Design Thinking, HBR, and cultural anthropology appropriation?
US Diversity and the Olympics

Is AIGA a labor union?

A colleague of mine, Ksenija Berk, has posed to me a question about the necessity of  design labor unions based  on a listserv discussion among she, Daniel van der Velden of Metahaven, and myself. The discussion was generated from an article she is writing based on her completed PhD dissertation. I spent a good portion of the morning crafting the response, which I thought I would post it here.

On 7/28/08 12:01 PM, "Ksenija Berk" <ksenija.berk@siol.net> wrote:

The question I'd like to elaborate further with you and where I see a possibility for a design policy is my paraphrase of the Daniel van der Velden's question: Is now a time for a design labour union?

I will answer that questions in two ways. One anecdotally and one based on my knowledge of the US-based AIGA, the professional organization for design.

1.
Anecdotally:
In early 2000, at the height of the US dotcom boom, I told my colleagues at Sapient that we should start a knowledge workers labor union to ensure that when things went sour, which they always do, that we could keep our M&Ms, free food and drinks, Aeron chairs, bonus compensation, message therapists, lock into high worth stock options, good medical coverage, nap rooms, flexible schedules, etc. They laughed at me saying the equivalent of, “Dude, we got it so good. What do we need a labor union for?” This is because they imagined themselves as knowledge workers, where the brand of their high paid skills would guarantee that they could always negotiate for better salary and perks. When the dot com boom crashed in about 2001 and all those perks went away as well as any semblance of job security, they came back to me and said the equivalent of, “Dude, you were right.”

The challenge is that the model of the labor union is tied to ideas of fixed and standardized labor in the Fordist mode as per Daniel’s statement. Meaning, labor unions from the industrial mode argue for fixed and incrementally increasing wages based on standardized labor descriptions and standardized hours, the safety and protection of workers, protection of pensions, and guarding against unfair firing of workers. The underlying assumptions of this system are that (1) worker’s labor can be standardized (which requires deskilling through Taylorism) and (2) that worker’s stay in one place for a significant period of time (in order to accrue things like wage increases and pensions). Your thesis is dead on that contemporary designers do not work under those conditions, as do very few people anymore.

We are in a Post-Fordist mode of capitalism defined by flexibility in the descriptions of the type of labor, the hours ascribed to it, the shift or extension of the location of work from factory/office to the “cottage/home” aided by the ubiquity of the ITC tools of production (i.e. Laptop computers and software). This reduces the need for the manager to focus on issues of safety and protection because they have no “control” over the worker’s domicile or Starbucks café and the worker would resist any control in their private domain. Workers no longer expect or intend to stay in jobs long enough to accrue wage increases and the concept of pensions is long gone. So your description is accurate of current conditions, I just think that the term immaterial worker (read in US context: knowledge worker) fails to address the role of the materiality of design’s labor which allows you to capture its value in standardized deliverables.

So what is the possibility of design labor union in the immaterial labor, post-Fordist mode?

2.
AIGA:
This is where I find the activities of AIGA, which is selected because I am most intimate with it as a design organization, interesting because it seeks to provide many of the protections for design labor through the discourse of professionalism.

If the intentions of a union are to set fair prices for labor, ensure the safety and well being of its labor force, assist in the accumulation of wealth for retirement, and protect the legal rights of hiring and firing for its labor force; AIGA does most of that for its design membership.

Setting Fair Prices for Labor: AIGA just recently launched its website for the Center for Practice Management. On the site, they provide tips on how to calculate a freelance rate, set a rate for a firm, determining the various pricing models (it outlines 6), and address the challenges of low-ballers. It also conducts an annual salary survey to determine the market range for design labor geographically and by position.

Ensure the safety and well being of its labor force: There are two separate initiatives around this one. AIGA serves as a collective for reduced health insurance,  especially for its freelance designers. Its Sustainability initiatives  and section on other management issues seeks to address the toxicity and wastefulness of the design work tools (i.e. Printers, paper, ink, etc).

