Work in the 21st century is changing rapidly, and income inequity is being driven not only by rapacious corporate greed, but also by technological change that is disrupting many of the industries where the US labor movement has historically represented workers. Over the past sixty years, capital has managed to re-write the rules of the economy, so that the systems set up by the labor movement are no longer an effective method of achieving an equal society.
Technological unemployment threatens manufacturing and white-collar workers, while service sector workers (whose jobs are less susceptible—though not immune from—outsourcing or transitioning to machines) are increasingly crushed by low wages, inability to control their schedules (and therefore their lives) and a lack of benefits.
It seems that every day brings a new service or technology that can change the way that humans approach work—without a corresponding uptick in the way that we are thinking about how to make work more human.
I came up with the name “Hack the Union” because I wanted to reflect an operation that could be performed either on code or with a physical object. The challenges that affect workers today are not things that will be solved solely by technology–in fact, the problem of technological unemployment is one that is created by technology–but our tech has a major impact on the ways that both labor and capital can organize, these days.
Of course, unions themselves also have physical infrastructures–and sometimes those infrastructures get in the way of building worker power. “Hacking” can be applied to physical modifications, as well as to programming solutions.
But it’s also the culture of hacking–open-source, playful, exploring the limits of what’s possible–that needs to be injected (or in some cases, amplified) into the movements that organize for economic justice.