In 2015, the Writer’s Guild of America, East, had their first victory organizing in digital media when writers at Gawker Media voted overwhelmingly to form a union.
Five years later, it is clear that the Guild’s first organizing victory at Gawker Media was the spark that lit a fire of media workers joining unions across the industry. The Guild has won representation at 21 shops, including Vice, Vox, Salon, Gimlet Media, Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, covering more than 2,000 digital writers, editors and producers. At a time when union density is falling in most industries, the Guild has defied the odds and organized a new industry.
For the fifth anniversary of the Gawker victory, SLU professor Stephanie Luce and SLU labor studies graduate student Haley Shaffer spoke with union members and Guild staff about the gains the union has won in these five years, and how they continue to fight instability in an ever-changing industry.
They’ve published their findings on a user-friendly website and in an information-rich white paper. For a good look at where this movement has been — and where it could go from here — check it out.
The New Labor Forum has a monthly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.
The global video game industry – catering to 2.5 billion gamers across the world who annually purchase upwards of $152 billion in games – has become a new site of labor organizing. The mostly young people who carry out the game design, programming, aesthetics, and quality assurance for games like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft, are finding reasons aplenty to unite as workers. Having largely grown up without an experience of unions, their passion for video games has run headlong into the 50 to 70-hour work weeks (known as “crunch”) that are common in the industry prior to a game’s release. Often these hours go unpaid or underpaid. And once the games are released, mass layoffs are common, and those who have contributed to the game’s development often find their names missing from the credit rolls.
In the current issue of New Labor Forum, Jamie Woodcock describes nascent worker organizing in the U.K. that arose outside of traditional union channels, largely on-line, foregrounding demands for worker control more so than for wage increases. Woodcock assesses the use of social media as an organizing tool and conjectures on the lessons the UK campaign offers to game workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Recent self-organizing among game workers in the U.S. has, in fact, spurred the formation in early January of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees launched by the Communication Workers of America. We offer an article from the L.A. Times that describes that budding effort. And we conclude with a talk by Jamie Woodcock on his book, Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle.
Table of Contents
Organizing in the Game Industry: The Story of Game Workers Unite U.K. / Jamie Woodcock, New Labor Forum
Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers / Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times
Video: Jamie Woodcock presents Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle / Jamie Woodcock
With the release of their annual report on the state of labor in the United States, SLU professors Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce have shown that organized labor remains far stronger in New York City and state than elsewhere in the nation — but that union erosion has also contributed disproportionately to low-wage job growth.
In June, Professor Stephanie Luce, Chair of SLU’s Department of Labor Studies, spoke with veteran New York Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy on the CUNY TV series “One to One.” The conversation centered on the annual “State of the Unions” report published by Luce and Professor Ruth Milkman, as well as larger trends affecting labor unions.
The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.
The early successes of the #MeToo movement caught many commentators by surprise. However, despite its notable achievements – including dramatic increases in awareness regarding sexual harassment, as well as the conviction of a long list of high profile offenders – the institutional changes required to prevent sexual harassment and assault are still a long way off. A recent national online survey highlights this fact, finding that 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. This figure is higher than previously cited data because it includes the plethora of verbal forms of sexual harassment, as well as physical harassment, cyber harassment and sexual assault. The survey also indicates that girls and young women experience alarmingly high rates of harassment, with the highest incidence occurring between the ages of 14 and 17.
Establishing and enshrining changes in the workplace, where sexual harassment so often occurs, should be a first order priority for organized labor. Yet, as Ana Avendaño writes in her article for New labor Forum , “with some notable exceptions, the labor movement has been a bystander, or even complicit, especially in male-dominated industries where harassment is most pervasive.” Avendaño examines labor’s troubled legacy, including some unions’ efforts to weaken the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and steer claims of racial and gender discrimination away from the courts. She also describes the effective work by a handful of unions to make their industries more equitable and safe for women workers, and suggests how this work provides a model for organized labor to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and in its own union halls.
The #MeToo movement has also forced unions and other social justice organizations to reckon with their own internal cultures that enable, and sometimes breed, racial and gender discrimination. A recent case in point is the Southern Poverty Law Center, long admired by progressives for its work in tracking and prosecuting hate groups. We include here a New York Times article that discusses the accusations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment in that organization that have now forced the departure of its top leadership. What next? Reversing decades of weakening labor law and shoring up the fragile prosecutorial footing provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act seem like two necessary, albeit uphill, battles that must be waged to stop ubiquitous workplace sexual harassment.
This post was originally published at The Diamondback. Reposted with permission.
By Olivia Delaplaine
Top on the long list of worries for most graduating students is the prospect of finding a job. Each day a hiring manager doesn’t email us back or a website removes a job listing — and the looming anxiety of paying back exorbitant student loans draws closer — our desperation grows. Soon, we abandon pipe dreams of a livable salary with health insurance and paid leave, and begin to search for any work we can find.
We enter interviews insecure, self-conscious and vulnerable. We might take the first offer that comes our way, because we don’t know any better. We feel like it’s a privilege to even be offered a job; so who are we to ask for a higher salary, fixed hours or better health insurance? It’s not like we had the chance to negotiate as a part-time student employee, teaching assistant or intern. We may have even tolerated daily harassment or intimidation while doing our jobs, unable to do anything about it. Why should we expect that to change?
So instead of convincing us that we should dress up and put on a show for companies and organizations that won’t even pay us a living wage, our institutions of higher education should have a central role in preparing students for the workplace. Just as they’re active in teaching us marketable skills, they should be teaching us about how to negotiate fair pay and benefits.