Re:National Writer's Union (way too long)

Subject: Re:National Writer's Union (way too long)
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l digest recipients <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2000 11:41:19 -0700

Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote:

>NWU's biggest problem is that its ideals are wholly out of line with 21st
>century economics and the realities of today's high-tech job market.

In other words, it disagrees with the way things are, and wants
to change them. You're free to disagree with its goals, but
they're also free to try.

"Realities" don't just happen; they're the result of human
action. 21st century economics and the high-tech job market are
what they are today because certain groups decided that they
would be: not by active conspiracy, but simply by making
self-interested decisions.

>They want to batter the industry via governmental lobbying and 1960's era terrorism into accepting their >values.

All these techniques are legal. Industry uses them, too. I mean,
we're not talking about 19th century mining villages, where
blacklegs were tarred and feathered or dropped down mine shafts.

>The problem with the NWU is broken down into four issues:
>1. The high-tech industry has wholly rejected the notion of unionization. The
>rapid evolution of technologies and dependence on highly-skilled, professionals
>makes unions totally unattractive to technology companies.

Yes, and just look at the result: unpaid overtime becomes the
norm and (in British Columbia), the labour code is relaxed for
high-tech. Companies demand loyalty as if their employees were
living in a company town in the Thirties. In general, the
corporate paternalism of sixty years ago is revived, with token
stock participation and toys at work to make everyone think that
spending all their time at the office is fun.

So far as I can see, the only thing that makes this situation
tolerable is that a skilled worker doesn't have to stay at the
same company for very long. But, if jobs ever get scarce, the
deal will seem far less sweet for the average high-tech employee.

Unionism may or may not be the answer, but it's not very
surprising that some people should want to try it. We're already
well into deja vu.

>2. Recruiting and contracting is an outgrowth of incompetence and litigation,

To say nothing of the wish to avoid paying benefits.

>3. Combative organizations with political aspirations are a big turn-off to
>high-tech companies that wish to avoid entanglements with the government or any
>needless bureaucracy.

How many companies have EVER welcomed unions? Historically,
companies have accepted unions because the alternative was even
greater labour problems. Also, as professional union leaders
emerged, companies found that this new type of middle-class
executive was easier to deal with than someone on the shop floor.

>4. Freelancing is intended to be a person freely selling their services to
>buyers. There is zero incentive for companies to work with any collective group
>when there are vast numbers of qualified, business savvy individuals who are
>willing to work independently.

Obviously, the NWU hopes to change that. Independents were a
problem in the earlier attempts at unionism, too.

>I am all for any group that encourages people to work independently. But the
>NWU wants to make the contracting and consulting process an "us-vs-them" class
>struggle. This notion is simply absurd in today's global, (nearly) free
>marketplace. The NWU is trying to apply 1960s era liberalism to 21st century
>era libertarianism. It is a joke to even try.

I'm not sure what I think about the concept of class struggle.
Too often, it seems to result in a reductionistic view. However,
when I hear anything being called "absurd" and "a joke," I
suspect that the speaker isn't even willing to consider the
object of the name-calling.

The official mythology of North America is that its societies are
classless. This myth has been strengthened with the collapse of
the traditional left in the Nineties, and the idea of class war
being officially declared out of date. However, that doesn't
necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. Officially, sexism and
racism don't, either.

I wouldn't want to accept the idea wholeheartedly, but what's so
hard to accept about the idea that workers in high-tech might
have different interests than their bosses? If companies could be
counted on to always act in the best interest of their employees,
then attempts to organize workers - no matter how misguided they
might or might not be - would never happen.

>The whole gist of the New Economy is more freedom, more responsibility, more
>reward for hard work. The New Economy is reinventing the American Dream that
>if you work hard and play the capitalism game, you will be rewarded with good
>pay. The era of "Great Society" LBJ style communism is dead. It died with the
>Berlin Wall. Democracy, freedom, and capitalism won!

The more I see of the New Economy, the more it looks like the old
ones that were discredited after World War II. We have a large
software company using the same practices and the same excuses of
the robber barons of a century ago, and the reinvention of
corporate practices that were discarded because they didn't work.
The economy only looks "new" if you lack any historical sense at

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Contributing Editor, Maximum Linux
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com | Tel: 604.421.7189

"I dig a ditch, I shape a stone,
Another battlement for his throne,
Another day on earth has flown,
We're all working for the Pharaoh."
-Richard Thompson, "Pharaoh"

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