Wealth for retirement: There are no official initiatives around this area that I know of beyond the indirect practice management issues.

Protect the legal rights of hiring and firing: AIGA provides standard and flexible business agreement templates for designers as well as a list of standards of professional practice to inform and aid designers of their rights and responsibilities as professionals.

Other things that AIGA does is advocate for better descriptions of design practices with the US Dept of Labor so that it is more aligned with current practices, train designers on how to elevate their skills, provide discounts on designer tools like software from Adobe and fonts, etc.

So at least AIGA, and to some extent many of the American professional organizations, serves as a design labor union with over 20K members of various design levels and skills.

(Don’t let Ric know that I just wrote a long love letter to AIGA or that I called AIGA a labor union).

Dori

Comments

Adam F

The preceding discussion is a curious one. Its principal contributors have attempted to address the question of a design labor union without burdening themselves with the key demands which might actually give rise and shape to an organized labor movement among graphic designers, animators, illustrators, and other practitioners of visual communication. Instead, they see to it that the case for (or against) unionization is made only with respect to a rather confused interpretation of social and economic development. To the extent that "bread and butter" issues are discussed at all, in fact, it is only to demonstrate that sufficient channels already exist for their negotiation, most notably through the AIGA, or, worse, they are brought to light just long enough to be publicly condemned to the wastebasket of historical irrelevancy, no longer pertinent in an era characterized by a flexible, transient workforce. If in the so-called "post-Fordist" epoch the point of production has been divorced from the worker, so too apparently has the matter to organize.

Not only has unionization, in the course of the conversation, become estranged from the "shop floor," it has become estranged from itself. Dori Tunstall, for instance, suggests that the AIGA, insofar as it concerns itself with wages and workplace policy, "serves as a design labor union with over 20K members of various design levels and skills." She fails to add that among the "various design levels" are bosses and management! The AIGA is a professional organization, which seeks, according to its mission statement, to "advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force." It does not, and cannot, discriminate according to any objective social relation to capital—both worker and studio-owner are welcome to join. A labor union, on the other hand, is a workers' organization, formed independently and in direct opposition to the bosses, to collectively advance the social and economic class interests of its members. This is perhaps too nuanced a distinction for Tunstall, who writes:

"If the intentions of a union are to set fair prices for labor, ensure the safety and well being of its labor force, assist in the accumulation of wealth for retirement, and protect the legal rights of hiring and firing for its labor force; AIGA does most of that for its design membership."

But in fact it does not. The AIGA cannot enforce a contract, through labor action if needed, whereas a union can. It does not engage in collective bargaining, whereas a union does. It provides no space for grievance handling, whereas a union does. It presents no demand to democratize the workplace, to provide employees with decision-making power, whereas a union (to varying degrees) does. Unions are, to be sure, very often riddled with bureaucracy and corruption and exclusivism, but these are perversions, not inevitabilities of organized labor. At the very least they provide a framework in which workers can cooperatively fight back against (say) nineteenth-century working hours, financial insecurity, and poor benefits. The AIGA, conversely, has no real bargaining authority; insisting on the supremacy of the market—on "entrepreneurship"—it can only make suggestions.

And it is precisely the received wisdom of "entrepreneurship" which is most antithetical to the interests of working people. What it amounts to, despite the halo placed upon it by Steven Heller, Katherine McCoy, and similarly well-intentioned proponents of Responsible Design, is an internalized acceptance of the very mechanism, competition, which invariably drives down wages, increases employee stress, and prolongs the work day. As much as any other worker is the staff and non-directorial designer familiar with these consequences—and perhaps more so than any other worker has this designer intellectually and programmatically surrendered his capacity to tip the conditions of work in his favor. The AIGA, which, it claims, "actively communicates the value of design to the business community and the public" cannot at the same time be leveraged for diametrically opposed purposes. For is it not precisely the business community in its effort to maximize profits that has consistently sought to reduce employee wages and benefits? Has it not, by doing so, concentrated ever greater portions of wealth and decision-making power within its fold while undermining every attempt at solidarity from below? If and when a genuine labor union is formed among designers, it will struggle not just against the bosses, but against the accommodative program of the AIGA.

