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.
Letters & Handshakes, eds. (2014) Precarious: Carole Condé + Karl Beveridge. Waterloo, ON: Robert Langen Art Gallery. Image credit: Chris Lee
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 …
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.
The publication of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s trilogy coincides with the ascent of a dominant discourse on the so-called creative economy that presents media, communication, and cultural sectors as priority sites for market growth and job opportunity. Hardt and Negri’s work and the wider autonomist tradition supply elements for a counter- perspective on the vaunted creative economy. 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 …
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.
Internships have gained critical attention in Canada, thanks largely to the efforts of intern labour activists, who have generated media coverage, lobbied and advised politicians, conducted education and outreach, and advocated for an end to the proliferation of unpaid internships in Canada. This roundtable interview with intern labour activists Ella Henry, Andrew Langille, Joshua Mandryk, and Claire Seaborn was conducted by Nicole Cohen and Greig de Peuter in Toronto on March 1, 2015. Follow up interviewing was conducted over e-mail in May 2015. The interview has been edited and condensed.
The figure of the self-reliant, risk-bearing, non-unionized, self-exploiting, always-on, flexibly employed worker in the creative industries has been positioned as a role model of contemporary capitalism. Although the notion of the model worker is a compelling critical diagnostic of the self-management of precarity in post-Fordist times, I argue that it provides an insufficient perspective on labour and the so-called creative economy to the extent that it occludes the capacity to contest among the workforces it represents. Informed by a larger research project, this article thematizes salient features of select collective responses to precarity that are emerging from workers in nonstandard employment in the arts, the media, and cultural industries. The discussion is structured in three main parts: the first, aggregation, identifies initiatives in which employment status – rather than a specific profession or sector – is the basis of assembly and advocacy; the second, compensation, highlights unpaid work as a …
Earlier this month, about twenty people gathered on a hot London evening at The HUB Islington for an event called “Freelancers Unite! What rights are we fighting for?” Taking inspiration from recent efforts in Berlin to ignite a freelancers’ movement, this event was part of the space’s “50 Days of Freelancing” series. Speakers gave a big-picture view of the spread of independent work and zeroed in on the flipside of making a living in a flexible labour economy. Among concerns that participants shared were clients who don’t pay, pressure to do work for free (or almost free), and uncertain access to contracts following maternity leave. One of the things that the “Freelancers Unite!” event demonstrated is that coworking spaces are promising places for gathering members of a workforce whose trademark dispersal can make it tricky to reflect—and act—on livelihood issues collectively.
“Fuck your unpaid internship.” This was one of the more colourful slogans scrawled on a sign at the peak of the Occupy movement. Held up by young people who stand to lose large from financial-crisis fallout, placards like these are refreshingly frank refusals of the mantra that we must be willing to do “more for less” nowadays. A 21st-century update on Bartleby’s famous reply to the duties assigned by his boss – “I’d prefer not to” – the intern invective expresses the frustration bubbling among youth facing mounting student debt and diminishing prospects for employment.