Steps to Collective Action for Racial Justice

Collective action driven by workers balances the scales and brings strength to our demands.
The Editors
Photo by Christina on Unsplash

This is part 2 of a guide about collective action in tech for organizing against racism in tech.

Change isn’t made from the top down, especially when management holds all of the power. Companies have gathered, guarded, and centralized power that they wield to uphold a profitable status quo. Collective action driven by workers balances the scales and brings strength to our demands.

Build A Collective

Organizing your workplace takes courage and deep solidarity. One-to-one conversations about the current state of an issue and how your coworkers feel about it is the most powerful tool in your toolbox. Here are the steps we recommend for building your collective:

Inner Circle
Start with the people you know and feel comfortable chatting with about difficult topics. Can you think of 3-5 coworkers who want to see more accountability from management? These are generally your workplace friends or folks who’ve already openly expressed dissatisfaction with your company’s commitment to dismantling systemic racism. Here’s an example of how to reach out to your friends:

“Hiya, friend! Did you see (the open letter from Microsoft employees / the CEO of Snap is refusing to publish diversity reports / Amazon is only committing to a one-year moratorium of police use of Rekognition)?”

“Ya, I thought that was __ too. It made me think about our own company and how management has pretty much just made a vague statement about BLM.”

“Has anyone else mentioned how we could do more as a company? Maybe we should start working on a statement to management about how our company needs to do better.”

“Im in, are you in?”

Outer Circles
After you’ve identified 3-5 people who want to get involved and have volunteered to help, it’s time to identify how you can reach as many people as possible within your company without risking a leak to management. A good way to do this is to ask your circle of supporters to identify their own inner circle at the company. Who are their friends and who do they know has expressed dissatisfaction with how management is addressing systemic racism? Another good way to expand your organizing efforts while staying under management’s radar is to start an employee resource group or a book club centered on Black Lives Matter.

Securing Organizers
It’s important to center the security of your group early on by encouraging the use of encrypted communication tools like Signal. In addition to creating private and secure channels for organizing, documenting worker performance and good standing is a critical proactive step to strengthening individuals who may face retaliation from organizing efforts. One good way to remain open while keeping the group secure is to divide up access to documents and information so that only active members of each working group can see necessary docs for their work. This ensures a bad actor doesn’t have access to all of your sensitive information. Organizers across tech have been targeted, disciplined, and fired for challenging management.

Strategic Outreach Mapping
Identify which groups within your company are most likely to strengthen your collective action. Are there teams at your company that hold more influence than others? Are there teams that are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism? Try to find trustworthy inroads into these groups and start building consensus for collective action. It’s usually best to have a strong point person for each group who understands the social dynamics and has time to cultivate support.

Fortify Perspectives
Systemic racism is visible in your tech company. Organizing for justice in the workplace is exponentially stronger when fortified and led by Black voices. It is crucial to cultivate support that amplifies the demands of fellow Black coworkers without doubling down on the daily burden of systemic racism. If your group does not include the Black coworkers around you, it’s time to reflect.

Measure Support
Beyond keeping track of the number of people who support taking collective action, it’s important to keep track of the level of support each person expresses. It might be helpful to think of support on a scale of 1-5, 1 being an organizer and 5 an active opponent. If someone enthusiastically offers to help organize maybe put them down as a solid 1. If they express reservation and want to learn more, maybe they’re a persuadable 3. And if they strongly oppose and leak the effort to management, they are a definite 5. Whatever system you use, it’s important to securely keep track of how people are currently feeling and stay sensitive to how they want to be involved.

Build Bridges
Assuming good intentions and good faith is one of the strongest ways to build solidarity across varied perspectives. Although it’s important to remain open to the possibility that some co-workers might be working with management to undermine organized labor, try not to let the idea of bad faith divide worker power. When they divide us, management wins.

Reach Critical Mass
Building power among workers is a numbers game. The level of worker power it takes to hold management accountable and challenge systemic racism is different for each company and your organizer group is the best judge of what number makes your collective effective. Err on the side of caution and push for more support than you think you’ll need. There will be pressure from management that affects your collective and can pull support from your effort.

Identify Demands

Systemic racism has shaped our society and our workplaces. In what ways is your workplace reinforcing racism and exploiting the Black community? If management were committed to dismantling racist systems, wouldn’t there already be measurable goals and existing anti-racism measures in place? It’s time for workers to use our collective leverage and start demanding specific commitments that hold leadership accountable.

Internal Demand Letter
Here is a template demand letter with specific, time bound anti-racist actions that you can pull from as you put together your own tailored letter. Think about the working conditions of your workplace and how they currently reinforce systemic racism. Also take into account how your labor contributes to systemic racism outside your company. How does the product you’re building impact the Black community?

Reaching Consensus
Establish a consensus system, like Fist of Five, that can be used to work up to a super majority of support for sending the letter to management. This might take time but it’s important to get to a place where most folks support the content of the letter and are willing to fight for each demand.

Taking Action

Now that your coworkers are unified, proud, and ready to fight for an anti-racist workplace, it’s time to discuss what you’re willing to do to pressure management into meeting your demands. There are many ways to put pressure on leadership but here are a few tried and true methods:

8:46 Minute Labor Stoppage
Close your computer in honor of George Floyd and stop working for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to show you’re willing to withhold labor if your demands are not met.

Open Letter
Publish your demands and publicly cite how the company is failing the Black community. Use the company’s own values/mission statement in your list of demands. How do these demands fit in with the values that the company claims to adhere to?

Social Media Pressure Campaign
Mount a full media pressure campaign and use a common social media account to provide sharable content.

Full Day Sick Out / Strike
Choose a full day to collectively stop working and signal to management that you refuse to contribute to systemic racism.

Visible Action
Create a public action that brings attention to leaderships failure to act.

Indefinite Sick Out / Strike
If management continues to stall, collectively stop working for as long as it takes.

Protect Each Other

As a rule of thumb, you should always act in a group and never alone, even if it’s just one other coworker, since concerted activity is protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Holding management accountable is hard and can be risky. But we’re safer when we take action together. It’s important for your group to spend time naming boundaries and planning a response to retaliation. Will you form a committee to review claims of retaliation from fellow organizers? Will you create a sliding scale of collective action to put pressure on management if they are found to be retaliating against individuals? If you create a plan to protect your collective early, you’ll be one step ahead of management. Check out Vice magazine’s guide to secure labor organizing for more information.


Read the next part of the guide here.

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Invitation to Contribute: Worker Perspectives

Through experimentation and open-ended dialogue, we want to create a space for us to reflect the tech worker movement’s past and invent its future. Can you help us make that happen?