The International Brotherhood of Blatherers, Local 123

I posted over at Comment is Free about the amusing effort to start a union of liberal bloggers.

  • Eric Jaffa

    Your article is based on burying the lede.

    If you started out by saying that the purpose is group rates on health insurance, then all your jokes about people picketing themselves would have to be dropped.

  • Eric Jaffa

    How about updating your article with a correction: Susie Madrak doesn’t want a code of ethics for bloggers.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    I posted a comment there noting I was wrong about the code of ethics and apologizing. I misread one of the reports.

    To your first point, I also posed a comment at CiF saying I think it’s dangerous to give bloggers insurance from the party based on their ideology and what they say. That comes perilously close to Pay Per Post.

  • Eric Jaffa

    I agree that it’s risky for the Democratic Party to give this organization.

    It could turn independent bloggers into party hacks.

  • http://www.plantingliberally.org shai

    While it’s true most bloggers don’t have bosses, and neither do other creative freelancers, they do participate in economic relationships where they have common cause with others of similar standing. Think of a bloc of AdWords publishers vis-a-vis Google, or a bloc of Gather contributors vis-a-vis Gather.com. Or even a group of freelance chemists vis-a-vis InnoCentive. These individuals have something to gain by acting as a group when negotiating with their revenue providers. In that sense, they are very similar to a group of employees acting together to equalize their relationship with the employer. So it’s interesting to ask whether bloggers or creative freelancers generally can, and should, form a union, and if so how.

    As to the “can” question, the answer is almost certainly no. If a group of bloggers work together to fix their advertising rates, they are acting as a cartel, which violates anti-trust law. (The legal question is actually very interesting – in the early part of the 20th century, employees used to be treated as single economic actors vis-a-vis their employer, just as freelancers are treated vis-a-vis their clients right now. The Wagner Act states that employers in the US may, at their discretion, form groups in order to act as economic groups. I think there is reason to extend this act to cover parts of the new creative economy – people like eBay auctioneers, AdWords publishers, InnoCentive freelance researchers, and the like. With the old economy Republicans still holding sway in DC, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. That’s not to say it shouldn’t.)

    As to the “should” question, the answer is almost certainly yes. Bloggers and freelancers desperately need benefits, most notably health insurance. The fact that this group lacks health insurance probably significantly depresses the creative output of our economy. The silly way in which health care is allocated around here is almost certainly dampening the part of our economy which thrives on creativity.

    Beyond that, unionization can bring enormous political benefits to bloggers and freelancers, whose legal interests are almost completely unrepresented in Washington (except, occasionally, by large companies which act as proxies, like Google.) Bloggers and freelancers have a variety of legal interests, particularly in IP law, and the fact that these legal interests don’t see the light of day in Congress tilts our economy heavily against creativity.

    Now, there are some people thinking about how it would be possible to provide bloggers with benefits something like those provided by a union. Madrak, as you noted, is thinking along the lines of a voluntary association which buys health insurance in a pool. That’s a good idea. The National Writer’s Union does something similar, offering bloggers and other writers the opportunity to participate in its minority union for a graduated membership fee. That’s another good idea. I am kicking around an idea for forming a pseudo-employer, which would hire bloggers and aggregate their advertising revenue, and would have bargaining power against Google or other similar groups. The company could recruit advertising revenue by hiring professional ad people, and do other creative things to boost collective revenues; bloggers could organize within that company if they so chose. Similar approaches could be used to, let’s say, organize web developers who specialize in Drupal implementations (like me).

    Anyway, this topic is actually much more interesting and layered than the current conversation depicts. I think you really missed a huge opportunity to add to the discussion, so I’m not so sure you should be proud of this column. Yeah, the column you wrote treads water pretty well (in a shallow part of the pool, no less). But are you really saying anything interesting or thinking these issues through?

  • http://www.learn9.net Will Pollard

    Comment is closed after three days apparently on the Guardian site. I think i was within this but here’s a repeat anyway.

    What worries me is the Guardian editorial policy on citizen journalism. They are often very rude, in my opinion. The I saw an interview in the FT that explained how the Guardian saw liberalism as a market

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/1348a9b8-4376-11dc-a065-0000779fd2ac,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F1348a9b8-4376-11dc-a065-0000779fd2ac.html&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fsearch.ft.com%2Fsearch%3FqueryText%3DCarolyn+McCall+guardian

    Subscription only unfortunately but you get the drift from the headline.

    My impression is of increasing dissonance in how the Guardian covers the web. They present themselves as part of the scene online, then tend towards knocking copy in print.

    I send stories to OhmyNews so have an interest in citizen journalism. This was reported a few years ago in a supportive manner but recently there is more insistance on the proper role of professional journalists.

    Is liberalism the sort of area in which you could establish a global monopoly?

  • Nancy

    I’ve been thinking of a model of a guild. One of the first uses would be to track a members work. If you are working in the new economy and have had many jobs, you probably will lose information on the details of every job. A common system of recording work performed would help define working relationships. For example, I worked for a subcontractor setting up a new computer system for a small hotel chain. Then I worked for a different hotel chain directly. I want to record computer systems used, company worked for, actual work performed and duration of assignment.

    That much information quickly becomes too much for standard resumes. For someone just starting out their worklife, keeping track of it over the next 70 years will be a trick. The guild would keep your “book” of work.

    The advantages include proof of actual work over your career, ability to track volunteer as well as paid assignments, and consistent format across employers.

    Health care or other benefits may have copays or different cost depending on length of employment.

    Hope this isn’t off topic.