On 20 September 2018, W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), an artist-initiated activist organization based in New York City, launched WAGENCY. Countering unpaid work in the arts, the WAGENCY platform gives artists digital tools to request payment for their contributions to US nonprofit galleries and museums - from a solo exhibition to an artist’s talk. “W.A.G.E. is not an artwork,” W.A.G.E. insisted when it announced WAGENCY. This refusal to be misclassified as an art project highlights W.A.G.E.’s activist intentions: to transform prevailing institutional practices through collective action. This chapter positions W.A.G.E. as an alternative worker organization - albeit one whose strategies are shaped by the specific conditions of the art field, the economic habits of which W.A.G.E. has worked for more than a decade to reform.
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’.
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.
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. 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. Collective responses to precarization in the creative industries are at risk of being overlooked if the research optic on workers’ strategies is focused upon a single sector or a particular profession.
Working as a model has always seemed to promise a lifestyle of fame, fortune, and luxury. Remember supermodel Linda Evangelista’s famous quip, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day”? The Model Alliance aims to disrupt these superficial assumptions and expose the decidedly less glamorous aspects of modelling, which are deeply tied to issues of workers’ rights. The Model Alliance is a non-profit labour organization founded by model Sara Ziff, who after co-directing the 2010 documentary Picture Me, decided it was time to do something about the labour challenges models face. […] In December 2011, Ziff was interviewed by Greig de Peuter. They spoke about working conditions, organizing strategies, and the challenge of making concrete change in an industry built on images.
If you’re among those who regularly shell out the equivalent of office rent at coffee shops to get a bit of work done, it’s easy to imagine a typical scene at The Common, a café in Toronto’s west end. Located in MP Andrew Cash’s Davenport riding, The Common was an apt venue for the NDP politico’s launch of his Urban Worker Strategy campaign in May. Working in a flexible labour market brings challenges bigger than snagging a spot to plug in your laptop, which is why Cash is presenting a more comprehensive response. Cash’s approach – working through the state to secure a better deal for precarious workers – is at odds with neoliberalism’s preferred qualities: high self-reliance and low expectations from employers and the state. The Urban Worker campaign zooms in on policy, a mostly invisible yet materially significant social frame that enables or constrains our livelihoods.