Or is this all moot? Are the conditions under which the contemporary designer labors so distant from his industrial predecessor as to render any suggestion of collective action, over pensions and wages no less, simply laughable?

It is incontestable that production methods have, since at least the mid-1960's, increasingly taken on new forms; but it is altogether nonsensical to speak of "Fordism," let alone industrialism, solely in the past tense. The falling rate of profit, the inability of business to accumulate capital according to its old methods following post-war boom, which in decades past would have provoked immediate crisis, has been staved off, if only temporarily, through piecemeal company restructuring designed to maximize productivity and streamline labor costs. Vital to this restructuring—what is commonly referred to as "lean production"—is the riddance of all waste from the production chain, including the "waste" generated by a relatively secure workforce. Accordingly, deskilling and multitasking, teamwork (read: illusory decision-making power), outsourcing, and "management by stress" are seized upon to measure, standardize, and increase the efficiency and output of mass assembly—that is, to exaggerate the very rationale of Fordism. And most afflicted by this updated scientific management is still the worldwide industrial workforce, whose size, in real numbers, has yet to diminish. The service sector is, true enough, growing at a comparatively faster rate than the primary-sector, but the former exists chiefly to facilitate the production, transportation, and sale of tangible goods, and only exceptionally as a means unto itself.

This is where designers fit in. Their creative energy is harnessed by capital above all else in the form of marketing and advertising to realize the surplus-value first created in the industrial sphere. It is not simply a matter of designers helping to "create" consumer demand; without their assimilation into the economic circuit, a commodity glut would inevitably appear on the market, thus preventing capital from being reintroduced back into the production process. And as productivity increases though mechanization and lean procedures, the need for branding and sophisticated hucksterism becomes increasingly absorbed into the lifeblood of capitalism, no longer dismissive as excess obnoxiousness. Its essentiality, however, does not imply independence, and the weight ascribed to "immaterial labor" is misleading unless it identifies its existence as contingent on a present-tense industrial workforce. Were it otherwise, there would be no computers to work on, no vast network of fiber-optics to connect one another, and few commodities whose values must be realized.

There is, of course, real value attached to visual communication, and not merely that which is propagated through hype or a designer's reputation. Most newly generated value, if not transferred directly to the final product (e.g. book layout, video-game CG, t-shirt graphic), remains within the commercial sector, divisible between employee wages and a surplus appropriated by studio-heads and clients through unpaid labor-time. If indeed capitalism is, as Tunstall argues, no longer characterized by "fixed and standardized labor," then word has yet to reach these same studio-heads and clients who, by and large, still calculate their project-fees, if not directly on the basis, then on a derivative, of time. The money-portion which makes its way into the hands of most designers hardly affords them an extravagant lifestyle: in the US, non-directorial designers (the vast majority) can hope to rank economically alongside teachers, nurses, and electricians. Moreover, most of these same designers still occupy very material seats in very material offices, and are often expected to work excruciatingly long, eye-and-hand-straining hours necessitating neither overtime pay nor job security nor a defined pension. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2006, only "about 25 percent of designers were self-employed. Many did freelance work—full time or part time—in addition to holding a salaried job in design or in another occupation." It is safe to assume that of this 25 percent who shouldered the entire cost of health insurance and weathered nakedly a wholly intemperate market, of whom "many did freelance work" on the side, more than a handful fancied themselves not as Profiles in American Individualism, but rather the victims of company belt-tightening.

