(Our Knowledge, Our Power)
Virginia Eubanks
A High-Tech Equity Agenda for the Capital Region
1. Unionize the lower tier of the high-tech economy.
Union members in the United States make 30% more than their non-union counterparts, and have greater access to health care benefits, short-term disability coverage, and life insurance (Jobs with Justice 2009). The current economic crisis makes it all too obvious that many workers have lost their power to bargain for fair wages, workplace safety, robust pensions and job security. Though consumer service, caretaking and other “lower-tier” jobs in the information economy have often been characterized as difficult to unionize, amazing campaigns by and on behalf of these workers have arisen in recent years. For example, see the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Domestic Workers United.

2. Protect our rights to the city.
The information economy is not placeless. It is taking place in cities, towns and communities like yours and mine across the country and across the world. Place matters; we should not think of our geography as primarily mutable. Though cosmopolitanism has its benefits, it is not equally available to all people, and it cannot fully replace a sense of home. There are many fine policies and institutions that exist to stop gentrification, create and maintain livable communities, secure the benefits of economic change for the communities where development is undertaken, and protect the cultural rights of existing residents in areas undergoing rapid change. These include rent control, community benefits agreements (CBAs), public housing, and Right to the City movements.

3. Take high-tech industries off welfare.
Billions of dollars of federal, state and local money are spent yearly to attract high-tech industry to struggling areas like the Capital Region. But it is unclear what impact these subsidies have on companies' decisions to relocate, and there is even less evidence that these subsidies have a net positive effect on local and regional economies. In the Capital Region, for example, more than 10.5 billion dollars of public and private money has been promised since 2000 to subsidize a few key high-tech players, including IBM, General Electric, and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Since 2000, “mega incentive” investments in Tech Valley have netted the area 9,400 jobs, at a cost to taxpayers of roughly $135,000 per job. High-tech research and development subsidies sometimes make sense, but before handing over billions in taxpayer money, we should ask a few basic questions: Can the company afford to pay for its own research, development and expansion? Has the company looked for sources of private funding before attempting to access taxpayer money? Does the price we pay per job make sense? What other benefits are these investments likely to bring to the area? What other burdens are these investments place on our communities? Incentives and tax breaks to high-tech in the "Tech Valley" region of upstate New York, averaging 1.4 billion a year since 2000, would more than pay the entire state's contribution to public assistance and social services, including food stamps, cash assistance, childcare subsidies, welfare-to-work programming, summer youth employment programs and domestic violence prevention services.

4. Raise the floor.
The recent increase in the federal minimum wage will do much to help people struglling to meet their basic needs in the Capital Region. But, as Annette Bernhardt and Christine Owens argued in their 2009 Nation article, “Rebuilding a Good Jobs Economy,” we are presented with a unique opportunity in the current recession. Americans are working harder, and for longer hours, but wage inequality keeps many families on the edge of economic disaster. Recovery from the current recession should not focus solely on creating jobs, but on building a sustainable and just “Good Jobs Economy.” To do this, they suggest four strategic policy initiatives: fully enforce minimum-wage and overtime laws; harness government spending to create living wage jobs; raise the minimum wage even further to stimulate growth; and enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which guarantees workers protection from intimidation and harassment should they choose to unionize.

Raising the minimum wage and building a good jobs economy should do much to raise the floor for America's poorest workers. But for those unable to participate in the labor market full-time due to caretaking responsibilities, we must expand and depenalize public assistance. The crucial work of caretaking-raising children, caring for elders, tending the sick and infirm-should not be the fast track to poverty, stigma and political disenfranchisement. Welfare should be expanded to truly meet the needs of low-income parents, to help them acquire education, find good jobs, and save for their family's future.

5. Revive a vibrant democratic culture and expand cognitive justice.
One of the key goals of popular technology is to foster more critical, more inclusive thinking about the relationship between science, technology, social justice and citizenship. Science and technology issues and debates provide excellent opportunities to enrich democratic culture and expand cognitive justice. There are many intriguing models for institutions that help create more critical technological citizens. Two of my favorites are consensus conferences and science shops.

In the United States, the Loka Institute (http://www.loka.org) stands out as an exemplary organization attempting to kindle popular participation in decision-making about science and technology. Formed in 1996 I Amherst, MA, Loka has held conferences and produced publications about community-based research; has organized citizens' panels on telecommunications policy, genetic testing, and nanotechnology; connects science shops in central and eastern Europe; and tracks consensus conferences on science and technology policy worldwide. The DataCenter (http://www.datacenter.org) in Oakland, CA also stands out as an exceptional model of democratized research and decision-making. The organization provides research support and technical assistance for social movements undertaking their own research agendas. They are vocal and tireless advocates for creating a culture of “research justice,” where all communities are “able to reclaim, own and wield ALL forms of knowledge and information as political leverage in their hands to advance their own change agenda” (DataCenter 2007: 1).

