Informed by interviews with coworking space operators and members, this article assesses coworking as a response to precarity. We argue that social and political ambivalence is intrinsic to the culture of coworking. First, we situate coworking in a political-economic context, claiming that coworking emerged as a worker-developed response to changing economic conditions but, in its current form, is increasingly commodified and ultimately reinforces labour flexibilization. Second, we survey meanings attached to coworking, highlighting tensions between coworking’s counter-corporate identity and its recapitulation of neoliberal norms. Third, we address subjectivity formation, proposing that coworking spaces are a stage for the performance of network sociality. We conclude by considering coworking’s political potential as a platform for collective action.
Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age
Writers’ Rights provides context for freelancers’ struggles and identifies the points of contention between journalists and big business. Through interviews and a survey of freelancers, Cohen highlights the paradoxes of freelancing, which can be simultaneously precarious and satisfying, risky and rewarding. She documents the transformation of freelancing from a way for journalists to resist salaried labour in pursuit of autonomy into a strategy for media firms to intensify exploitation of freelance writers’ labour power, and presents case studies of freelancers’ efforts to collectively transform their conditions.
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Artists as Workers: A Response to John Bellamy Foster
Any vision of sustainable prosperity must include a notion of better work, not just more work (and less unemployment) and John Bellamy Foster’s essay is to be warmly welcomed for putting the question of what constitutes ‘good work’ on the table. But I fear that by arguing – at least in part – that good work looks like creative work or artistic work, it risks perpetuating certain ideas about artistic production that will harm, rather than aid, the struggle for good work. In drawing on William Morris (and indeed Marx’s) ideas of artistic production as unalienated labour, we risk idealising a model of work which is individualistic, self-exploiting and ultimately, exclusionary.
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Fighting Precarity with Co-operation? Worker Co-operatives in the Cultural Sector
This paper investigates the potential of worker co-operatives to help improve working conditions and radically reimagine cultural work. [...] Examining current debates on co-operatives the article explores co-ops as a radical pre-figurative political project, mobilized in a reformist attempt to create a more ethical capitalism or be integrated into neoliberal discourses of entrepreneurship and individual responsibility. It goes on to discuss the potentials and limitations of worker co-ops by looking at precariousness, inequality, and individualization of cultural sector work, arguing that radical co-ops can play an important role within a larger movement that mobilizes collectivity to confront neoliberal individualization and capitalist realism.
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What Union Drive at VICE Canada Means for the Future of Journalism
Amid fevered debates about the future of journalism in Canada, a union drive at Vice Canada is signalling that young journalists have a vision for digital-first media outlets – most of them branches of American-owned companies – that are growing and very profitable yet are not easy places to work. Organizing efforts by the Canadian Media Guild at Vice follow a wave of successful drives in several digital newsrooms south of the border in 2015, including Gawker, Vice, the Guardian US, Salon.com and, most recently, the Huffington Post, whose newsroom of 262 journalists makes it the largest unionized digital news staff in North America.
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What Would Rosa Do? Co-operatives and Radical Politics
Drawing on interviews with worker co-operatives in the UK cultural industries, Sandoval teases out the politics of working in co-ops, and shows that, although the kinds of co-ops she is discussing tend to operate at the small-scale prefigurative level, they help open up the political spaces on which bigger political action can build - although this undoubtedly requires making connections both between individual co-ops and between co-ops and the wider left. Her conclusion is that different times require different tactics, and that, though Luxemburg would not have seen much value in co-ops solely as a form of prefigurative politics, she would have valued them if they could at the same time contribute to advancing the greater goal of building a radical alternative.
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Interrogating Internships: Unpaid Work, Creative Industries, and Higher Education
The cumulative effect of serial internships and zero-wages is the hardening of established social exclusions in the labour market, the devaluation of labour, wage depression across the labour economy, and the acclimatization of a generation of indebted workers to hustling from gig to gig with few expectations of their employers. Internships are, then, an entry point for interrogating contested conditions of life, labour, and learning at a historical moment when precarity is an encroaching structure of feeling.
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Emerging Labour Politics in Creative Industries
A key concept in cultural labour studies is autonomy. We seek to widen and politicize the concept of autonomy to include cultural workers’ efforts to collectively exert control over the terms under which their labour power is engaged, to question the dominant organization of cultural production, to seek ways to sustain independent work by de-linking social security from standard employment, and to produce alternative systems of meaning about work. We propose three conceptual lenses for approaching research on cultural labour from worker resistance: mutual aid, or developing bottom-up infrastructures to support independent work; policy from below, or creating worker-centred policies to mitigate the precarity of non-standard work; and counter-interpellation, or building alternate vocabularies to define cultural labour that resist dominant ideological codes attached to visions of ‘creatives’ and ‘free agents’.
Negotiating Writers’ Rights: Freelance Cultural Labour and the Challenges of Organizing
As media companies grow in profits and economic significance, workers in these industries are experiencing precarious forms of employment and declining union power. This article provides insight into the experiences of a growing segment of the media labour force in Canada: freelance writers, who face declining rates of pay, intensified struggles over copyright, and decreasing control over their work. At the same time, freelancers are currently experimenting with various approaches to collective organizing: a professional association, a union, and an agency-union partnership. As part of a larger project on freelance writers’ working conditions and approaches to organizing, this article provides an overview of three organizational models and raises some early questions about their implications.
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Precarious: Carole Condé + Karl Beveridge
Letters & Handshakes, eds. (2014) Precarious: Carole Condé + Karl Beveridge. Waterloo, ON: Robert Langen Art Gallery. Image credit: Chris Lee