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