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.
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
Labour Messaging: Practices of Autonomous Communication
Informed by a larger study on emerging precarious labour 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. 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. We conclude 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.
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The Subterranean Stream: Communicative Capitalism and Call Centre Labour
This paper introduces an international inquiry into collective organization in call centres. Arguing that it offers an important test for labour recomposition in the twenty-first century, the article begins by situating the global explosion of call centre employment over the last two decades by adopting and extending political theorist Jodi Dean’s concept of ‘communicative capitalism’. Second, it surveys the dominant perspectives on the labour performed by call centre workers and introduces the autonomist concept of immaterial labour, one which encourages us to approach emergent forms of employment from the perspective of the struggles and the collective organization they produce. The paper continues with an overview of the forms of labour resistance emerging from call centres globally and concludes by offering a sketch of three of the research project’s case studies in Italy, Ireland, and Canada.
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Creative Economy and Labour Precarity: A Contested Convergence
Of the vast lexicon associated with autonomist thought, two concepts—precarity and recomposition—are especially relevant to an oppositional response to the creative economy. The first part of the paper introduces a schema of precarious labour personas so to illuminate some of the multiple manifestations of labor precarity as an effect of post-Fordist exploitation. The concept of precarity is, however, more than a linguistic device highlighting labor conditions that are denied in dominant discourses on the creative economy. It also signals a promising laboratory of a recomposition of labor politics in which media and communication workers are participants. The second part of the paper therefore identifies collective responses to precarious employment, including emerging workers’ organizations and policy proposals emanating from within and beyond immaterial production milieus.
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Cultural Work as a Site of Struggle: Freelancers and Exploitation
This paper argues that Marxist political economy is a useful framework for understanding contemporary conditions of cultural work. Drawing on Karl Marx’s foundational concepts, labour process theory, and a case study of freelance writers, I argue that the debate over autonomy and control in cultural work ignores exploitation in labour-capital relationships, which is a crucial process shaping cultural work. To demonstrate the benefits of this approach, I discuss two methods media firms use to extract surplus value from freelance writers: exploitation of unpaid labour time and exploitation of intellectual property through aggressive copyright regimes. I argue that a Marxist perspective can uncover the dynamics that are transforming cultural industries and workers’ experiences. From this perspective, cultural work is understood as a site of struggle.
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