Meet the Book: You Deserve a Tech Union by Ethan Marcotte
Jul 10, 2023
We can’t wait for you to read You Deserve a Tech Union, a new book by Ethan Marcotte, launching August 15.
In the meantime, we’re giving you a peek into the book with our Meet the Book Q&A series. Read on to discover how Ethan describes this book’s most important idea, what part of the book was most challenging to write, and why you need to read this book now.
A Book Apart: What was the initial spark that motivated you to write this book?
Ethan Marcotte: Oh, jeez. This is an issue I’ve cared about for years, and one I’ve been actively learning about since 2016. I’m not sure there was one spark.
Actually, no—I’ve got a spark for you. It was 2018, and I was watching coverage of the Google Walkout in the news and on Twitter. Some twenty thousand workers had pushed away from their desks in protest, demanding that Google’s leadership implement real changes to address the sexual harassment, the discrimination, and the systemic racism at the company. And to get their bosses to listen, these workers conducted a worldwide work stoppage to get them to properly—and finally—listen. It was the first time I’d seen worker power exercised at that scale in our industry, and I can still remember thinking about how new and important and urgent it felt.
Tech workers haven’t stopped there, though. In the intervening years, they’ve continued to build power by forming unions. And for me, tech workers awakening to their status as workers has been one of the most inspiring things I’ve witnessed over the last several years. Heck, it might be the single most inspiring thing I’ve ever seen in the tech industry. That’s why I wanted to write You Deserve a Tech Union.
ABA: How long did it take you to write this book?
EM: I started interviewing people for the book—or, well, what eventually turned into this book—back in the summer of 2021. But in terms of actual writing, it took a little less than five months: I wrote my first, honest-to-goodness page at the start of September 2022; I handed over the completed draft to the fine folks at ABA at the end of January 2023.
ABA: When/where did you feel most in a state of flow while writing this book? Least?
EM: Oof, what a great question. But honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced “a state of flow” while writing! When I was knee-deep in the first draft of this book, I blogged about how I moved through feeling stuck while I’m writing. (Or how I tried to move through it, anyway.) Thankfully, that post prompted my friend Mandy to share this line from Verlyn Klinkenborg:
Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.
I desperately needed to read that while I was writing. And I do hope that anyone who reads You Deserve a Tech Union feels that sense of flow—it was a hard book to write, but I’m real, real proud of where it landed.
ABA: How did you come up with the title for this book?
EM: This is an easy one! There’s a line you’ll hear often in labor circles: “every worker deserves a union.” It’s a simple statement, but I think that’s what makes it so powerful. Every worker—every worker—should have access to the power and protections of a labor union.
ABA: In one sentence, what is your book’s driving, or most important, idea?
EM: As a tech worker, you have a tremendous amount of power—and by standing together with your coworkers to form a union, you can do remarkable things to protect each other, and improve where you work.
ABA: Who did you write this book for?
EM: If there are things about your job you want to change, I wrote this for you.
If there are things about your job you love—things that you want to keep from changing—I wrote this for you.
If you don’t know much about unions but you’re curious to learn more, I wrote this for you.
If you want to unionize your workplace but you’re not sure how to start, I wrote this for you.
If you’ve ever wished the tech industry was better than it was, I wrote this for you.
ABA: What part of the book was most challenging to write?
EM: Oh my goodness, the first chapter. Easily the first chapter.
I mean, look: beginnings are always difficult, sure. But the first chapter is a look at what it means to work in the tech industry. And two weeks after I started writing, Twitter was purchased by a capricious billionaire, who promptly started firing most of its workers; shortly after that, thousands and thousands of people began losing their jobs, in wave after wave of layoffs across the tech industry.
Losing a job unexpectedly is a tragedy, full stop. I don’t want to suggest that any difficulties I had starting this book could in any way compare to what folks have been through. With that said, I mention the context to note that watching these layoffs unfold did reshape my book pretty dramatically. Over the last year, many tech workers have experienced firsthand just how much precarity is involved in our relationship to tech work—and that’s something unions are uniquely positioned to address.
ABA: Why will readers want to learn about this topic from you?
EM: I’m not sure they want to learn from me, not exactly. I mean, I’ve been reading, writing, and speaking about labor issues in the tech industry for several years now, because it’s a topic I care deeply about. But I’m a web designer who’s worked for himself for most of his career—and that means I don’t have much practical, hands-on experience with organizing a workplace, much less forming a union.
That’s why this book features people who do have that experience.
Over a year and a half, I interviewed dozens and dozens people across the tech industry’s labor movement. I heard from tech workers who were in the middle of organizing their first union; I spoke with workers who’d won their first contract, and learned how they’d improved their jobs. I met with full-time union organizers, who shared hard-won lessons and strategies with me. Honestly, I’m still floored by the people who donated their time, lessons, and thoughts, both on- and off-the record. Every one of them shaped this book just as much as I did. What’s more, I firmly believe readers will want to learn about this topic from them.
ABA: How do you hope the web will change once people read and apply lessons in your book?
EM: I hope it helps readers understand not just how unions work, but why they’re so critically important. If this little book makes people feel they can form a union, I’ll be incredibly happy. (Because they can! They really, truly can.)
ABA: How did you choose the cover color for this book?
EM: I always knew I wanted a red cover, for two reasons. The first was because of the Bread and Roses strike, which is such a central story in the book.
But the other reason was because it’s a callback to the very first labor poster I ever saw, in the hallway of a house belonging to an old friend and writing mentor—the one who taught me what organized labor was, as it happens. I didn’t completely know what the poster was at the time, much less what it represented. But the image has stayed with me over the years as I’ve learned more about organized labor. I’m so grateful Jason picked out such a perfect color—it’s the one I had in my head as I wrote.