By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 1 May 2001

I’m in Europe this week, doing a few lectures and celebrating the launch of my new novel. For some reason, I feel less like an American author on book tour than a traveling rabbi helping people gain perspective about the past five years.

There’s nothing like a little market collapse to get one thinking about life’s larger issues, and asking those big questions. It’s not that high tech business people are suddenly worried about where their money is going to come from. (They’ll just get jobs.) No, it’s waking up to realize just how enslaved they were by it in the first place. Hundreds of thousands of dot.com workers and investors, toiling in mindless devotion to the Great Business Plan, have suddenly been released, albeit involuntarily, from bondage. There’s an opportunity here.

Consider another time this happened. On their exodus from Egypt, the first thing Moses’s Israelites gave themselves was an official day off. They called it Sabbath. After a legendary 400 years spent as slaves building pyramids, they quite predictably committed themselves to workers’ rights.

More importantly, though, the humanistic laws that the former slaves put into place were meant as cultural safeguards – ways of preventing their new society from becoming as oppressive, dehumanizing, and idolatrous as the one they had just escaped.

I believe that computer programmers may be in a similar position.

Now that business is no longer the big boy on the cyber block, programmers have regained their rightful places as shepherds of our technological evolution. But, so far, they have not yet fully recognized the power they wield, or the influence they could gain by networking together through the very same tools they are busy creating.

That’s right: It’s time for programmers to unionize. Globally. Think about it. If programmers were united, they could dictate their terms, their hours, and their benefits. An increasing number of programmers are being hired part-time so that companies can avoid offering job security or health plans. When western programmers complain about these conditions, poorer ones are shipped in from Bangalore on special visas, or “resourced” overseas.

That’s why programmers would have to unionize internationally. Corporate conglomerates don’t respect nation state boundaries, why should unions? Currently in America, unions are the loudest proponents of market protectionism. This misguided strategy is precisely what allows International corporations to play one nation’s workers against another’s. Divide and conquer.

Computer programmers are uniquely qualified to develop the necessary networking tools for a responsive, collaborative international union. And by forging a truly networked, fully decentralized global union, computer programmers could lead the way towards transnational unionization for other working sectors.

Most importantly, computer programmers would stand a chance of re-humanizing the process by which technologies are developed and deployed.

Currently, corporations make most of our technology decisions. And, in case you forgot, corporations are not alive. They are about as human as a pyramid. They are spreadsheets. Sets of rules designed to increase shareholder value. They do not have our interests at heart.

Without any humans in the mix, the unintended effects of technology quickly outnumber the intended ones. We become slaves to the very corporations and economies that were created to serve us. There’s no need to blame or shoot anyone – these things happen. But we do need to intervene, as conscious human beings, into our own affairs.

I can understand the blind passivity of investors and even the executives of Silicon Valley and Alley. They weren’t involved in the invention of technologies at all, but of the fictional ‘new economy.’ They came into this business as slaves. But the programmers? These are the very priests - the few people holding the keys to temple, the codes to the scrolls.

If the programmers just say ‘no,’ it just won’t happen.

Ironically, programmers would not be organizing against management. Managers and executives feel as trapped by the demands of their jobs as everyone else – they’re simply not in as powerful a position to do anything about it. They can be more easily replaced than a programmer.

But programmers, because of their unique position in the cycle of production, can actually stop the machine. A corporation doesn’t pay its programmers properly? The union strikes against them. Can you imagine any major company attempting to survive without its programmers?

And what if the Global Programmers Union took an interest in the society that its many programs were building? Might the programmers at a bank refuse to implement a program that they feel negatively effects the planet, or the plight of a developing nation? Could they refuse to program the computers for an off-shore oil rig, or a new nuclear warhead? What if programmers decided to value social justice more than their employer’s twisted idolatry? Who would control them? Would it be anarchy?

Nope. It’s called Exodus. Programmers may actually be our last opportunity for human intervention before we’re all building pyramids again.