Tech worker power: The ghost in Google's boardroom

Google dropped "Don't Be Evil" earlier this year but its workers picked up the ethical and moral responsibilities discarded by its leadership and now they want a seat at the table-- but Google doesn't share.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Tech workers in SF - will they get off the bus?

Google's workers are getting bolder and more frequent in their disagreement with their leaders as shown by this week's protest of plans to re-enter the Chinese market.

Their activism has been encouraged by the success earlier this year in stopping the company bidding on a multi-billion AI military project.

See: The rise of tech worker power in Silicon Valley -- self-organizing and winning

In this and other protests at Google such as over sexual harassment - workers are taking on the moral and ethical responsibilities which their leaders aren't providing. They want a say in how the business is run -- and who to do business with. They want a seat on the board.

Yet Google doesn't share power. Google doesn't like to share power with shareholders and certainly not with its workers.

Google's IPO in 2004 created two classes of shares - the founders and insiders received Class B shares with ten times the votes of common Class A shares to ensure no dilution of their control over company affairs.

In 2014 this control was further tightened with the creation of Class C shares -- with no voting rights. These are for employee ownership. Google clearly doesn't want its staff to have even the slightest influence on its decisions even as common shareholders.

It certainly won't be buying a new chair for the boardroom.

Earlier this month Sundar Pichai, CEO told a news conference that he's in charge and won't be constantly swayed by staff uprisings. "We don't run the company by referendum," Pichai said.

The scene is set for an inevitable power clash between Google's workers and their employer. They have the power to leave work and go on strike, or leave and work somewhere else.

There have been anecdotal reports of Google engineers leaving on moral grounds, but others are already preparing for a showdown. CNBC reports that a strike fund has been started.

Google employees are so angry about how Google handled plans for a censored Chinese search engine, some are talking about a strike

A strike within Google however, likely won't work without broad support within and outside the company. Fortune reports that Google now employs more contract workers than regular staff. Those could be easily ramped up and used as strike breakers.

Ghost in the boardroom

Google's leadership doesn't want to share power the boardroom but it can't ignore its workers' ghostly presence lurking in the background of every major decision. What will the workers think if we do this?

And they have influence outside the company. Who would trust Google with military work with such an activist workforce?

The company dropped its "Don't be Evil" motto earlier this year but its workers picked up the ethical and moral responsibilities that its leadership discarded. And now a clash of values seems inevitable.

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