[Marxism] Tech Opposition to Trump Propelled by Employees, Not Executives

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 7 08:05:51 MST 2017


(Programmers have the reputation of being libertarians who have few 
goals except for the right to smoke pot and make money. This article 
shows that this is an oversimplification.)

NY Times, Feb. 7 2017
Tech Opposition to Trump Propelled by Employees, Not Executives
By DAVID STREITFELD

In late September, a group of tech leaders started a well-publicized 
effort to raise $100,000 for Hillary Clinton. In flush Silicon Valley, 
that is spare change. But by the time the election was over, the 
campaign had pulled in only $76,324.

For all its visceral dislike of Donald J. Trump, the tech community did 
not worry too much about him being elected or, once in office, carrying 
through with his program. Lulled by favorable polls, distracted by its 
own destiny, Silicon Valley was above all else complacent.

No longer.

After President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order restricting immigration, 
high-tech has gone full-tilt political. Companies are being pushed by 
their employees, by their customers and sometimes by their ideals. They 
are trying to go far enough without going too far.

Nearly 130 companies, most of them in the technology field, filed an 
amicus brief late Sunday in the United States Court of Appeals for the 
Ninth Circuit, which declined to reinstate the travel ban after a lower 
court blocked it. The brief, which was signed by an unusually broad 
coalition of large and small tech companies that included Apple, 
Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Tesla, Uber and Intel, said Mr. Trump’s 
order “violates the immigration laws and the Constitution.”

“Silicon Valley is stepping up,” said Sam Altman, who runs the valley’s 
most prominent start-up incubator, Y Combinator. “The companies are 
working on three fronts: They are vociferously objecting to the Trump 
policies they think are bad, they are trying to engage with him to 
influence his behavior, and they are developing new technology to work 
against policies and political discourse they don’t support.”

It is an improvised and complicated strategy. The companies are among 
the richest and most popular of American brands, which means they have a 
good deal of leverage. Yet they are also uniquely vulnerable — not only 
to presidential postings on Twitter and executive orders, but to the 
sentiments of their customers and employees, some of whom have more 
radical ideas in mind.

Many of the companies initially placed their bets on engagement after an 
upbeat meeting with the president-elect in December. That modest 
approach, which even the most risk-averse executive can endorse, showed 
its limits last week. After widespread customer defections, Travis 
Kalanick, the chief executive of Uber, was forced to step down from one 
of the administration’s advisory councils.

“People voted with their feet, and Travis listened,” said Dave McClure, 
who runs the 500 Startups incubator and started the Nerdz 4 Hillary 
group that tried to raise the $100,000. “We need to hold the other tech 
leaders accountable in the same way.”

Resistance, Mr. McClure said, begins at home.

“You don’t have a voice with the president if you didn’t vote for him,” 
he said. “But employees and customers have a voice with the tech 
companies. Silicon Valley should be demonstrating at the front doors of 
Google, Facebook and Twitter to make sure they share our values.”

Several factors are propelling Silicon Valley to the front lines of 
opposition to Mr. Trump. Some have been widely noted: The companies are 
often founded by and run by immigrants, which made the executive order 
on immigration offensive and a threat to their way of doing business. 
Tech companies frequently stress the importance of talent from other 
countries to their businesses.

Less remarked on has been the political homogeneity of tech workers. 
“It’s not like you have 60 percent of the employees on one side and 40 
percent on the other,” said Ken Shotts, a professor of political economy 
at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “They all have the same 
leanings.”

Mr. Trump does have some support in Silicon Valley, most notably the 
venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

Yet another factor pushing the companies is the perennially tight job 
market in technology. Executives cannot afford to alienate a large bloc 
of workers. Beyond this, there is the mythology of Silicon Valley, which 
holds that the work being done there is building a better future. 
Google’s former slogan “Don’t be evil” is the most forceful expression 
of this.

“If you go around making a lot of statements about your exalted role in 
society, at some point your employees might just make you follow 
through,” Mr. Shotts said.

Since the executive order was issued, the companies have struggled to 
keep on the same page with their employees. Microsoft, for instance, 
initially made relatively muted comments that mostly celebrated 
immigration. Twenty-four hours later, it was much blunter, calling the 
order “misguided and a fundamental step backwards,” and saying it would 
create “much collateral damage to the country’s reputation and values.”

At an all-hands meeting at the beginning of the week with the chief 
executive, Satya Nadella, who was born in India, Microsoft employees 
expressed their concern. The company did not file a formal declaration 
supporting Washington State’s effort to block the order the way Amazon 
and Expedia did, but its public comments assisted the effort, Bob 
Ferguson, the state attorney general, said.

The immigration battle is in Microsoft’s self-interest. Seventy-six of 
its employees were affected by the order, the company said.

Some in Silicon Valley have more expansive hopes for the tech companies 
there.

“In 2016, we saw how technology could be used to polarize ourselves to 
extreme levels,” said Mr. Altman of Y Combinator. “The most important 
thing we could do is figure out how to use technology to depolarize the 
nation.”

Mr. McClure of 500 Startups said it was ridiculous “for the chief 
executives of the valley to suggest things like hate speech and bullying 
speech aren’t solvable problems. Google has been solving the problem of 
spam for the last 10 years. No reason they can’t fix the monetization of 
fake news.”

Perhaps the companies just need a little push. On Sunday night, the 
Super Bowl was in overtime and a dreary winter rain was falling in San 
Francisco. That was not enough to deter more than 100 tech workers from 
showing up for a meeting of a new group, Tech Solidarity, that hopes to 
tackle some of these issues from the bottom up.

Maciej Ceglowski, the organizer, canvassed the crowd. How many of you 
are immigrants? How many work for big tech companies? How many work for 
big tech companies that attended the Trump tech summit in December? In 
each case, numerous hands went up. Under the rules of the meeting, 
participants were not identified.

It was a very geeky event. Much of it was a fund-raiser for three legal 
aid groups that have been working to assist travelers caught in the ban. 
The speaker for the Council of American-Islamic Relations was asked what 
she needed. She replied that she was having trouble with her customer 
relationship management software.

“I’ve actually been pretty obsessed with C.R.M.s lately,” said a woman 
in the audience, volunteering to help.

Mr. Ceglowski is a software engineer who runs the one-man start-up 
Pinboard. He was visiting the United States in 1981 with his mother when 
martial law was declared in their native Poland. He is now an American 
citizen.

Best-known in tech circles as a caustic critic of the large tech 
companies and their attitude to issues like privacy, he took on the 
activist mantle shortly after Mr. Trump was elected. Since then, Tech 
Solidarity has held rallies in Portland, Ore.; New York; Seattle; 
Boston; and other cities.

He talked about Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, the 
author of “Lean In,” which asks women, “What would you do if you weren’t 
afraid?” Mr. Ceglowski noted that Ms. Sandberg found time to go see Mr. 
Trump, but not to go to the women’s march on Washington. The crowd 
laughed. Ms. Sandberg has said that she had a personal obligation that 
kept her from the march.

When Facebook employees did their own protest last week, he pointed out, 
it was done in secret so no one knew about it.

“We have to protest in public,” he said. The event raised $30,000 for 
the legal aid groups.

“It looked like two-thirds of the room were newcomers,” Mr. Ceglowski 
said after the event was over. Unlike the great Silicon Valley 
companies, which seemed to blossom overnight, he said he knew progress 
here would be slow. But he was hopeful that some of the attendees were 
previously apolitical folk who had taken their first steps to engagement.

“I want pressure from below to counterbalance the pressure management is 
already feeling from above,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re 
pushing at least as hard as Trump is.”




More information about the Marxism mailing list