Chinese Coders Organize Against Work Conditions
Online activists from some of China’s largest technology firms launched a website called 996.icu on March 26 to openly protest the working conditions of China’s tech industry employees, according to Reuters. At 176,000 followers, the website is the most bookmarked page on Microsoft GitHub, the world’s largest code host.
Specifically, the online activists have voiced grievances over excessive overtime work hours. The name of the website itself is symbolic of the alleged conditions: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week. On 996.icu, one employee called out the mistreatment of tech workers, saying, “What’s the difference between these 996 companies and the old landlords who oppressed peasants???”
The collaborative effort, says Reuters, has demonstrated a great level of nonviolent mobilization that has started to pick up worldwide media attention. The online activists put together a list of companies that demand “996” working conditions. Wired reported that among the targeted firms is Alibaba, the Fortune 500 Chinese e-commerce transnational corporation, and Bytedance, the owner of Tik-Tok, a trending music-media application.
Two Chinese software developers, Katt Gu and Suji Yan, further contributed to the movement by creating an Anti-996 license requiring companies who use their software to pledge to keep their working conditions in check with International Labour Organization Standards. Though major corporations have refused to acknowledge their complicity, Voice of America reports that the installable Anti-996 software license has gained some momentum recently.
Wired points out that the Anti-996 license has itself been a source of controversy within the open-source programming community because of its challenge to, as Chinese-American programming entrepreneur Evan You frames it, the “very spirit” of the software. This perspective warns corporations of the wave of restrictions and discriminatory add-ons that could follow should they accept the Anti-996 license.
On the other hand, Geoffrey Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, pushed back by countering that “people are being laid off, people are not getting the same kind of bonuses, they are not getting the same pay increases that they are used to, and so people are saying, ‘I am not getting paid as much, why should I work as hard?’” reports Voice of America.
Gu and Yan, however, point out that targeting Chinese companies is only the first step. Their experiences abroad, including in Japan, demonstrate how technology employees, specifically coders, are denied proper working conditions and overtime pay in other countries as well.
Though the Anti-996 movement has experienced record-breaking growth even in China’s censored cyberspace, it is hard to say how long this online activism will last.