A Symbol for Tech Workers

Some days ago, in my tech workers organization, somebody showed us his new profile picture sporting, among other things, the logo of our organization. The logo, being text-based, seemed a bit forced in the composition of the image. This juxtaposition sparked a conversation in the organization that revolved around the question: “did he have any better option to show others he's a supportive Tech Worker?”. We thought a bit about it and we agreed that probably he had no better option.

Inquired about his motivations, he told us that he wanted to bring together different parts of his past and present: his activism, his beliefs, his work as a developer.

This should come as no surprise to people interested in the Tech Workers Movement. We are building an identity without history despite decades of actions in the tech sectors; an identity that crosses many traditional and established conceptual and material divisions. One of the many consequences is an arid semiotic space, a lack of vocabulary and visual tools to articulate our goals, our methods, our feelings and ourselves. To structure our communication, we are forced to borrow such instruments from our neighbours and friends: from the labor movement, from the hacker culture or sometimes from the subversion of corporate aesthetics.

The process of really bringing together, composing, and recombining symbols is in a very early stage and there's no shared, defined visual identity emerging yet. We don't really know how to effectively represent a programmer speaking to a colleague, let alone a UI designer speaking to a rider or a cafeteria worker. Almost everything that ends up on signs at protests has often to be reinvented locally for a lack of shared slogans. We are years away from implementing impactful collective rituals to strenghten our bonds or public performances to make ourselves visible and recognizable to others.

The scarcity of spontaneous and novel visual artifacts is not necessarily the symptom of a problem and might just be a necessary phase to go through. The movement is still young and concerned with other, more pressing, topics. Nonetheless identity building, visual tools and in general appeal to the emotional sense of belonging that symbols and rituals produce should be regarded as a strategic tool to put in your toolbox.

The semiotic landscape we operate in, while being sparse, is not completelly barren. There are a few exceptions and they deserve credit, because they bear the seeds that will develop into what we need to move forward. The goal of this article is not to do an in-depth analysis of the existing visual identity of the Tech Workers Movement, therefore I will limit myself to one positive example.

The Raised Fist

A recurring visual element, appropriated by many organizations, is the raised fist. A low-hanging fruit, the raised fist hints at collective struggle, conflict, solidarity and resolute commitment to some form of justice. Born at the beginning of the previous century as a labor symbol, it is often associated with a blurry idea of leftism. Nowadays it's used throughout the political spectrum, in corporate communication and marketing. Therefore is not easy to position ideologically, it's less scary and loaded than it used to be. It can be adopted without too much fear of scaring away Tech Workers with a non-political background but retaining at the same time the ability to connect with more radical environments.

We have plenty of examples of organizations adopting the raised fist in their main logo.

While serving its purpose, it falls short when the goal is to signal identity and belonging. It's diluted and too widespread to do so. The raised first will never be a Tech Worker symbol but it's one of the best options we have to reflect on the circulation of symbols in the galaxy of the Tech Workers Movement.

Moving forward

My grandfather once told me: “Nature will make plants grow anyway, but we farm because we want the ones in our field to grow and bear fruits”.

Given that we persevere in our struggle, symbols will eventually emerge, either from spontaneous convergence or through the hegemonic role of specific organizations, whose visual communication and symbols will be copied throughout the ecosystem.

I now pose the question: shall we “farm” our symbols? And if so, how? Given the heavily decentralized and fragmented nature of the Tech Workers Movement, a coordinated effort to rationally design a symbol we can all identify with sounds like a sysyphean effort. It would be counter to the organizational strategy that the movement has employed so far and require an amount of coordination and effort that could be better spent for different goals.

Nonetheless we mean to accelerate this process and stimulate the production and adoption of new symbols to better serve our actions on a strategic level. To do so, I believe the key is to encourage and incentivize a culture of visual production throughout the movement. Workers should refrain from producing visual materials, copy from others, move the elaboration of the struggle from a textual level to a visual level. It doesn't have to be art and it doesn't have to be good design. That's not how successful symbols are usually born. Make memes, posters, flyers, stickers. Adopt specific clothing and color combinations. Try new logos, variations, combinations.

Be part of creative processes even if you don't believe that's your role. Take the risk of making ugly things. If something you make has value, a designer will eventually notice and make it better. The visual communication of the Left, on average, is terrible: you will hardly make it worse just by trying something new.

To set a good example, I will post and briefly explain a couple ideas I think are interesting. I hope they will spark inspiration in some of you.

This is a Greek Chi (χ) inscribed in a circle of solidarity. The χ is the third letter and hardest sound in the word τέχνη (techné) that for Greeks represented the “practical knowledge”, the ability to do and create. The χ is sometimes used to symbolize technology even though τ is way more common, being the first letter of the word.

The Circle is instead a more loaded element. For millennia it represented wholeness or completeness, even divinity and perfection, while in more recent times it came to be associated with organization, solidarity and mutual support. Sometimes it's referred to as the “Circle of Solidarity”, representing a group of people surrounding a weaker individual in need of support.

The symbol is simple, easy to draw and reproduce, works on different backgrounds and it's recognizable. It lacks in character what it gains in simplicity.

This is a red variant of the Solarpunk Sun, with the colors matching the red and black color scheme prevalent in many spaces of the labour movement. Originally green, the symbol represented the utopic goal of achieving a harmonious, sustainable, post-capitalist society through the meeting of technology, ecology and a deep restructuring of society.

The elements of the symbol are now easy to frame: the gear represents human technology that integrates with a sun, an endless and clean source of energy, to power our utopic aims. The variant with the red color also introduces a more explicit dimension of social change necessary to deal with the ongoing and ever-growing economic, political and environmental issues created by the abuse of technology.

In this short article I wanted to bring together a few reflections I've been making in the last months, reading about new organizational forms, social mimesis through art for political goals, visual communication and labour-organizing in the face of a fast-changing landscape. The writing is by no mean exhaustive and I hope to be able to come back to it eventually but I feel like this conversation inside the Tech Workers Movement had to start from somewhere. What better place than here? What better time than now?