December 14, 2023
From The Real News Network
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Video game workers picketed the 2023 Game Awards in protest of sizable layoffs. Some 8,000 workers were laid off in the industry this year, despite record-breaking projected profits of $180 billion for 2023. The picket, organized by the working group Game Workers of Southern California, marks another step forward in the fight to organize workers and unionize the industry. TRNN Associate Editor Mel Buer speaks with organizers on the conditions in the gaming industry and current efforts to hold companies accountable.

Production: Mel Buer
Post-Production: David Hebden


Transcript

The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Mel Buer:

Hey, folks, welcome back to another episode of the Real News Network podcast. I’m your host, Mel Buer. Before we dive into today’s episode, I wanted to take a moment to thank you, our listeners, for sticking with us as we work hard to bring you the independent journalism that you know and rely on. We don’t take corporate cash, we don’t have ads, and we don’t put our reporting behind paywalls. Year after year, we’ve relied in part on your generous donations to keep the lights on and keep our shows running. If you love what we do and want to support us in our work, please take a moment and head on over to therealnews.com/donate. For our year’s end fundraiser, we hope to raise $150,000 so that we can keep bringing you the news coverage you trust in 2024. From now until the year’s end, every dollar you contribute will be doubled.

Mel Buer:

Pitch in 25 bucks and we receive 50. Donate 500, and we receive a staggering $1,000. If you start a monthly donation today, our generous donor will match your donation for an entire year. Your ongoing support will have multiplied impact every month. Also, if you’d like to stay up to date on the important stories that we’re covering, sign up to our free newsletter at therealnews.com/sign-up, and follow us on your favorite social media. We have incredible things planned for the new year, so you don’t want to miss a moment.

Mel Buer:

As I’ve noted in previous episodes, 2023 has been a banner year for labor organizing in the United States. As groundbreaking organizing is splashed across the front pages of newspapers across the country, over the last few years, we’ve seen a marked increase in public support for union campaigns seeking to organize previously unrepresented industries.

Mel Buer:

In the games industry, a number of union campaigns have kicked off in the last 18 months, including organizing drives at Activision Blizzard and other game studios, as well as a very welcome neutrality agreement at Microsoft, where the company has promised not to interfere in any union organizing campaigns amongst its workers. However, the situation in the games industry is pretty dire. According to recent reporting by Nicole Carpenter at Polygon, the games industry expects to rake in record profits to the tune of over $180 Billion. Yes, billion dollars. After releasing a number of blockbuster video games since the start of 2023.

Mel Buer:

All that money hasn’t translated into better working conditions for the workers, however. Over 8,000 workers have been laid off since the start of the year. It’s against this backdrop that workers have redoubled their efforts to keep the conversation going and offer resources to one another that might help them in their efforts to win union representation in their shops. On the West Coast, game workers formed a working group called Game Workers of Southern California, whose chief aim is to coordinate direct actions, share information with new and existing game workers, and shed light on the workplace abuses in the game industry.

Mel Buer:

Just last week, organizers formed a picket outside of the Video Game Awards, where they passed out leaflets about the rounds of layoffs in the industry and sought to educate attendees on the need for unions at their favorite studios. For this week’s episode, I sat down with a number of organizers from Game Workers of SoCal to discuss working conditions in the game industry, the need for organizing in tech, and the importance of white-collar unions in the wider US labor movement. Here is that interview.

Mel Buer:

So yeah, whoever wants to start, if you want to just introduce yourself, maybe say what your role is within the video game industry, and how you got into organizing with Game Workers of Southern California. Whoever wants to start.

Kelsey:

Yes, I’ll start. I’m Kelsey, I’m a game programmer, a generalist in that field, and I’ve been organizing with Game Workers of SoCal since before it was Game Workers of SoCal. It used to be Game Workers Unite, and the Los Angeles and Orange County chapters merged at one point, so we’ve been active in some capacity since more or less, what, 2018? 2017, 2018?

Stephen:

Yep, that’s right.

Kelsey:

And a couple of us has been through it from the start.

Julie:

I could go next. I’m Julie and my role in the gaming industry is usually a QA tester, but I’m trying to do UXUI, but in the meantime, I’m also working on independent projects. And I started at Game Workers of Southern California… I knew about it, but I was organizing a previous union during the time, but then during the pandemic, I had more time to connect with more people virtually, and I just wanted to know, “How do you organize virtually?” And Game Workers of Southern California has been very helpful with that, and then I just started getting really into it as I meet more people, and then I joined more pickets, I started to really feel that solidarity with everybody, so that’s why I’m still here today.

Stephen:

Yeah, let’s see. I’m Stephen, I’ve been a programmer in the game industry for about five or six years now, coming up on. I joined this org in various forms, I think early 2019, I had just gotten laid off and was very angry about it and was just looking for anybody who was doing anything about it. And this was the only place I could find where people were really talking about actual action to improve the industry instead of just paying lip service to “things will get better eventually,” which is what I kept hearing. So, within GWSC and its various forms, gosh, I think I’ve mostly done communications and public interview stuff, and then just going to lots of whatever type of direct action we have.

