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Google’s Eric Schmidt accidentally discovers labor unions

Google’s Eric Schmidt accidentally discovers labor unions
[Photo: @Kmeron for LeWeb11 Conference @ Les Docks Paris/Flickr]

Yesterday, extremely rich technology executive Eric Schmidt tweeted that he wanted to figure out ways to increase the wages of lower-income and middle-class people. In his own words, he said he wanted to discover a “unicorn for the middle class.”

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At first glance, this may seem honorable. The Google veteran sees stagnating wages as a huge problem (which is true) and intends to help fix it. The tweet, however, conveniently omits a few things. For one, it’s large companies like Google that build insanely profitable businesses, which then create returns for shareholders and top executives while the livelihoods of employees below those thresholds remain generally unchanged. Schmidt also omitted the fact that organizations like labor unions already exist to lift conditions for workers and ensure adequate employee compensation.

Though he seems to have overlooked this, others on Twitter did not. And the replies to Schmidt’s tweet garnered the exact kind of response you would expect.

You probably get the gist.

Schmidt’s tweet speaks to a huge blind spot that nearly every technology billionaire seems to have. They see societal problems as things that need to be fixed by some newfangled overlay–and not symptomatic of an erosion of systems already in place. Tech companies have long fought to make sure their companies were not unionized. The industry has become known for its averseness to the employee-advocating organizations. Yet data overwhelmingly shows that as union membership has gone down over the last few decades, so too has overall compensation for lower-income and middle-class workers.

It’s extremely telling that Schmidt used the word “unicorn,” because it shows exactly how he thinks about this issue. He sees the decline of the middle class as a problem that can be “fixed” the same way a venture capitalist can deem a yet-to-be profitable startup to be worth a billion dollars. Viewing such a multifaceted issue through this lens is not likely to make income inequality any better–especially when a known solution is actively fought against by the top 1%.

But, who knows. Perhaps Schmidt will figure out some crazy new idea that will make it possible for most Americans to make ends meet. He’s worth over $14 billion, so he has the means to experiment and, you know, redistribute his own wealth. He is beginning to stumble on the fact that businesses are failing the middle the class.

But one answer seems to be looking at him straight in the eyes.


Disclosure: Fast Company editorial staff is in the process of unionizing and is represented by the Writers Guild of America-East.

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