Sunday, September 10, 2006


International Brotherhood of Software Developers….
International Brotherhood of Information Workers….
International Union For Geeks…..
International Brotherhood of Computer Workers ….
International Brotherhood of Data Professionals….

A union for folks who work in the IS/IT field, that’s the topic.

I wrote this on Labor Day; the following is from the US Department of Labor,

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

First celebrated in New York City in September of 1882, New York State was the first to make it a State Holiday in 1887, several other states followed, but it took until June of 1894 for it to become a national holiday in the US.

Like most holidays, it too was born of bloodshed. The early days of the labor movement were not only turbulent but complete with suffering and even bloodshed.

Today, we’re shedding jobs more than blood. The new global information infrastructures have turned the world into a marketplace for IS/IT talent, and those of us in this business, in the US, are especially feeling the pinch.

We all felt fairly secure as we watched textile jobs being ‘outsourced’, confident that our skills and abilities would keep us from suffering the same fate. We know now though, that when competing in a global economy, no one, not even highly skilled workers are safe from other, lower cost, competitive markets.

One of the suggestions has been to unionize, to band together and exert pressure on companies to hire ‘onshore’ talent. I have some thoughts about why that hasn’t, and isn’t likely to happen.

First, many, many, corporations are already involved in outsourcing projects. The ‘low cost’ incentive to try is just too high for them not to do so. We can argue all we want about less talented/skilled workers, language and time barriers, communication issues with respect to project specifications and more, it’s pointless though. The stone fact is that companies believe they can accomplish almost as much, for far lower costs, via outsourcing than they can via internal departments.

Second, the average IS/IT worker is far too independent to even want to join a ‘union’. We’ve enjoyed a more than fair wage, a robust job market and built a good career without any union help, thank you very much.

Last, the edge unions once had is gone. The union, as we know it, is a dying concept. Only those jobs which can not be outsourced, moved off shore, can still benefit. Even those jobs, where unions have made huge concessions in an attempt to help a company regain its competitive advantage, financial footing have seen those same companies demand more, and more in the way of concessions (think airlines here folks).

The best thing IS/IT workers could do for themselves today, is to band together and form a ‘service core’. A single organization owned and run by the workers that brokers onshore IS/IT talent to companies. Remove the need for a company to interview a dozen or so candidates for a contract, instead they simply send off the project spec and get it done. (It’s the off-shore model, brought on-shore)

We have a semblance of that today with contract houses, but there’s still the interview process, the recruiting process and getting the worker to the company. In this new model, everything is done off-site except those tasks requiring an on-site, hands on effort like hardware installation/repair.

Personally, I think, that to have a career with longevity, in the IS/IT field today, in the US, something like this needs to emerge. Or, we can simply wait 10, maybe 15 years for the cycle to reverse itself and companies begin to build internal IS/IT groups again.

Let’s face it folks, we live, and work, in a global economy. That trend is not going to reverse itself anytime soon. We need to address that head on, and make some changes to allow ourselves to be competitive, to take back the work that’s headed off shore.

There’s only one way to do that. Be better, faster, and more productive, than everyone else.

I believe strongly, that even if onshore talent was 15, maybe even 25 percent more costly than an off shore source, companies would prefer to work with that group, than with an offshore group.

How do we do that? It’s not going to be easy but it can be done. There would be a need for project managers, lead developers, coders and entry level folks. We’d need a huge, well organized and accessible ‘code base’, in several languages, as well as several development frameworks to build applications around to allow development of features not infrastructure.

Also, and possibly most importantly, we’d need the ability to bring the right mix of top, middle and entry level people together for any project. Blending skill (and therefore pay) levels together to provide a competitive pricing structure. Not simple, not easy, but possible.

So, we’d be building a union of sorts, yes, but not a “union” in the traditional sense. A uniting of skill, talent and people, but not to pressure or force corporations to meet our demands, but instead to provide the best possible mix of people in a way that their competitive advantage would be negatively effected if they chose to ignore it.

Will it happen? I doubt it. There’s no immediate advantage to the individual, it’s not like every IS/IT worker can walk off the job tomorrow and step into this new paradigm. There’s just too much ‘front end’ work to do, and not much in the way of a profit incentive for folks to do so. Let’s face that too, we’re all trying to feed our families, attempting to reinvent IS work in America isn’t going to pay many bills, up front.

I’d sure like to give it a try though… but I’d need a ton of help, folks from all walks of the IS/IT realm, to put a mechanism together, eventually find our first project(s) and bring them in, on time, and on budget. I strongly believe that once a few projects were successfully completed, things would begin to roll forward very, very quickly. We’d need to be prepared for that as well.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those original labor organizers; they eventually brought management, and workers, together for a common goal, mutual profitability.

That’s still the goal… mutual profitability... without it there’s no common ground. Workers were seen as expendable resources before the labor movement. Through it, management found a work force (initially) as committed to the company’s success as they were, and became willing to pay a little more for that focused and well trained work force.

Until the IS/IT workers are able to prove their competitive advantage, I don’t see any slowdown in the move to offshore as much of the IS/IT effort as is possible.

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Comfort Addict said...


Great post. As you know, I wrote one on a similar topic.

I agree 100% with your point about productivity. If a union (whether traditional or reconstituted as you posit) can prove that it's members are more productive than others, companies should listen. However, many companies suffer what I call Invented Here Syndrome (something that "we" do can't possibly be as fast, good and cheap as something that someone else does). I even had a high-level director of my company tell me this once as if it were an irrefutable fact.

I do not believe that a union should use legislation, tariffs or other barriers to trade to artificially skew markets. That said, though, I am not opposed to multilateral agreements to insure that workers get basic rights.

Once again, thanks for continuing this discussion, friend.

yaggi said...

nice stuff..

Jay said...

It's scary how even our livelihoods are being taken away from us, and people are too afraid of giving the company another reason to outsource to fight makes you think maybe we haven't come quite so far after all.

Nathan Tabor said...

One Republican in North Carolina understands the reasons why American firms in several industries outsource their jobs. That man is NC State Sen. Fred Smith who's running for reelection in November.

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