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Seize the memes of production

Posted by Flux on 

8 March 2021

At Flux Trends we have written about the rise of the activist employee for some years now, the employees who are biting the hand that feeds them when that hand is deemed to be unjust or irresponsible. They do this by organising public protests or by airing their employer’s dirty laundry, exposing racism, bigotry or employee exploitation.

This sort of speak-out culture is just one manifestation of the ways employees, particularly tech workers working for the digital titans, are organising against their employers. Tech workers, from influencers to Amazon warehouse workers, are also now forming unions to negotiate and secure their rights.  

Organising against digital landlords 

In a world where inequality is increasing and platform companies have become powerful rent-seeking digital landlords, with near-monopoly market share, it is no wonder workers are seizing the memes of production.

Woke, white-collar unions

In January 2021, a group of over 400 Google engineers (mostly skilled workers, in a departure from the traditionally blue-collar labour unions of the industrial era) formed a formal minority union, called the Alphabet Workers Union. Notably, the union is presently focused on “giving structure and longevity to activism at Google” rather than on negotiating contracts and pay rates.

Meme worker rights

In mid-2020 a group of British Instagram influencers formed a union called the Creator Union, interestingly, again with the stated aims of increasing diversity and fighting discrimination in the industry, in addition to improving working conditions, pay scales, and rights for independent influencers.

Then, in February 2021, SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) approved an ‘influencer agreement’ that allows social media personalities who are paid to promote products (no follower limit required) to join the influential union as members. SAG-AFTRA will help “meme workers” set rates and secure working conditions and contract standards. As such, brands can expect to have to pay their content creators and brand influencers more transparent, more standardised rates going forward.

Activist employees are here to stay, and they are getting organised. They have their eyes set on keeping the biggest companies in the world accountable to the sum of the most vulnerable members of society.

By Bronwyn Williams

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Image credit: Liam Edwards

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