A possible agenda for a tech workers solidarity movement

The USA example of resistance against Trump in the form of Tech Solidarity quickly gained a following in the Netherlands with TechSolidarity.nl and here in Berlin with some Tech-Solidarity-Berlin. I’ve had a small role in both of those groups’ creation but I’m currently not an active participant.

Tech Solidarity’s success is of course unique to the local environment and Pinboard’s prior activism in tech. That said there are a lot of similarities that make similar movements over here possible and necessary. The Netherlands and Germany have elections this year and are faced with similar populist disruptions. The technology industries here are also very heavily dependent on expat workers who have specific issues and interests. Maybe the time is ripe for people in technology to organize themselves.

The idea of the Berlin organization is not to duplicate efforts. There are already lots of initiatives in Berlin that address most parts of this agenda. What tech solidarity should do here is 1. posit an encompassing vision of what we want to achieve and that it is possible to achieve that together 2. function as a switching board to match people who want to do things with things that need people.

I’m associated with the Berlin meetup but I haven’t attended any of the American events so we had to piece together what we thought would be an agenda for our local context. I suggested these five points that I personally think are relevant and critical right now.

  1. Maintain the freedom of movement and other liberal values that make Berlin and Europe an amazing place to live and work.
    Europe is an unique place in the world—increasingly so, though not as unique as we might like to think. The high standard of living and freedom enjoyed here attract people from all over the world.
    Those positive qualities and the new people they attract are not seen as positive by all Europeans alike. Populist movements want to close borders, go back in time and tear down the institutions of our liberal open societies. These measures will affect foreign workers and immigrants much more than they will local residents.
    What can we do to maintain and strengthen our local social democracies, the institutions that make up Europe and how can we scale out these values?
  2. Make it so that foreigners in Berlin can and do participate in local civil society.
    This is not just a problem for foreigners but they suffer from much higher hurdles when it comes to this. Foreigners are often here temporarily, usually do not speak German and do not get to vote. It is harmful to both residents and to society as a whole for people to be disenfranchised.
    What can be done right now to circumvent those limitations and what needs to be done in the future to create a more vibrant and inclusive civil society?
  3. Support diversity initiatives of all kinds in the workplace.
    In most tech companies in Berlin diversity is neither valued or practiced. Diversity has proven benefits to everybody involved. Also by not starting to practice this now the industry is putting themselves on the back foot when it comes to the future.
    What can we do to increase the awareness and practice of diversity?
  4. Use our skills and resources to help local immigrants and refugees.
    People working in technology have access to an immense amount of economic and social opportunities. People who are new to Berlin or who have already lived here for a while should have access to the same opportunities and be able to contribute their efforts and perspectives.
    How can we educate and include people without traditional paths into technology and make the sector as a whole more open and inclusive?
  5. Formulate actionable positions on professional ethics (data retention, car exhausts etc.).
    We need to formulate ethical standards for people working in technology and back them up when they need to abide by them. The potential to do things that are unethical and harmful is increasing just as quickly as technology’s influence but not everything that is possible should be economically determined. Laws are not a sufficient protection since they can be weakened or removed due to changing political circumstances.
    What are ethical red lines that we can agree upon and what is practical support we can offer people?

Highlights from The Name of the Rose

”there are also visions of books as yet unwritten.”

He seemed unable to think save with his hands, an attribute I considered then worthier of a mechanic.

Such is the power of the truth that, like good, it is its own propagator.

It does not seem to me that they were preaching things contrary to the Gospel, but when the session of earthly things is in question, it is difficult for men to reason justly.

When female nature, naturally so perverse, becomes sublime through holiness, then it can be the noblest vehicle of grace.

In the Italian city, on the contrary, you must have noticed that goods serve to procure money. And even priests, bishops, even religious orders have to take money into account. This is why, naturally, rebellion against power takes the form of a call to poverty. The rebels against power are those denied any connection with money, and so every call to poverty provokes great tension and argument, and the whole city, from bishop to magistrate, considers a personal enemy the one who preaches poverty too much.

The simple are meat for slaughter, to be used when they are useful in causing trouble for the opposing power, and to be sacrificed when they are no longer of use.

He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies.

“But why do some people support them?” “Because it serves their purposes, which concern the faith rarely, and more often the conquest of power.”

I was upset. I had always believed logic was a universal weapon, and now I realized how its validity depended on the way it was employed.

Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.

I was told that in that period, for fifteen days and fifteen nights, the rhetoricians Gabundus and Terentius argued on the vocative of ‘ego,’ and in the end they attacked each other, with weapons.

Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means, a precept that the commentators of the holy books had very clearly in mind.

Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.

Perhaps the mission of those who love mankind is to make people laugh at the truth, to make truth laugh, because the only truth lies in learning to free ourselves from insane passion for the truth.

