Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How digital workers are getting organized

A guest post published on CUNY’s Digital Labor Working Group blog.

By Joel Dullroy

Digital workers probably don’t call themselves freelancers. Indeed, they presently are unlikely identify with any worker category at all. Whatever name they use to describe their condition – independent worker, contractor, micro entrepreneur – they nevertheless exist in a grey zone in which long-fought-for rights and protections do not apply. The freelancing grey zone has a physical corollary: special economic zones, or free trade zones, those areas where companies operate in a legal no-man’s-land. And like the freelancing workforce, these zones were once exceptional, but have become ubiquitous.

Ascertaining the real size of the freelancing workforce is a difficult task. Few national statistical agencies adequately categorize independent workers. At worst they are not counted at all; at best they are lumped together with other self-employed workers such as storekeepers, who have similar but not identical conditions. We have compared the existing data on freelance workers from the United States and Europe, and present our results in our new e-book, Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers’ Rights Movement (see page 29-30). The various studies show that between four and 10 per cent of the European workforce is now independent or self-employed. In the United States, studies place the number of freelancers anywhere between 10 and 30 per cent of the workforce. The vast discrepancy is cause for concern, for if this demographic is not properly counted, how can effective policy ever be implemented to meet its concerns?

Indeed properly counting freelancers is one of the simple starting demands of the nascent freelancers’ rights movement, a growing coalition of organizations around the world representing the independent workforce. In the U.S., the foremost proponent of the movement is the Freelancers Union. In European countries organizations such as the PCG in the United Kingdom, the PZO in the Netherlands, Germany’s VGSD and Italy’s ACTA are fighting on behalf of freelancers. These groups have different constituencies, ideologies, approaches and demands, but they are united in their attempt to shape an atomized landscape of disjointed individuals into a cohesive political front with clout. As the size of the freelancing workforce grows, so to does their claim for a voice in politics and society.

The freelancers’ rights movement faces challenges, not the least being to convince freelancers themselves to take part. But if the various organizations can hold together, form a unified voice, create effective campaigning machinery and rally independent workers, they stand a chance of creating a new form of worker organization, one that utilizes the very tools of digital labor to its own advantage.

We provide an overview of the freelancers’ rights movement, its various participating bodies, and a political history of the rise of the freelancing class in our new e-book, which can be downloaded as a PDF or in Kindle format for free from www.freelancersmovement.org.

Joel Dullroy is a journalist and freelance activist in Berlin. He is author of the book Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers’ Rights Movement.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The anatomy of a campaign website

Over the past few months, a group of dedicated freelance activists in Berlin have been strategizing about how to get independent workers across Europe to take part in our developing movement. Our mission is to create a united European front for the various existing freelance organizations ahead of the European Parliamentary elections in May 2014. We want to show politicians in Brussels that independent workers are a growing demographic, one that isn’t atomized and powerless any longer.

But how best to rally freelancers, when we have no budget? We decided to use the simplest and most financially effective tool at our disposal – an online campaign, spread via social media. The secret weapon – the thing that will push our message above all the other social and environmental campaigns clamoring for attention online – will be coworking spaces, which are already existing community gathering points which can become embassies the of the freelancers’ movement. With a poster in every coworking space, and a community manager informed about our efforts, the campaign will step beyond the digital realm and become a physical reality.

We set to work studying existing online campaigns to get an understanding of current practice, and steal the best elements.

Follow the link to read what we discovered: http://freelancersmovement.org/the-anatomy-of-a-campaign-website/

Monday, December 09, 2013

My book: Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers' Rights Movement

The preview edition of Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers’ Rights Movement is now available for download. This preview edition includes five chapters. Further chapters will be released in future editions of the book.



Around the world, independent workers are getting organized. No longer an ignorable minority in society, freelancers are waking up to the potential power within their growing number. They are combining through online communities, campaign groups, incorporated associations and even proto-unions to exert influence over their conditions.

Independents Unite! Inside the Freelancers Rights Movement, by Joel Dullroy and Anna Cashman, introduces the concept of the collective empowerment of freelancers. The book provides an overview of the existing elements of the freelancers’ movement, with comparisons of the organizations and campaigns currently at work and the goals they are striving to achieve. It lays out the conditions which have led to the growth of the freelancing workforce to show how the current situation has been purposefully created through political decisions, and can therefore be altered and improved by the same means.

With a foundational text in place, critical discussions on the topic of independent worker rights can continue to develop, in symbiosis with the freelancers’ movement itself.


This preview edition includes five complete chapters:

  • Introducing the Freelancers’ Movement
  • How Many? Counting Freelancers
  • Pushed: How Politics and Ideology Created the Freelancing Grey Zone
  • The Reaction Begins: How Freelancers are Getting Organized
  • Case Study: Freelancers Union





The book is available as a free PDF download. Supporters may also select to pay a donation to help the authors complete their research and writing.

Download the book from this website: http://www.freelancersmovement.org

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time for a Berlin Living Wage

The cost of living in the German capital is rising fast. Property owners are taking advantage of Berlin's popularity by pushing up rents. Public transport costs have risen to among the most expensive in Europe. Yet wages have hardly changed at all, particularly for those at the bottom of the employment market.
It's time that Berlin businesses were encouraged to start paying a Living Wage. This is an hourly rate calculated to reflect the real cost of living in a city.
Other cities already have a living wage in place. In London, the Living Wage Foundation independently calculates a fair hourly rate, over and above the national minimum wage. The current minimum wage in the UK is 6.31 GBP, while the London Living Wage is 8.80 GBP.
The foundation then encourages businesses to pay the Living Wage, and rewards those that do by giving them accreditation and stickers to place on their shopfronts. You often see these stickers on cafes in central London, and companies advertise jobs as being Living Wage compliant.
This voluntary system has been very effective at encouraging a decent rate of pay in the service industry. It has also gained political support from all parties, and is championed by London's mayor and business leaders.

