This Thursday, employees at Google’s offices from Dublin to Singapore staged a walkout in protest against the company’s response to accusations of sexual coercion levelled at one of its top executives. Andy Rubin, a founder of Android, was handed a severance package of $90 million while Google remained silent about the allegations - despite the fact it had admitted the victim’s claim was credible.
Yet again, this year has illustrated the ways in which power and wealth allow perpetrators of sexual violence to avoid accountability. What minimal repercussions they do receive ultimately amount to nothing compared to the rewards bestowed upon them for their contributions to their respective industries, assaults notwithstanding - whether that be a huge monetary sum or a warmly received comeback.
In the Google walkouts, the #MeToo movement and its intolerance of sexual harassment has collided with industrial action - a necessary step forward for its progress, previously demonstrated by the McDonald’s workers’ strikes in September. Over 1,500 Google employees across the world, the majority of them women, left their desks.
The protest’s designated Twitter account highlighted a list of demands, including an “end to Forced Arbitration [a process in which cases are settled out of court and are not made public] in cases of harassment and discrimination” and a “clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously”. These are demands we should push for in all workplaces, for all women.
While the mainstream #MeToo movement as we know it may have gained traction because of the voices of elite Hollywood actresses - who still take up much of media focus and public consciousness - sexual harassment pervades all levels of society and intersects racial and economic status. Women in all fields of work suffer from ingrained misogyny and systemic harassment.
For #MeToo to be successful moving forward, we must pay close attention to the ways in which these factors play a role in workplace misconduct. Lower paid workers are more likely to face harassment, and they often have much more to lose by reporting incidents - many face the prospect of losing their jobs and being unable to support themselves, or are at risk of deportation.
To their credit, the Hollywood stars involved in the initial wildfire-like spread of the movement have done much work in ensuring the pivotal power of #MeToo does not stay within their otherwise closed and comfortable circle, through the Time’s Up Legal Defense fund which supports women of all backgrounds coming forward about sexual assault, and their mutual display of solidarity with low income Latina farmworkers.
The outrage against executive types like Weinstein should serve as an example of how misconduct should be treated rather than in any way the movement’s entire scope. Tying together feminist praxis and labour rights - given that half of women in the UK have been sexually harassed at work - is vital for the further success of the movement and can only be achieved through the kind of collective, global industrial action the Google walkouts have demonstrated.
Isolated, individual testimony and tweets purporting solidarity can only achieve so much. Further awareness of the staggeringly commonplace nature of sexual harassment is no longer necessary (this past year has been informative enough), and solidarity with women of other economic and social groups, while a vital step away from our every-woman-for-herself culture, is no longer cutting it either. The hashtag is not enough. All social movements in the twenty-first century must rise to the challenge of getting out of the timeline and into the streets, and as perhaps the most potent, #MeToo should take the lead.
The way forward - the way to ensure #MeToo does not squander its unprecedented potential - is through industrial action: strikes, walkouts, and unionisation. As corporations, particularly tech giants like Google, harbour more power and influence than ever, women in the workplace face a dual threat: from companies that see employees as mere tools in their quest for profit and growth above all else, and from the insidious, widespread threat of misogyny that comes in the form of workplace harassment.
At present we cannot trust the legal process, subject as the courts are to the same biases as the rest of society - as Kavanaugh’s appointment has made brutally clear - or policy, which is muddled, gapped, and painfully slow to progress. We simply can’t rely on the UK government’s gormless promise that it will stop all sexual harrassment by 2030. If we want to stop sexual abusers imbued with the power of capitalism, an ideology that keeps some above the law and others barely above the poverty line, we - men and women alike - must use the force of collective action to throw a spanner in their corporate machine. As signs at Google protests read, workers’ rights are women's rights.
When women who report sexual assault are fired while perpetrators are showered with million dollar payouts, we have a system which is utterly broken. What the Google walkouts will achieve is as yet unclear, but they have sent a clear, unified message that their global workers won’t stand for the company’s actions. Like them, we have to put our money where our mouths are and strike, protest, and engage in any form of action we can on behalf of those who can’t afford to.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is an abuse of power - it’s through industrial action that we can begin to bring power into our own hands.