The Dignity of Labor

Earlier in the semester, Talitha asked our seminar if anyone would be wiling to work as a Production Assistant for $2 an hour. Some people said yes, others said no. Our discussion turned to how this would ruin the market for everyone–if there are people willing to work for $2, who truly have the choice and can supplement this with other income, companies will take advantage of the opportunity to exploit people, many of whom will not have those same options. This reminded me of “scabs”–people who will work while other workers are striking. They ruin the strike, because they show power that there are workers that are willing to be underpaid and poorly treated, therefore ruining the demands of the strike.

Artist Molly Crabapple's rendition of Scabby the rat.

Artist Molly Crabapple’s rendition of Scabby the rat.

While reading TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet, I was struck by the solidarity among workers. Striking was not just about a better deal individually, but a means to improve the industry for all. There was a knowledge that good labor conditions were fought for, and it was their duty to preserve and improve them for the next generation. Everybody Loves Raymond creator, Phil Rosenthal, said, “I only have what I have because somebody struck for it before me. I feel like it’s an honor and a privilege to be here on behalf of the next generation of writers.”

Additionally, the solidarity from other labor unions helped put pressure on the studios, and demonstrated the concept that workers as a class must organize together for success. One strategy the strikers employed was asking the truck drivers, who were Teamsters, not to deliver to the studios. Leo Reed, the leader of Hollywood’s Teamsters Local 399 said, “I will not cross any picket line whether it is sanctioned or not because I firmly believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines.”

For labor demands to succeed, everyone must believe that the dignity of labor is worth fighting for. This allows us to organize across different sectors, united by the belief that humans deserve fair compensation for their work, safe working environments, and a life outside the workplace. When all of these things converge, the results are powerful. Many people like to write off labor organizing, but its more important than ever, especially since issues of compensation and the internet continue to be pressing.

Taylor Swift garnered praise for calling out Apple Music for not paying writers, musicians, and producers, for the three-month trial period of their product. She noted that she was fortunate to have a successful music career, and was advocating for everyone in the industry, particularly those who would be hit hardest by this lack of compensation.” This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create,” she wrote,  “just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.”

"Feeling Myself," a truly iconic music video, premiered exclusively on Tidal.

“Feeling Myself,” a truly iconic music video, premiered exclusively on Tidal.

Streaming platforms continue to present challenges for artists. Jay Z launched Tidal with the aim of fairly compensating artists, writers, and producers. Tidal’s appeal was the huge names Jay Z could stack behind it–the instantly successful music video for Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s song “Feeling Myself” exclusively premiered on Tidal. You can still only watch a trailer on YouTube. Beyoncé was a huge draw to Tidal, but quickly ran into issues when Sony threatened to pull her music from the streaming platform. Nicki Minaj pointed out that racism in the creative industries makes advocating for labor rights difficult, especially with the trope of the “angry black woman” coming into play. Tidal faced a lot of criticism, and Minaj pointed out the disparity between people’s responses to their advocacy and Taylor Swifts.

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Labor issues are critical, and will continue to be, especially with the rise of competitive streaming platforms. As people interested in these issues, its important that we value the dignity of our own labor, and follow these issues.

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