If we are serious about laying the groundwork for a design labor union, these are the issues we must address. Why has the 40-hour week, despite remarkable advances in productivity over the last half-century, essentially become a radical demand? Shouldn't we now be working only a 30-hour week, leaving more time for leisure and independent creativity? Why can't the commercial sector, with its hand-over-fist wealth, afford to provide in every case a comprehensive benefits package and humane retirement for its employees? Should working people simply surrender to a lifetime of work, however intellectually stimulating, simply because capital has less and less a need for long-term employees and therewith the pensions for which they were originally conceived to encourage? Or, again, is the field of visual communication too fragmented and incoherent to collectively fight for these demands?

It is one thing to argue that conditions and attitudes are such as to make this fight a difficult and drawn out one; it is altogether another thing to insist that History has long passed organized labor by the wayside, and that any inquiry into its potential effectiveness is best satisfied with a summary of its current weakness. Unions are not in so dismal a state today because they have failed to adapt to changing conditions. They are in this state precisely because they have adapted too well. Time and again, unions have failed to counteract capital's assault on working people, preferring instead accommodation whereby the union officialdom and management can break bread together, leaving the rank and file with few crumbs and no seat at the dinner table. The US is perhaps the only country in the western world where a worker, though it is his legal right, must summon the courage to join or form a union, and, if lucky enough to be brought under a collective bargaining agreement, must again summon the courage to have his voice heard by a bureaucracy very often resembling that of his employer's. It would be naïve to believe these degenerative tendencies would not also need to be challenged and (and hopefully suppressed) within a design union by a vocal and active rank and file, but it would be much worse if, in an effort to avoid turbulence, the whole project was scrapped before it ever had wings.

So what might a design union look like? Will it be organized along craft or—what I think is preferable—industrial lines? In an effort to avoid the historical shortcomings of organized labor, will it attempt to establish itself as a completely new entity, or seek instead the auspices of existing unions? Will room be made for freelancers? To what extent should art-directors, who are often tasked with the traditional roles of management, be permitted to join? How might designers negotiate collectively for wages and pensions when their employers continuously seek to subcontract and unburden themselves of a stable workforce? How will it ally itself with other unions and social-struggles, both nationally and internationally? These are but a few of the questions that need to be addressed, democratically, and in a public forum.

But it is here worth mentioning that, even in the union-busting US, these concerns are not without precedent. In the not-too-distant past, a typographers union (its membership since absorbed into the Teamsters) flourished and constituted itself along considerably more democratic grounds than most unions. Has the computer and desktop publishing forever doomed their story to the annals of esoterica? What about writers? Surely their "immaterialism" has not prevented a writer's union from forming and striking over wages and working conditions. Why can't a design union leverage its power to extract pension and healthcare contributions from employers—and clients, in the case of freelancers—and, from a pooled fund, dole them out among its members? Pension accumulation could be based on hours worked at any employer forced to sign a union contract, thus eliminating workplace longevity as a precondition for a salutary retirement fund. In point of fact, this is already standard practice for many unions, including those representing the building trades in New York whose members are not tied to any one employer.

Unfortunately, without any memory of collective action, of unionism or independent working-class politics, designers are, on the whole, programmed to think solely in terms of personal advancement. For this reason, any serious incursion by unions into the field of visual communication is very likely proscribed to the distant future. I suspect that not until union density and militancy rises in the more primary sectors, which are still assigned a social-power denied to other segments of society, will any turn toward collective action among designers be felt. In the meantime, it is the duty of union activists to raise these issues from the depths of obscurity, and combat intellectually the AIGA for whom "professionalism" is a tool best wielded to tether working designers to their class exploiters.

