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Hi-tech jobs resemble 19th century factories

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Many people have gotten into hi-tech work, seeing it as the perfect job. But the workplace of the future, with "flexable hours, no supervisors and no cubicles" is a different place in reality. The 'white collar factory' is a place of long, tireless hours, high pressure with low returns and low security. Isolation and insecurity rule the day, a fact too many people reading this will know already.


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Amen. The motto is "Get the job done on our terms or you're out." Management doesn't care if you're the only one trained on this Redback router, they can get a consultant in to wrangle it until you're replaced.

What I'd like to see is what would happen if IT/IS/MIS workers got fed up and created a union. What would happen then, I wonder? I mean, it could go either way -- management would either fold, or the consulting industry would experience a boom like none ever seen before.

"We use them for divine retribution."

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I'm a graphic designer on some large brand websites (like, and we've got the same situation...overwork, underpay, and what sometimes seems like genuine abuse ("Get this done! Yes, I know it's 2am! If you don't like it, we'll find someone else!").

The idea of a designer's union gets brought up a lot by professional organizations like the AIGA, but proposals always fail for the same reason that IT union proposals fail: it's really hard to create certification standards for design and programming. What about folks who're primarily graphic designers, but occasionally have to get some programming done? Would they be breaking union rules? What about a programmer who has to lay out a page... is he or she 'designing'? Would there have to be union and non-union shops?

I agree, it's rough, but going the union route might cause more problems than it'd solve...

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As a United Auto Workers member of long standing, I can say with some authority that anyone who wishes to contact Solidarity House in Detroit about trying to form a Local Union of computer workers would be met with open arms and tons of legal support. The UAW is DYING to organize tech workers, but so far few volunteers seem to be interested in actively seeking to help themselves. The UAW has the lawyers, the experience, and just about everything needful...

...except people on the inside willing to work with them.

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I don't think it would be incorrect to say that one of the reasons many people got into this field, myself included, is a general distrust of the group process. Many tech workers have been raised in an invironment of self-first and self sufficiency which I don't see being easy to overcome. Anyways, what do cars have to do with websites or c++?

Melissa "MelSkunk" Drake

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You may well be right about this type of worker being too individualistic to easily unionize; I tend to agree, looking from the outside in, that most are very proud of depending on no one. Still, I don't see another realistic solution to the problems mentioned in the original item.

The UAW is not just about car-builders. For many years the UAW has been aggressively seeking to increase their membership outside of the car plants, making use of their reputation as the "cleanest" of the large unions. Government clerks, firearms-makers, nurses, teachers, cafeteria workers and newspaper reporters are all part of the UAW. That's one of the reasons I suggested them as a good place to turn. They've got a proven track record of taking on new kinds of industries, something that other organizations lack

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There was actually an opinion article by Ephraim Schwartz in Infoworld the other day about this same general issue in relation to the push to work more mobally.

I must say that I get a vicarious thrill from thinking that the 1.0+ Mil VPs and CEOs of the world might be in danger of getting "overworked" for a change. (Yeah, I know being interrupted on the golf course with an e-mail or videoconference is hardly work, but we have to take our solace somewhere.)

I think even without the dot-com downturn and the general economic recession, the IT workers (once rooster-of-the-walk for having skills in great demand) were bound to end up in this situation. The job market works more for the employers than the employees, apart from that rare instance you are riding the crest of a new wave.

Still, I curse the headhunters and tech recruiters daily who did such a great job of flooding the market with MCSEs and A+ carrying ex-mechanics during the 90s. Now the truly skilled among us spend 60+ hours a week fixing their mess-ups and trying to keep places running on tight budgets and the misconception that we are "just computer guys".

I don't know if being union organized would help get us the respect we deserve (look at how electricians are viewed in most companies), but I suppose it is worth considering for some. I'm just riding out my time in the wasteland of consulting, hoping for a day when corporations might start needing skilled technical help again.

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About the author

MelSkunk (Melissa Drake)read storiescontact (login required)

a student and Skunk from Toronto, ON, interested in writting, art, classic cars and animals