Activists see Kickstarter union as breakthrough

The decision by employees at crowdfunding company Kickstarter to unionize is a historic first in the tech industry, highlighting the growing trend of worker activism in Silicon Valley.

Kickstarter staff on Tuesday became the first white-collar tech workers to unionize, the culmination of more than a year of organizing.

Workers in the tech industry have long sought to organize, but experts who spoke to The Hill cited Kickstarter, a prominent company in the industry, as a sign of a new shift as union efforts have ramped up in recent years and increasingly attracted white-collar workers.

Tech workers have stepped up their efforts to press companies to take strong stances on political issues like climate change while also demanding changes in labor practices such as hiring a more diverse workforce.

The start of the union organizing campaign at Kickstarter, which helps projects raise money, was tied to an internal debate in 2018 about a comic book called “Always Punch Nazis” on the company’s website that received negative coverage from right-wing outlet Breitbart News.

Employees said it did not violate Kickstarters policies, while management disagreed. The comic was ultimately allowed to stay up, but the disagreement itself reportedly led to the creation of Kickstarter United a year later.

That kind of collective action, primarily driven by disagreements over morals and ethics, is the theme of much of the upswell of tech organizing in recent years, according to experts.

“I think that it represents a really interesting shift … from a shareholder conception of capitalism to a stakeholder conception of capitalism,” said Nataliya Nedzhvetskaya, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley and the co-creator of a database that tracks worker activity in the tech industry.

“Traditionally union organizing has been sort of a strategy employed by blue-collar workers. And it revolves around these sort of traditional issues, like higher wages, fighting for benefits, fighting for more flexible work hours. … This action seems to be motivated primarily by more moral issues.”