Putting Unions Back in Digital Labour: A Case Study of Organising in Digital First Newsrooms

Neilson, T. (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


Putting Unions Back in Digital Labour

Tai Neilson, PhD

Lecturer in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Macquarie University tai.neilson@mq.edu.au

With few exceptions, discussion of unions is absent from Cultural Studies approaches to the exploitation of internet users or changing conditions for wage workers precipitated by digital media. The lack of attention to unions is, in large part, due to the dual influences of information society theories and Marxist autonomism. Information society approaches stretching from Bell (1976) to Castells (2000) consider class conflict a historical remnant of industrial society and, accordingly, relegate working class institutions and movements to the past. Autonomist Marxists minimize the role of trade unions for different reasons; Castoriadis (1955), Tronti (1966), Federici (1975), Negri and Hart (2000), and others reject centralised forms of organisation, including trade unions and political parties and develop expanded conceptions of class composition. Despite their differences, both approaches reject trade unions as significant actors in contemporary capitalism or promising institutions for working class organisation. Notwithstanding pertinent criticism of existing trade unions, the uniform or principled rejection of unions is counterproductive (Alcoff and Alcoff, 2015). Rather, I describe recent union campaigns in “digital first” media companies in the US to indicate how unions are organising digital workplaces and how future campaigns can adopt new organisational strategies. These examples demonstrate that young digital labourers see unions as instruments to secure a collective voice and better working conditions in precarious culture industries. Cultural Studies approaches to digital labour require renewed attention to the role of trade unions and ways in which they may be adapted to the changing demands of digital labourers.

Key terms: Autonomist Marxism, Culture Industries, Digital Labour, Information Society, Journalism, Trade Unions
Period6 Dec 2017 - 8 Dec 2017
Held atCultural Studies Association of Australasia
Event typeConference
LocationWellington, New Zealand
Degree of RecognitionInternational