6. Spread it around.
Public institutions like Community Technology Centers (CTCs) can provide access to IT, deliver support and training, and help clients create community content. Many CTCs are in locations already dedicated to community building and providing social services, connecting the goals of technology access and community building, and explicitly linking technological goals to social movements. Community technology centers can be freestanding, or can add value to a larger network of public services in libraries, community centers, and public housing.We should recommit to federal programs for building technological access that have languished over the last decade-the Technological Opportunities Program (TOP), the Community Technology Center Program (CTC), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Networks Program, for example-that can help technology access points build infrastructure, create community-centered programming, and provide continuity. If you are interested in high-tech equity and not sure what you can do, volunteering in a CTC is a great way to start.

I have been honored to work with some great CTCs in my time, among them Plugged In in East Palo Alto (http://www.pluggedin.org). Another organization that I much admired was the Low Income Networking and Communications Project (LINC). Rather than making low-income people and organizations come to a central site for technology access and training, LINC, a project of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, sent mobile technology “circuit riders” to help grassroots organizations build technological capacity.

7. Clean up after yourselves.
Despite its clean image, the high-tech economy, particularly high-tech manufacturing, has proved extremely toxic to the natural environment and dangerous to human health. The Silicon Valley has twenty-nine Superfund sites, the densest concentration in the United States. David Naguib Pellow and Lisa Sun-Hee Park, in their splendid 2002 book, The Silicon Valley of Dreams, argue that between 1950 and 2001, the Santa Clara Valley committed “ecocide.” As the hazardous nature of high-tech manufacturing became increasingly clear, local citizens began organizing to protect themselves, and high-tech companies started moving their manufacturing operations overseas or into disadvantaged communities. According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Superfund sites in Silicon valley are disproportionately located in communities of color, immigrant communities, and poor communities, which continue to suffer the costs of “high-tech legacy pollution” after manufacturing moves to areas with weaker environmental and labor protections. Environmental racism and injustice forces workers to trade their family's long-term health for their immediate survival.

One solution for these monumental problems is to increase manufacturer responsibility for the downstream impacts of their products. Environmental stewardship and green business programs ask manufacturers to eliminate hazardous materials or design for disassembly and put pressure on government to create policies that hold manufacturers responsible for end-of-life management of products. Some computer producers, including Apple, are instituting “Computer Take Back” campaigns that put the responsibility for disposing of end-of-life computer products (which are classified as hazardous waste) on producers rather than consumers. There have also been some successes in setting higher standards for the safe disposal of high-tech waste. Fifteen countries in the European Union have signed onto the “Basel Ban” on the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. Being ultimately responsible for disposing of their own waste will undoubtedly provide much-needed incentives for high-tech manufacturers to design less toxic, more repairable, more recyclable electronic devices.

8. Respect and reward the work of care.
The information economy drives increases in employment in the human and consumer services industries, amplifies the vulnerability of many American families, and exposes us all to more of the shocks and strains of the sink-or-swim economy. Women have traditionally borne disproportionate responsibility for the invisible heart: family and community caretaking labor that is traditionally un- or underpaid. As the welfare state is increasingly dismantled and weakened under neoliberalism, the health of the free market system relies more and more on non-market caring labor performed by families and communities (Folbre 2001). As women's power grows, many are unwilling to accept the unfair bargain of shouldering a double workday. Those families that can afford to escape the increased burden of care do so by displacing these responsibilities down the global carework chain, relying on the country's most vulnerable people-women of color, immigrant women, and poor women-to pick up the slack.

In 1999, the United Nations Development Programme argued that a democratic response to the costs of unfairly sharing care requires a renegotiation of individual rights and social obligations by striking a new balance between family, state and market to cover the costs and share the responsibilities of care (UNDP 1999). There are a number of ways the UNDP suggests that we begin to strike this new balance. First, we must acknowledge that care is a human priority. Second, we must challenge gendered social norms that unfairly burden women. Third, we must create incentives and rewards for care-both paid and unpaid-to increase its supply and quality. Fourth, we should also increase the supply of state-supported care, aggressively supporting successful programs like Head Start and building towards providing a national system of free or low-cost childcare. Finally, a “parenting stipend” or tax credits for care work would go a long way towards decreasing the risk that people take when they choose to care for others.