A Berlin Living Wage

Establishing a Berlin Living Wage would not be a difficult task. It would involve just a few inspired individuals, calculating a rate, promoting the idea to business and government, and getting public attention. The groundwork could be laid within a couple of weeks.
It could be supported by other social movements, such as the existing freelancers' movement in Germany, as well as the many small interns' rights campaigns underway in the city.

What about Germany's impending minimum wage?

The idea of introducing a nationwide minimum wage was debated in the recent federal election, but no policy is yet prepared, and there's no guarantee that it will come into effect. The possible introduction of a minimum wage is no reason to delay implementing a Berlin Living Wage.
Both a minimum wage and living wage can operate simultaneously. The costs of living in the inner city are often higher than the general cost of living nationally, so the Living Wage usually needs to be slightly higher.

Next Steps

I will attend the European Conference on Living Wages, which takes place in Berlin on November 25 and 26. This conference will address the idea of a living wage in Asian countries, but oddly does not include any topics about introducing the concept locally in the very city in which the event takes place. We can bring the idea forward as attendees.

Anyone interested in joining me at the conference, or in forming a working group to plan for the creation of the Berlin Living Wage can contact me: @joeldullroy, or joeldullroy at gmail.com.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Building a fair freelancers' platform

Originally posted on the Freelancers' Movement blog:

The economy of the internet is dominated by privately-owned portals which view their community of users as customers, content creators, data providers, and assets to profit from. Yet a different model of economic participation is possible, one in which the user is not a passive object, but an active beneficiary in the operation of online platforms. Membership could become a form of partial ownership, users could become stakeholders deciding on form and function.

For an illustrative example, the users of an online apartment rental platform could collectively own such a website, earning money not just with their transactions but also through their small shareholding. Or freelance workers who source jobs through crowdsourcing websites could profit from the growth and operation of such platforms as co-operative owners, rather than be simply exploited as disempowered users.

Applying the concepts of the co-operative business model to online platforms, especially those in the collaborative consumption industry, could result in a radical reshaping of digital citizenship and society through empowerment, inclusion and compensation. But the development of such systems requires a detailed analysis of the economic, legal and technical hurdles that stand in the way.

To explore these themes in greater detail, Freelancers’ Movement writers have applied for funding to hold a series of workshops to rethink economic participation in online platforms. A variety of experts will be invited to contribute their ideas, selected from fields such as collaborative consumption, the co-operative movement, freelancers’ advocacy organizations, coworking spaces, venture capital, business development, and alternative economics. The end result will be not just a report, but a practical blueprint and a set of tools for any online community to use to create a platform which embraces a new participatory model of operation.

To contribute to this project, please contact Joel Dullroy: joel@freelancersmovement.org.

These ideas have been influenced by these blog posts by Zacqary Adam Green (Twitter: @XerxesQados) and Sara Horowitz. Thanks for your inspiration.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Elected by chance

A monologue about an election in a parallel reality:

The night asfull of restless energy. Anticipation buzzed across the state. The election, advertised by placards on every lamp post for weeks now, was finally in play. Newspapers and blogs ran hot with headlines:

"Decision time."
"Who will be chosen?"
"Time for a change."

Households settled in to watch the television coverage. Talking heads yammered behind graphic displays of numbers and charts, explaining the process of leader selection.

The moment of the announcement came. The outgoing leader mounted the podium amid a fire of camera flashes. With pomp she approached the spinning chest, stopped it in rotation with her hand, opened the hatch and retrieved twelve silver balls, each marked with a number. The balls were placed in the velvet holder one by one, until the sequence was displayed in full.

In a house in one corner of the state, a young father bouncing a baby on his knee stopped his bodily motions and stared hard at the television. He recognized the sequence of the silver balls. Glancing at his wrist to check, the tattoo confirmed the stillness of his heart. Within a moment, the television networks were beaming his identification picture onto every functioning screen across the state.

He had been elected the new leader.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Radio Spaetkauf #12 2013: Going Brandenburg

On this episode the Berlin podcast goes to Brandenburg. Maisie, Joel and Andrew visit a dilapidated former DDR summer camp and collect several stories and songs on location. The summer camp, Klingemühle in the Schlaubetal nature reserve, is being maintained by a community association to host workshops and small festivals. We find out about the history of the summer camp, what it’s like to live in Brandenburg, and an interview with some volunteers for the upcoming Camp Tipsy festival. Music from visiting Portland performer Nadia Buyce.

Radio Spaetkauf #11 2013: Summer time in Berlin

Radio Spaetkauf is the Berlin podcast, a half-hour discussion of local news, politics, urban development, culture and music, presented by international residents Maisie, Joel and Andrew.

This episode is a summer special, with some tips about getting out of the city and visiting the lakes of Brandenburg. We talk about the threat faced by some of the beloved garden allotments on the city’s fringes due to housing pressure. In urban development news we discuss the Stadtschloss, a monumental building project that threatens to become a monumental disaster. Despite the enormous cost to the city, the city castle is going ahead. Even revelations that Berlin will have to pay €470M back to the federal government due to a population miscount hasn’t deterred the castle’s supporters. We interview the initiator of Spree Bluete, a local Berlin currency in development. And there’s a special guest monologue by Joshua James Alas of Mobile Kino about the death of 35mm film projection in Berlin cinemas.

Saturday, June 08, 2013