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Networked labor, networked unions? - Labora Issue #5

Networked labor, networked unions? - Labora Issue #5
By Alberto Lusoli • Issue #5 • View online
Hello and welcome everyone to the fifth issue of the Labora newsletter. If you are new here, welcome! If you want to help this newsletter to grow, feel free to forward this email to friends and colleagues.
This week we talk about unions and workers representation.
Have you ever heard the story of EA_Spouse? EA_Spouse was an anonymous blog curated by a wife of an Electronic Arts employee. In her blog, which is still online today, the anonymous author was sharing her experience as wife of an overworked game developer. Her open letter to EA management became a manifesto against the inhumane working conditions of digital workers:
EA’s bright and shiny new corporate trademark is “Challenge Everything.” Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn’t sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions? 
In particular, she pointed at the crunch as one of the most extreme and brutal examples of exploitation. The Crunch time can be defined as:
the result of fast-approaching deadlines on ambitious projects that don’t have enough people working on them. The most intense periods typically occur during the months prior to a game’s release, and depending on where a studio is located or the type of contract developers are in, overtime may not be paid.
Living in Vancouver, I know how the “Crunch” is still a reality for the majority of tech and creative industry workers. Besides the videogame industry, this practice is particularly popular also in special effects and movies post-production companies.
For this issue of the Labora newsletter, I used the crunch as the entry point for talking about workers representation. In the last two years I had the chance to connect with several organizations working on defending creative workers rights. What I realized is that as alternative forms of employment become more and more common, so as the institutions representing workers are changing. As a consequence, alongside traditional unions, other forms of workers’ associations have emerged over the past years. Mirroring the dis-integration of traditional forms of employment, these new organizations are flexible, adaptable and networked. Their governance structures are open, like the source code of free software. And just like free software, they replicate through branching, as in a Github repository. In this manner they scale, like any good startup, reaching every corner of the world with their open source recipes for bringing justice and equality in the workplace.
The topic is controversial and, to some extent, brings us back to the problem of Representation of Latourian memories: who has the right and the power to represent the fleeting freelance workforce? Are Unions still an option, and an attractive one, for defending workers’ rights? And which role, if any, can technology have in the process of representation?
If you want to share your thoughts, feel free to send me a tweet with your ideas.
To finish off this week issue, I decided to skip the usual collection of news and, instead, share some links to organizations and unions of freelance and creative workers. As this is a very partial collection, if you have examples to share, please reach out to me via Twitter or using the form available at this page.

Freelancers Union
Game Workers Unite!
Canadian Freelance Union
Did you enjoy this issue?
Alberto Lusoli

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Alberto Lusoli, Vancouver, CA. Canada