-Adam F
rankandfiledesign@gmail.com

ksenija berk

I think Daniel has extended the issue extremely well. I'd just like to add something to his observation how at the moment there is no definition of a political collective in design. True! When we are talking about political engagement in the field of design, people often suggest collectives such as the Adbusters, Ne pas plier and Société Réaliste. And they are wrong, because none of them is a design collective. Let's explore:

NE PAS PLIER was established as a non-profit organization in 1993 in Paris. The artists work in a workshop on the summit of one of the highest building in Ivry-sur-Seine and have established an "observatory of the city" there. 'NE PAS PLIER is an association of creators, artists of plastic art and researchers in human science, who decided to regroup themselves to create whatever images they wish They assemble to create and also distribute material on political and social themes. NE PAS PLIER creates and distributes images that no one commissions. Its objective is to create, produce and distribute images, which have meaning for causes and subjects of human urgency, on both national and international levels. The original of these images is its copies. The mode of achievement is the sharing of the subject and its co-production.

Adbusters Media Foundation (called Adbusters or the Media Foundation) is a not-for-profit, anti-consumerist organization founded in 1989 by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They describe themselves as "a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.

Société Réaliste is a Paris-based cooperative, currenty a research unit at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, created by Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy in 2004. This cooperative manages the development of several research concerning different topics: art institution & art history (International Graffiti Museum), the politics of the space (Ministère de l’Architecture), EU institutions and immigration policies (EU Green Card Lottery), marketing models & contemporary art economy (PONZI’s) and political design (Transitioners).

What those collectives have in common is: they all manipulate images. Since when has manipulating images been sufficient to label one as a designer? We should be extremely careful and precise in terms of theory since the whole history of design and art collide at this point in image theory. Extremely interesting issue, but I'll rather leave it for another occasion.

At this point I will conclude the topic on the design labour and creative industries. I'll try to summarize some basic points of my writing:
1) I used the question whether we need a design labour union with a purpose. As Daniel I am perfectly aware how the notion of unions and guilds belongs to another era, but they represent a starting point to critically re-evaluate the current working conditions in the vast field of design.

2) I don't expect a unified theory, because of the nature of the design profession and various fields where design is their vital part, it is practically impossible. The issue of design, immaterial labour and creative industries is vast and hardly neutral. Kate Bond, Head of Cultural Development at the University of Ulster has revealed how the Creative Industries is the fastest growing business sector in the UK and Europe growing at an average of 6% per annum and 10% globally. They contribute £11.4 billion to our balance of trade, well ahead of the construction industry, insurance and pensions, and twice that of the pharmaceutical sector, and they employ almost 2 million people. It has been identified that the sector is growing at twice the rate of the overall economy. As a result of this kind of evidence, many countries throughout the world are now giving this sector significant emphasis in their economic development strategies.


3) For more writing on a critical engagement with the conceptual and political territory animated by the deployment of such ideas in the work of Hardt, Negri, Lazzarato, Virno and others, and follows previous explorations of class composition and politics in ephemera (for instance in the issues on 'the theory of the multitude' and 'writing: labour') see http://www.ephemeraweb.org.


4) Studies of the 'creative workplace' have revealed new forms of control and exploitation and
research into particular creative industry clusters have revealed high levels of insecurity and inequality. Equally, as 'creativity' and 'innovation' have become highly prized assets they have also been subject to routinisation and mechanisation in the search for increased profits. At the
same time there have been attempts to theorise the status of 'creative labour' within modern societies, with networking and self-fulfilment now linked to Boltanski's 'new spirit of capitalism'.

5)There is one topic on labour issue, connected with the field of design and art (since I work in both) is how to find more creative and effective labour approach in scientific research. A mission impossible? Not at all. Just few days ago I have discovered how this idea is central in the Media Technology MSc programme of Leiden University, taught by Maarten Lamers and Bas Haring. The text on the invitation to a masterclass and exhibition on Creative Research this summer in Rotterdam was promising: »…Only through dealing creatively with research itself can we achieve results that could otherwise not be envisioned, and can science remain groundbreaking. Just as in the Dutch concept of autonomous artists, there should be free-thinking and creative scientists - autonomous scientists. «

6) The autonomous scientist could be a promising idea for junior scholars in the field of design. And what happens when once a promising idea turns to be the solitary option?

