Freelance Work and Organized Labour : PWAC Presents

At the 2007 PWAC National Conference & AGM in Vancouver, PWAC presented the esteemed Dr. Vincent Mosco, Canada Research Chair in Communications and Society as one of our luncheon speakers. Dr. Mosco spoke to the gathered writers about how freelance work and organized labour have begun to come together in North America. (to audio on

While listening I was reminded of some of the people I met during CopyCamp last year. The problem with uniting during a time of economic transition is that you could end up putting all your eggs in the wrong basket. Many of the union proposals those who thought knowledge workers should embrace were in my opinion quite harmful to our ability to make a decent living as knowledge workers.

It may be all of 'our' eggs (IE: those living in Canada, or in North America, operating under the laws/rules promoted by the unions), but there will always be other countries able to out-compete us by adopting alternative methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity.

Dr. Mosco claimed that there is nothing new with this new media/tech, bringing up an analogy to those who believed that electricity would supposedly illuminate and eliminate crime.

But what if he is wrong, as I happen to strongly believe?

I believe that new communications technology brings the marginal cost of production and distribution so close to zero to be unmeterable. This means that, for the first time in our history, people who make a living with knowledge can explore business models that harness a zero-marginal-cost structure. As a developer and technical support person who only supports Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), I am already working in this part of the economy. I simply do not experience the types of problems experienced by those in the workers association mentioned by Dr. Mosco that has formed at Microsoft.

If the union movement is pushing royalties (a non-zero marginal price) as the only viable business model, huge opportunities get lost. Those of us trying to make a better living with what we believe are better business models are not only having to fight against larger corporations trying to put us out of business, but also these unions that are effectively trying to put us out of business as well.

While I agree that knowledge workers must make a decent wage, that in many cases will require abandoning some of the older business models which set up the very conditions that cause this risk.