Marginal workers in the big picture: Unionization of visual artists

Ray Markey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinionpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Australian unions face a crisis of declining membership density. An important contributor has been the increased proportion of marginal workers in the total labour force. These workers include casual and part-time workers, and sub contractors and the 'self-employed'. Visual artists typify the marginal workforce. Most are employed most of the time on a commission or contract basis, their employment is intermittent, their income is appallingly low, and they are poorly unionized. A small majority of visual artists are women. A tiny Art workers Union struggled to survive from 1979. More recently, the Operative Painters and Decorators Union has attempted to organize artists, gaining awards for them in two states, and pursuing job-creation policies in the building industry for artists. However, the Painters and Decorators' intervention has been controversial, and it has failed to attract many artist members. The new Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance seems to be a more appropriate union. However, a major problem for unionization of artists is the individualism determined largely by the nature of the creative labour process. If unions are to achieve effective coverage of artists, they will need to adopt innovative approaches, which will have significant implications for unionism generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-41
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Industrial Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


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