Daniel van der Velden

Like I said:
At this moment there is no definition of a political collective in design - in fact designers don't have a concept of collectivity at all other than what Dieter Lesage calls the 'glitterati', the participation in the lifestyle of power without an interest in power or its contestation.

The concept of immaterial labour offers a promising alternative to the (overly narrow) 'professional' definitions of design; designers being expert mediators, designers being qualified to think up brands and ideas. On the one hand it's true, designers do that, on the other hand it is nonsense. Designers are people behind laptops checking email. It is the backbone of immaterial labour which accounts not for 'good' or 'bad' design but for the changing nature of design as a particular type of work which has considerable economical value.
In my view, most professional associations of designers already function as guilds (though transformed under postfordism into promotional agencies and 'partners' in design events). Guilds are not labour unions, they do not consider value accumulation based on work but they consider a community of craftspersons. This guild idea currently is used to (falsely) protect ideas of quality and distinction which are not actualized. I don't know how it is for AIGA, but the Dutch BNO, for example, accepts every new applicant who holds a BA in design (and I am not sure to what extent this requirement will sustain itself). It does not select on 'quality' of craft (as traditional guilds would), cashes in on a few hundred euros of yearly contribution for each member, and that's it. With that money, it organizes events and it publishes a magazine for members, but these events and publications don't collectivize or politicize on design issues, rather the opposite: they completely miss out on what is relevant. I still am a BNO member, I have to admit, but most if not all interesting designers aren't. For me a labour union for designers is not about promoting or enforcing a high-class ergonomical working environment for every designer but about addressing the value produced by design labour. That does include addressing the conditions of continuous and precarious freelance engagements. I am not saying that the fixed contract and the pension plan are 'the' given solutions to these problems, but some by now ancient ideas about labour value need to be re-actualized. One of the key ingredients to this is of course the opposite of labour: strike. You admit that you are not just working but you are working for someone else; this is almost automatically true for designers. The refusal to work, the strike, has a potential to produce negative value. If fashion designers in Milan and Paris would care about the workers producing their fashion in Romania and Bangla Desh they could collectivize on such issues and organize a new idea of a strike. It is genuinely important whether the person executing your work is reasonably paid or not; there is not just the 'natural logic' of things, but also the way we would like them to be.

My feeling is that the game for professional distinction for the design trade at large is lost anyway; too many definitions of what it is designers do co-exist, and there's too many different socio-economic configurations in which design is made. From small scale practices to multi-million Yen/Euro/Dollar corporate firms, to individuals designing themselves.
Even though ultimately designers shape the world through their professional action, professionalism doesn't account for the similarities design labour currently shares with other types of labour (like 'user generated content') carried out through information networks and informal agency between, while operating the computer as an instrument (that is: a computer linked to the internet). The transformation of design labour under post-Fordism is key to this. In response to Geert, I don't think that we necessarily need to distinguish between designers with or without a reputation. I do agree that a designer 'of reputation' may get offered more interesting jobs than an unknown startup, but the labour conditions won't be that different, and that includes the payment.

So, again: I'm aware that a labour union is a political form which belongs to the industrial era. But it is able to re-appropriate the value of the labour for its members.

PS. Becoming a member of the design policy forum requires one to register for a Yahoo ID. When I, as a non-member, send an email message to this group it gets bounced because I'm not a member which equals to not having a Yahoo ID. I don't have a Yahoo ID and I am not planning on getting one. However, this very detail shows that the discussion about design and labour is premised wrongly; the value of this 'designers' discussion has been already appropriated by Yahoo. It is an ultimate disillusion talking about labour unions, AIGA, etc., when non-Yahoo ID members get excluded from participation. Where is your sense of 'democracy'?