Europe Was Left #7 – Geert Wilders and PVV’s Decisive Moment

It’s Monday, February 20th and coming to you from Berlin I’m Alper for episode 7 of ‘Europe Was Left’.
The coming Dutch elections are dominated by the specter of Geert Wilders’s far right PVV (the Dutch Freedom Party). The PVV has been on the stage for about a decade now but this is the first election where they are leading in the polls.

Things should be looking up for them, but not everything is going as smoothly as it should.

Some repositioning from their direct competitor the ruling right-wing VVD and other parties has deflated Wilders’s poll lead from its all-time high of 35 to some 25 seats for our parliament of 150. Still huge but no longer unassailable by our current prime minister Mark Rutte.

Not having the electoral stamina to cash in on this early lead was to be expected but there are some other signs that Wilders is stumbling.
He bowed out of the first major television debate with the flimsiest of excuses. Additional parties had been invited to the debate than had been initially agreed upon because the field had narrowed. That change proved too much for Wilders and he refused to participate.

Then he bowed out of another debate by the same television channel because they had interviewed Wilders’s brother about his politics and their family ties. Wilders said this was a disgrace and again refused participation.

His brother does not much approve of Wilders’s extremist politics and has said so occasionally on Twitter over the past years. In the interview he said he’d like their family ties to be reinstated and told that he himself has been the target of threats from Wilders supporters. This is ironic since it is Wilders himself who is always paraded as the imperiled politician.

Two debates down, we are in a situation where he will be only in two major debates before we get to vote. One debate the day before the elections and the other two days before the elections. You would almost think that Wilders’s positions don’t hold up to scrutiny by his political opponents.
Wilders also had his official campaign start last Saturday in Spijkenisse, a town that is the epitome of the beleaguered white working class. For being the candidate who leads in the polls he didn’t manage to draw a huge audience of rapt supporters. Somewhere between 80 and 200 people showed up, about as many as the number of people from news organizations present to cover the event.

Dutch state broadcaster NOS tried to play up his support and opened the eight o’clock news saying that ‘unbelievable crowds of people’ were present. They were supposed to say ‘unbelievably small’ but found themselves too beholden to Wilders to be able to say the truth.

Flanked by his protection detail Wilders attempted to hand out fliers barely able to reach beyond the thicket of domestic and international press.
Wilders is under protection because he offended a bunch of dudes with small dicks ages ago but that doesn’t matter that much anymore. The protection itself has become inseparable from the entity that is Wilders. It is the source of his moral high-horse and his electoral appeal. He has admitted in private that his visible security detail nets him several parliament seats at least.

But threats to ethnically cleanse the Netherlands, such as Wilders has expressed, are not speech that deserves protection. During his last interview Wilders pedaled back from this position but even then: threatening to ethnically cleanse the Netherlands publicly and then backing off when pressed, is also not a speech act that deserves protection.
Yesterday world famous comedian Arjen Lubach aired a long segment exposing the emptiness of Wilders’s where none of his extremist statements are grounded in any kind of reality or backed by even an inkling of a plan.

Lubach’s segment was necessary. Dutch journalists, too afraid to estrange the angry old white man still buying their newspapers, have been lax and mostly absent when it comes to rebuking Wilders. A clear history and overview of the absurdity of Wilders’s position is useful both as a reference and to obliterate any votes he might get from people still susceptible to reason.

What Lubach doesn’t get though is that—well of course Wilders voters don’t watch his show—but more than that it is exactly the impossibility and unreasonableness of Wilders’s positions that makes him so attractive to a certain kind of voters. This is the quality that most makes him a fascist. Wilders’s positions do not need to be practical, or reasonable or anything else, the only thing they need to be is extreme, broad and damaging to elites, foreigners and other undesirables.

Fascists do not care that lots of treaties will have to be rescinded or the constitution will have to be cut up. The one in the White House doesn’t and Wilders won’t either.
I think Wilders is recusing himself from debates and interviews and any other kinds of public exposure that he can’t control because he is getting nervous. The coming elections are his last and best opportunity to seize power and become prime minister of the Netherlands. But even this best opportunity is still pretty uncertain.

If he doesn’t succeed this time and we manage to keep him out, he’ll have to while away another four years in opposition while people better than him govern the country. He can stand on the sidelines and shout things that are even more extreme—or try it, I’m not sure more extreme is physically possible anymore at this point—and spend the rest of his time collaborating with foreign powers and media.

What will be left of him after another four years? Not much I reckon. A decisive electoral defeat come March 15th will stop Wilders and after that we’ll be rid of him.
That’s all for this episode. Like Europe Was Left where you find it, keep the comments coming and talk to you soon.