Silicon Valley and the Quest for a Utopian Workplace

Chris Mackin in TNR:

…developments at Google and Tesla signal a new reckoning by employees—white collar and blue collar—with the limitations of the modern utopian workplace. They describe pent-up forces, now apparently loosened, that will not be tamed by vague managerial assurances, or yogurt stands. Facebook, Amazon, and Apple may not be far behind.

The problems highlighted are structural and longstanding. They point to a fundamental flaw with a particular and peculiar institution, the employment relationship, which is so ubiquitous that it appears natural. A fundamental fact haunts that relationship across all kinds of workplaces, modern and traditional. Employees without substantial ownership and governance rights, employees who are not members of democratic corporations, have no standing. They are merely rented humans. They are visitors on someone else’s planet.

Union representation can mitigate these problems. It can circumscribe the terms of that rental arrangement, but it cannot cure it. It is not likely that stability or real progress will be found at these workplaces without something more comprehensive—without a genuine workplace democracy that turns employees into part-owners of the companies where they work.

More here.