Elon Musk’s Twitter has thus far been historic. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Users are being banned with no warning. And a platform used by over 400 million people has already seen a rise in hate and misinformation. Legacies being made.
It’s hard to do much about Musk’s whims right now—and that should be the key takeaway for all tech workers. If Twitter employees were unionized, things would have looked much different.
Last week, Musk fired half of Twitter staff, with little notice and in violation of federal and California state law.
Some workers filed a lawsuit against Twitter, but Thomas Kochan, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says that’s not enough. Musk, the world’s richest man, can always find a legal team to give him just enough cover to avoid actual consequence.
Instead, Kochan says, workers—those laid off and those who remain at the company—need to act in concert.
“They’re all asking themselves, ‘Am I next? Or am I at risk’? So they have a common cause,” Kochan said. “It would be good for the workforce and a good signal to arrogant CEOs that you just can’t do that.”
Unionizing isn’t the only way workers can act on this cause, of course. Petition-filing, going public with concerns, staging walk-outs and protests—these are all protected acts. And they can serve to lobby the public in workers’ favor, which consequently pressures investors and advertisers, notes Kochan. A strategy like that is certainly relevant to Twitter, a company reeling from advertiser retreat.
Still, a union would have done the basics and prevented such mass layoffs to begin with.
This should be a lesson as tech companies are entering a sudden slowdown. Lyft, Netflix, Spotify, Peloton, and Coinbase have all laid off thousands of employees this year. Apple and Amazon have enacted hiring freezes. Meta is preparing for large-scale layoffs. And this is just a sampling of the chaos across the industry.
The formula of Musk’s acquisition is a familiar one. Billionaire owner acquires a new company, then haphazardly fires people in the name of cutting costs. Challenging this predictable, ruinous cycle requires worker solidarity.
It requires nothing less than a union.