Susan Mann

I believe the trend to disassemble the workforce began even earlier. In 1986, a rider to the existing tax code was passed. It was called section 1706. Part of it was a give away for an international trade bill. Its importance in this context is that it changed the way certain classes of consultants could work. These categories of workers which we would later call "Knowledge" workers were made into common law employees of their clients because of the way the work was performed. These classes of workers included draftmen, architects, designers and computer technicians. I will discuss the latter because it is the field I know best. For IT workers, this was usually hourly charges, onsite, using the client's computers (remember this was just the beginning of the PC revolution so it was unreasonable for anyone to have a mainframe in their home office; also bank and brokerage (main customers of this type of consultant) security rules required that work be done onsite). The implication of being a common law employee was that the client was then responsible for employment taxes including FICA plus any back penalties and fines. So in fear of the IRS, companies, especially large firms that provided most of the IT consulting work refused to hire independent contractors. New companies were formed to fulfill the requirements of this new regulation which did nothing to protect the workers but put lots of money in the IRS's pockets. Consulting firms grew in number and size with most of the "employees" being temporary hourly workers with no benefits and lower net wages. Independent consultants incorporated themselves and paid for disability, workers compensation and business insurance for themselves so they could work "corp to corp" and thus increase their gross billing. The only time that I can recall this being used to the benefit of the worker is in 1996 when temporary workers of Microsoft sued and won their rights to the Microsoft Employee Stock Option Plan.

I believe that the precedent of knowledge workers working virtually was set in 1896. It provided a way to avoid long term mutual commitment to employees. Temporary workers who had sometimes been at clients longer than employees could now be changed with the season. Other companies were now responsible for their taxes and benefits and if they were not getting any, major companies were still not legally responsible. This opened the door to what we see in the virtual workforce today.

Gong Szeto

aiga a labor union? no probably not. the AIA did something good (or bad depending how you look at it) and concretized an architect's fee as being a percentage of the overall project budget. i have no idea how this in enforceable by state or federal law (it probably isn't) but more by virtue of professional consensus, ie if ALL AIA member architects charge X, then it is hard to charge Y. of course someone can always come in an undercit the 10% of budget fee, but they would get the same treatment as a strike-breaking scab, so there are social disincentives for doing so. education, discounts, etc are all secondary value-adds to membership in my opinion. if AIGA had the same impact in setting "wages" it would probably resemble something more like a labor union, but in truth it is a professional organaiztion that traffics in things more intellectual than tangible. is the labor union model even relevant in the knowledge worker set? for the reasons you give no, and i would also add knowledge work is less commodified than skilled labor because of the esoterica of education requirements and changing landscape of intellectual "conditions" within to practice (and i lump law, medicine into this mix) and is considered a variable cost vs. a fixed cost on a company's balance sheet. predictable wages as fixed cost is always easier to manage, which is why companies are willing to come to the table in contract negotiations, but they always want to negotiate down, obviously. what is consistent across all these examples, however, is the interplay of the need to elevate the stature and security of the productive actor and the need to contain and minimize cost for the client business, both having the shared motive of maximizing profit.

ksenija berk

I'm very satisfied with the development of the discussion on the DP group. Here is a response from Geert Lovink:

Daniel van der Velden wrote:
>
> > I'm aware that a labour union is a political form which belongs to
> > the industrial era. But it is able to re-appropriate the value of
> > the labour for its members.
>
> Daniel already indicates the problem with the union model. Who are
> the bosses and where could the demands be put on the table? In the
> case of Hollywood the union model still works, even though the
> 'workers' are all freelancers. It could also work in fashion, but
> design?
>
> In the Netherlands there is still enough work, both on the side of
> ordinary clients and even more so for theorists, critics and those
> who want to make their hands dirty with writing design policy papers.
> There is also still enough work in the edu sector. The question is
> more how much work there is for web designers and ordinary graphic
> designers without a reputation.
>
> Geert

John

One could also draw a history of labor unions emerging from of guilds of artisan workers with highly specialized skills originally designed to keep unskilled workers out and maintain a monopoly on a certain skill set. See, for example guilds of skilled stonemasons. There's an analog here for graphic designers, though of course nowadays design is hardly esoteric.

The comments to this entry are closed.