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Organizing Precarious and Knowledge Workers: New Forms of Unions in the Knowledge Economy | Nicole Cohen & Grieg de Peuter


know econ

Talk description: How are cultural and media workers responding to precarious employment and transformations in their industries brought about by digital technologies? This presentation introduces an international collaborative research project, Cultural Workers Organize, which contends that workers in the media and cultural industries are protagonists of a recomposition of labour politics today. We begin by surveying emerging efforts of interns, self-employed, freelancers, and other flexiblized workers to confront precarity in media and cultural work, often through non-union-based forms of collective organization. We go on to focus on a longstanding organizational form that is being embraced, and renewed, by young digital media workers: unions. 

Through a case study of one of the many successful recent digital media union drives—at one of the largest and most profitable digital media outlets, VICE Canada, an arm of US-based VICE Media—we propose that “old” forms of collective action are vital to counter the tendency of new, digital technologies to be used to weaken workers’ bargaining power in creative industries by fragmenting and individualizing work. The VICE organizing campaign raised many issues faced by media workers in digital news outlets, including low pay, long hours, time pressure to produce large amounts of content, gender- and race-based inequalities, a lack of labour protections, declining journalistic and editorial autonomy, and the threat of being fired with no cause. We review the challenges journalists face in a digital work environment, and then examine VICE Canada workers’ response, which was to unionize with the Canadian Media Guild.

Nicole Cohen           Grieg de Peuter

Presenter Bio: Nicole Cohen is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto (Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology/Faculty of Information). She is the author of Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016). Her research has been published internationally in books, journals, and magazines, including South Atlantic Quarterly, The Communication Review, tripleC, Feminist Media Studies, Democratic Communiqué, Canadian Journal of Communication, Frieze, and Briarpatch. Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Canadian Intern Association.

Greig de Peuter is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is coauthor of Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games with Nick Dyer-Witheford (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and coeditor of Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments Against Neoliberal Globalization with Mark Cote and Richard Day (University of Toronto Press, 2007). He is an associate researcher with the Centre for Learning, Social Economy, and Work at OISE, and is on the Advisory Board of the Canadian Intern Association.

Event Details:

When: Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Time: 12:00 Noon - 1:30 pm
Where: OISE/UT --- Room 3-104 --- For directions, please look under Contact Us.
*No registration required.
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