Tech Workers Of The World Unite! Or Not - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
Commentary
5/16/2006
11:31 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
Commentary
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Tech Workers Of The World Unite! Or Not

Efforts to unionize IT workers have, to date, pretty much fallen flat. Despite the growth in perceived job threats like offshore outsourcing, automation, and H-1B visa workers, tech pros aren't rushing out to get union cards. Some fear that unionizing IT will result in even more jobs going offshore as companies look for ways to circumvent collective bargaining. One trade union thinks it has an answer for that.

Efforts to unionize IT workers have, to date, pretty much fallen flat. Despite the growth in perceived job threats like offshore outsourcing, automation, and H-1B visa workers, tech pros aren't rushing out to get union cards. Some fear that unionizing IT will result in even more jobs going offshore as companies look for ways to circumvent collective bargaining. One trade union thinks it has an answer for that.Britain's Trade Union Congress--the country's umbrella labor group--wants to extend its reach to IT and call center workers in India. Its thinking: If business is going global, then unions also have to become multinational if they're to remain relevant and have a place in a Friedmanesque "flat world."

The globalization of unions would also prevent companies from pitting workers in one country against those in another. "To prevent this, it's necessary that workers in offshoring destinations such as India organize themselves and become part of a global network," says British TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, quoted this week in The Times of India.

This no doubt sounds appealing if you're a techie worried about your job going to India, China, or some other far-flung, low-cost destination. But realistically, IT workers in the West have never shown much interest in unions. One advocacy group, [email protected], recently had to post a desperate appeal for members on its Web site. And this is a group that represents workers at a company that's hiring in India by the tens of thousands. That's worth noting because an international IT union isn't going to carry much clout if it doesn't have strong support in the U.S. After all, it's U.S. companies that are doing the bulk of offshoring.

It's not hard to see why the concept of an IT workers' union isn't gaining steam in the U.S. Thousands of routine programming jobs are going offshore, but those jobs are being replaced with higher level work. This trend is creating a skills crunch that in turn is causing IT unemployment in the U.S. to plummet and wages to rise. As my colleague Eric Chabrow reported in April, more Americans were employed in IT last quarter than at any other time in the nation's history.

Not the kind of market conditions conducive to the formation of unions, at least not in the U.S. The Brits, however, seem to want to give it a try.

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