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LONDON — Elon Musk’s controversial Twitter firing spree is sending workers into the arms of organized labor, according to the new head of Britain’s Trades Union Congress.
“Elon Musk is a perfect recruitment tool for the trade union movement,” Paul Nowak told POLITICO. Since the Tesla billionaire took over the social media platform in October, Prospect, one of the trade union federation’s 48 affiliates, “has seen its membership in Twitter go up tenfold,” he said.
The influx is “precisely in response” to Musk, argued Nowak, who “thinks he can issue a directive from San Francisco that somehow just happens all around the world with no regard to employment law.”
Musk has fired roughly 3,700 employees — nearly half of Twitter’s workforce — in a round of mass layoffs since buying the company.
U.K. Twitter employees earmarked for an exit received an email saying their job would be “potentially” impacted or “at risk,” because, under British law, firms are required to consult with staff over mass redundancies.
In November, Musk meanwhile gave staff an email ultimatum to either go “extremely hardcore” by “working long hours at high intensity” or quit the company.
Musk’s behavior is, Nowak said, “a great recruiting tool for us.”
“If I was a young worker in tech, I’d be thinking that being a union member might be a good investment at the moment,” he said. “If it can happen at Twitter, it can happen anywhere.”
Unions have in recent years ramped up their activity in another part of the tech world: the gig economy. Uber and food delivery service Deliveroo recently signed agreements with unions, while some Apple stores have voted for union recognition. Last year also saw the first-ever industrial action ballots at a U.K. Amazon warehouse.
Organized labor is “beginning to make inroads” in tech, Nowak said — but it still needs “to step up that work.” Twitter had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Nowak takes the helm at the TUC at a time of major industrial unrest in the U.K, as employees in a host of sectors rail against stagnant wages amid soaring inflation.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s railway workers, postal workers, nurses, paramedics, our members aren’t on strike for the sake of it,” he said.
Since the financial crisis in 2008, the median income in Britain has fallen behind neighboring countries in Europe. An analysis by the TUC shows workers are £20,000 poorer, on average, since 2008 because pay has failed to keep up with inflation. By 2025 the union group expects that gap to increase to £24,000, with even larger gulfs for frontline healthcare staff who are striking.
Britain’s Retail Price Index measure inflation reached 14 percent last year, and economists forecast inflation — in part spurred by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — will persist longer in the U.K. than among its G7 partners.
“Households can’t afford as much as they have been able to in the past,” said Josie Dent, managing economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research. “Naturally that creates weaker demand.”
Against that backdrop, Novak said he wants the British government to stimulate domestic demand by putting more pay in workers’ pockets. The government argues boosting public sector pay will further fuel inflation and push its already shaky public finances further into the red.
“What do our members do when our members get paid and get decent pay rises? They go and spend that money in local shops, hotels, restaurants,” said Nowak, and “they don’t squirrel it away in offshore bank accounts, or save it away for a rainy day.”
“You have to create demand internally in the economy as well,” he added. “We’ve had the government sort of turn that common sense on its head.”