By SAM P.
In the week since our last coverage of the Activision Blizzard (ABK) organizing (https://socialistresurgence.org/2021/12/01/sexual-harassment-sparks-class-struggle-at-activision-blizzard/), events have been developing at a feverish pitch. First came the news that Jessica Gonzalez, a lead organizer with the ABK Workers United, has been pushed out of the company and will be leaving the industry for the foreseeable future. Even though it was a nominally free choice, she has made no secret that it was the result of a campaign to make her position at the company unworkable, and showed firmly that the bosses will do everything in their power to drive away the bravest and most self-sacrificing workers who are demanding change at the company.
There was barely time after receiving that blow to really feel it, though. Within days of Gonzalez’s exit, the bosses announced a series of layoffs at the young studio Raven Software.
Layoffs of this kind are common practice in the games industry. While they are formally justified to the public as a cost-cutting measure taken out of grave necessity, that is almost always a lie. Game development is an extremely profitable industry and Activision Blizzard in particular is one of the Titans of that industry. In actual fact, the goal of all layoffs of this kind is to pad out the company’s quarterly profits for shareholder calls and the board. In effect, they thoughtlessly rob their workers of planned payment for creating the actual profits they boast about to shareholders, and then use that stolen money to justify their own yearly bonuses, which can reach truly grotesque proportions.
The CEO of Activision Blizzard—a man who by his behavior shows he should not even be allowed to manage a sunglass kiosk at the mall, let alone a company employing thousands—is looking at an expected compensation of $154.6 million. That is not a number reflecting all executives at the company, it is just what the CEO personally can expect.
The price this puts on workers goes far beyond purely financial hardships. It destroys morale and frays the nerves of every rank-and-file worker. Whether or not they do their work well or poorly, whether or not the company itself makes a profit, they work and operate with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
Activision Blizzard conducted mass layoffs of the same kind in 2019, a year that they reported record-breaking profits. There is rarely any kind of official warning given out; instead, the knowledge filters out through innumerable rumors, while the company itself reassuringly tells them they have nothing to fear regardless of whether or not they actually go through with it. The bosses will continue making reassuring gestures up until the moment where the cuts are made.
At Raven Software each individual member of the team was brought into the office to be told whether or not they would keep their jobs. This process extended across multiple days and turned an already heartless practice into a cruel performance where every worker was made to feel that their wellbeing was up to the whims of their bosses. Among those who were laid off were people promised pay raises in the near future, people who had relocated across the country at their own expense to work there, and even one worker promised ADA accessibility improvements after their first year at the company.
Workers spared from direct unemployment are then expected to take up the work of their now departed coworkers, contributing to what is euphemistically called “crunch” in the industry, a practice where workers are expected to work extreme overtime hours in order to fulfill arbitrary production deadlines.
It is clear from the combination of efforts at pushing out the organized leaders of the workers, and such provocative measures against the unorganized workers, that the bosses are throwing down the gauntlet. The workers have taken up that challenge and then some. Jessica Gonzalez’s exit in no way decapitated the organization at the company, it only gave her the halo of a martyr for the cause and freed her to more openly publicize and agitate for her former coworkers. A Better ABK/ABK Workers United has escalated their campaign further from just advocating for their demands to actively handing out Communication Workers of America union cards as the first step to official union recognition.
The walkouts have extended well past the company’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters. Workers at the most important developers owned by Activision Blizzard, including Treyarch, one of the studios responsible for the Call of Duty Series, have joined in protest. At least 200 workers walked out nationwide, according to the Washington Post.
The walkouts are a way for the workers to express their unwillingness to take the company’s abusive practices lying down and are seemingly developing into a wildcat strike against the bosses. In order to support this cause and to make up for any financial hardship to workers this will entail, the workers have launched a strike fund with an initial goal of a million dollars. Within 24 hours of the launch of that strike fund, the workers raised more than $200,000.
It cannot be emphasized enough that this is a crucially important moment for the labor movement. The workers at ABK are providing a stunning example to unorganized workers on how to organize themselves. They are taking a combative stand against attacks by the bosses in an environment in which, too often, the impulse of labor is to avoid a stand-up fight no matter the cost. As we said in our previous article, this is the kind of fight where even if it is defeated, it educates the movement and shows us what we need to do. That does not mean that anyone can sit idly by congratulating these workers on their daring, though. The workers at ABK have stepped up to fight, and now they need our defense and support more than ever!
Donate to the strike fund, and ask your coworkers, friends, and family to donate to the strike fund! Raise the issue of supporting their strike fund in your unions! Bring as much awareness as possible to the union’s struggle and surround every effort at union busting made by the company with a wall of contempt for the bosses and sympathy for the workers! Socialist Resurgence wholeheartedly supports the struggle for better conditions and a union at ABK and at all gaming and tech companies!
Donate to the strike fund at https://www.gofundme.com/f/abk-strike-fund
Photo: Courtesy of A Better ABK.