Is the anti-tech worker sentiment nearing a boiling point? And are tech workers and companies responsible for the world’s ills? Protesters have now reportedly targeted an individual Google employee, not just the buses carrying workers like him. And whereas previous protests by other groups have addressed complaints such as gentrification in San Francisco, a flier accompanying the protest at the Google engineer’s Berkeley house is basically a diatribe against capitalism.
The protest in front of the Berkeley home of Anthony Levandowski came a couple of days ago, [New] the same day as another protest by a different group in San Francisco [End new] and as officials voted to impose fees ($1 for each stop by the shuttle buses) on the tech companies that shuttle their workers from the city to Silicon Valley campuses. As we wrote, that move did not exactly inspire the concerned parties to join hands and sing kumbaya. It was just a first step in what’s likely to be a continuing give-and-take among tech, city residents and politicians. Nobody’s under the illusion that shuttle fees will solve rising home prices or prevent evictions.
Yes, the new shuttle fees were a result of the public outcry and protests. But what about targeting individuals such as Levandowski — is this group of protesters going too far? Natasha Lennard writes for Salon that they’re following tactics that have been known to work: “Intimidation tactics targeting the employees of major corporations are nothing new and have a history of success: Indeed, animal rights activists achieved some major victories in securing the closure of animal testing facilities in the ’90s and early 2000s through the intimidation of key investors.”
A New Yorker profile last year of Levandowski, a key member of the Google team working on self-driving cars, mentioned that “he wants to fix the world and make a fortune doing it.” That’s something the protesters’ flier addresses: “Everything he is building will only help this disastrous economic system continue a bit longer.” The group also says Levandowski’s business dealings contributed and still contribute to the housing bubble. (Is it time for a new land-tax system thought of long ago?)
The “Counterforce” protesters’ other complaints against the tech industry mention the plight of workers in overseas factories that make tech gadgets; the technology that has enabled more surveillance than ever before; and Google’s ties to military contractors.
All this controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time for tech, which is also dealing with the effects of the revelations about NSA spying and the industry’s (willing or unwilling) role in it.
Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, says the recent protests on top of that could boost the backlash level. As Dan Nakaso wrote last month, at least one Google bus had its tires slashed and window smashed. Now, the Counterforce flier urges people to “Have courage. Find others who feel the same way and block a tech bus. Steal from the techies you babysit for. Take down surveillance cameras. Go hard: The time is now.”
That means this has gone past the stage where people roll their eyes at the quaint protesters. Google has reportedly hired security guards for its shuttles, and Brandon Bailey wrote that the company has also launched a private ferry service.
Could things get worse? Let’s go back to Lennard’s mention of the animal-rights activists’ protests against biotech companies: One of those activists, Daniel Andreas San Diego, is believed to have been responsible for the 2003 bombings of Chiron in Emeryville and Shaklee in Pleasanton. No one was injured, but San Diego remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.
Photo: Members of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and other activists protest outside City Hall in San Francisco on Tuesday. The same day in Berkeley, a different group protested at a Google employee’s house. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)