The proletarianization of tech workers

If there is hope, it is in the proles.

Cory Doctorow
5 min readSep 10


Margaret Bourke-White’s iconic WPA photo ‘World’s Highest Standard of Living,’ picturing a line of poor Black people standing in a breadline before a billboard proclaiming ‘The World’s Highest Standard of Living: there’s no way like the American Way’ around an image of a white, propserous family enjoying a drive in a large luxury car. The image has been altered so that the lined up workers and the family in the car blink in and out of existence, replaced by the ‘code rain’ effect from the Wachow

On September 12 at 7pm, I’ll be at Toronto’s Another Story Bookshop with my new book The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation. On September 14, I’m hosting the EFF Awards in San Francisco.

The last time I saw the late, great Eric Flint was at the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, California, where we both participated (along with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Olav Rokne and Eileen Gunn) in an excellent panel about the working class in sf.

Eric was an extraordinary writer and an even more extraordinary character. A Marxist meat-packers’ union organizer whose whole labor career was spent in the brutal trenches of Chicago Machine politics, Eric was also a towering figure in the subgenre of historical military science fiction, a field that is otherwise dominated by right-wingers, including numerous out-and-out kooks who endlessly fantasize about Bronze Age battles being re-fought with jets and mustard gas (for the record: Eric isn’t the only progressive voice in this field; others, like Harry Turtledove, bring a humanizing, leftist view to their work).

Eric’s long-running 1632 series is a multi-volume thought experiment that asks what would have become of the 30 Years’ War if a town of unionized coal miners were transported back in time, along with their town library, power plant, and the contents of the town’s homes and businesses. It’s a cracking read.

Eric was many sorts of Good Egg. He worked with Jim Baen — the field’s foremost publisher of military sf — to establish the Baen Free Library, pioneering open-access ebooks at the turn of the millennium. He also edited Jim Baen’s Universe, a seminal online sf magazine (Eric published my story “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” in Universe).

As is customary for Worldcon panels, the discussion ranged far and wide, and Eric got in a lot of good licks. One thing he said that has stayed with me for the past half-decade; I don’t suppose I remember it word for word, but here’s a paraphrase:

I think that sf ignored trade unions because it was written by and for engineers at a time when their skills were in high demand. Those kinds of workers can get a good deal without unions — for…



Cory Doctorow

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