Didi Global, the Chinese ride-hailing giant that has been in the news recently, has announced that it will help workers set up a union, which is pretty big news.
Didi, who angered many by floating on the New York Stock Exchange and took a hit, as a result, has recently announced a delay in expansion across Europe and North America as a result of the crackdown by the Chinese Government in many areas.
It is very rare that a company would even allow the establishment of a trade union in China without overt pressure, and it is a sign of extreme nervousness among Chinese companies who do not want to be singled out by the Government. Instead, they are racing to self-regulate to stay ahead of retribution and massive fines.
Didi is, of course, not alone in allowing unions to be established. But even with US-based big tech companies, it does not come easily. Alphabet’s Google allowed a union to be established, first at its HQ in California, but, as we expected, it became a global phenomenon.
While Didi is first out of the box here, probably because it has been scrutinised for some time over its policy over drivers and what they are paid, it will be interesting to see whether others follow suit.
Whether it is Didi in China or Google (or Facebook) elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how much influence, and power unions can wield.
Historically, of course, unions built enormous power and used the threat of a strike to great advantage. Then the pendulum swung the other way, and management and Government curbed their power.
The fact that Didi is helping means that they intend to give way almost immediately on certain issues as soon as they come up. Wages is an obvious one, and the company is already under pressure to act.
Once that Act has been played out and Didi is in the good books for negotiating, it will be interesting to see what else a union can influence. Customer data, for example, might be a future battleground, and it might well be a step too far. Ethics, too, is becoming a major issue and was a factor in establishing the Alphabet union.
It might be, though, that we are seeing the beginning of a trend that will play into Governments’ hands – the democratisation of big tech companies and a brake on their power from within.