stating that PART of the reason for the underrepresentation of women in software engineering MAY BE the AVERAGE woman’s lack of interest in ‘thing’ based careers rather than ‘people’ oriented ones. Backed up by peer-reviewed scientific research. https://firedfortruth.com/
“We may all be nostalgic for the simpler days of cold, hard, market capitalism.”
When American companies stood up to their workers’ demands!
If I were a scriptwriter, I’d redo Marlon Brando’s On The Waterfront, with the hero an employee of a tech company resisting pressure to conform to critical race and gender reeducation.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rod McLaughlin