Labour Messaging: Practices of Autonomous Communication

Enda Brophy, Nicole S. Cohen, and Greig de Peuter (2015) “Labor Messaging: Practices of Autonomous Communication,” in Richard Maxwell ed. The Routledge Companion to Media and Labor (London: Routledge), pp. 315-326.

Informed by a larger study on emerging precarious labor politics in creative industries, this chapter identifies and illustrates three threads of communicative activism: collective identity, counter-publicity, and networked solidarity. Collective identity concerns flexworkers’ involvement in struggles over the meaning of their employment status and the labor they perform. Resisting individualizing conceptions of creative work and proposing collective identifications are foundational to the building of relations of solidarity among workers in precarious employment within and beyond core creative industries. Counter-publicity encompasses the creation and online circulation of media that raise awareness about precarity, examples of which include intern activists’ name-and-shame social-media tactics, the leveraging of celebrity in campaigns to improve labor standards, and the staging of creative direct actions and cultural productions. Networked solidarity designates the role of the internet and other information communications technology in aggregating and supporting mutual aid among dispersed workforces. Here, digital technologies are employed in the development of apps by trade unions, the counter-utilization of social networks during solidarity actions, and the use of cell phones within “mediated mobilization” by workers and their allies. These features of precarious labor politics challenge the argument that “communicative capitalism” neutralizes dissent, dissipates activism, distracts energies from institution building, and substitutes interpassivity for collective action. So although we are mindful of the limitations of media activism in terms of disrupting prevailing ideologies and structures of power, this chapter highlights the ambivalence of the competences and infrastructures undergirding contemporary communicative capital: cultural and media workers, who principally labor with language and other symbolic forms, develop media, perform, and inhabit a network milieu, have at their disposal resources that potentially amplify their voices and gather their powers on issues that a multitude of workers, not just media labor, confront today. With this in mind, we conclude the chapter by recasting collective identity, counter-publicity, and networked solidarity as practices of autonomous communication, which contribute to the building of infrastructures of dissent in the face of spreading precarity.