Roland:

Yeah, I’m Roland, I have been in the game industry for about same as Stephen, around six years I think. And I came in from the Trump era of [inaudible 00:06:25] disorganizing coming in from DSA. And yeah, I’ve been a part of Game Workers of Southern California when it was Game Workers Unite LA, and I’ve been on the steering committee of it for almost about as long, maybe for about three years of it. And yeah, this is just where I feel like the most effective work I could do is one that’s closest to my work in my own passions for creating games. It’s the closest place where I can make a tangible difference in not just my lives, but in all the lives of the people I respect. So yeah, I’ve been in the game for a while, along with all my friends here.

Mel Buer:

Great. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to sit down with us and shed some light on this industry. The one thing that I’ve noticed a lot with my audience is that, a lot of folks who listen to this podcast maybe aren’t familiar with these types of industries, particularly when it comes to the various offshoots of media and entertainment. So, it’s been really good to be able to bring folks on to talk about the working conditions in industries that maybe from the outside look like white collar industries that maybe don’t need the organizing. That’s often what I get, what I hear, when it comes to organizing in tech, or organizing any sort of media adjacent places where they say, “Well, you’re not working in a factory. Why do you need a union?”

Mel Buer:

So, I think a good place to start here, is to just help our audience understand what the working conditions look like in a general sense. What does the industry look like? Are most workers operating in a sort of independent contractor basis? Do folks attach themselves to large studios and try and organize within those studios? Or what does a typical working day look like for a general game worker? If you can boil it down as much as possible.

Stephen:

I think that all of the things you mentioned definitely apply. It’s that inconsistency that makes a lot of these actions very difficult to organize around. Our game labor activism in general has taken a shop-by-shop approach to organizing, because we can’t do basically, currently at least, what folks like SAG-AFTRA and other trade unions will do, where they organize everybody in a field. We’re starting shop-by-shop, and those lines between disciplines can get pretty fuzzy, programmer, designer, artist, that you’re not always clearly in one or the other. In some cases, because of that ambiguity, you get a lot of some of the overwork that will come from this. If you can basically do three things, then your employers can fire folks who specialize in a field, get people who maybe know a little bit of it, and suddenly you’re doing their work in addition to yours.

Mel Buer:

I guess I’ll just add there that, what that does is, they can cut labor costs if one person knows somewhat how to do three jobs instead of having three people know very well how to do one job each, right?

Stephen:

Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

Mel Buer:

And I’m sure that contributes to this culture of, you hear about it sometimes, when I sit outside this industry, you hear about these long days or working days and days and days on end to get a product out the door. And you only ever hear about this well after the game is released that it was a God-awful nightmare to try and get it done. So, I can see that, is that one of the chief concerns is that, because of this tightening of labor, the overwork, and the expectation of working far longer hours than should be expected, I guess, is a big concern that you have that you organize around?

Julie:

I feel like every studio, for me, that I’ve worked with or I’ve talked with have different concerns. I think the biggest topic right now is also remote. Since I’m a woman myself, more women are going to talk to me about things that bother them. So, one of the things that I’ve noticed is that, sexual harassment is a huge deal when they were in office, and remote is something that really helps them feel more safe. They could turn off their cameras if they feel uncomfortable, there’s options for that. Not only that, but talking to parents as well.

Julie:

They have said of how remote has helped them balance work and life a bit easier, because on the road, some parents are driving from LA all the way to Orange County and that’s like an hour, and then they have to mix ain picking up their kids and have to organize all these different schedulings, it’s not very doable for a parent. So, another thing as remote is a very strong one, sexual harassment is very strong that I run into quite often. Crunch culture, I feel like a lot of companies have addressed a lot sometimes, so I’ve noticed that it’s something that companies have tried to fix, but they’re not completely perfect, but I will say remote work is the hottest topic at the moment.

Kelsey:

And I will add, I’m a trans woman, and something that has been a perennial problem that is just never going away is… How do I put this? It’s like the customer base has been whipped up into a frenzy of bigotry. There have been numerous articles on that throughout the years, but it’s also sometimes, not always, but sometimes it’s the other employees themselves, and bosses tend to take their side instead of whatever marginalized group is being targeted, be it by race or gender or sexuality or ability or lack of. So, that’s something that’s always a low simmer as well.

Mel Buer:

To get a better sense of the size and scope of the games industry, since we’re talking about specifically organizing in Southern California. How many shops, roughly, do you get a sense of that you’re trying to organize? How many people, what is the breakdown there?

Stephen:

Yeah, those numbers fluctuate a lot. I think we’ve seen a lot of different stats that seem pretty broad. Some of that just comes from, “Okay, what do you define as the LA or Southern California area?” But a lot of it comes from what Julie was talking about with remote work, where the company that I work at is based in LA and has 200 odd employees, but most of them do not live here, with remote work and whatnot, and that does make some of the organizing more difficult, because your in-person organizing is very straightforward.

Stephen:

You can walk up to somebody and talk to them. Remote organizing, while it has some advantages, can be really difficult to work with and you don’t have as much of that in-person comfort and friendliness with folks, you don’t have a lot of those natural or organic interactions, which is a great way to build the trust that you need to actually do very risky union work, when you’re asking people to compromise, potentially, their job security, potentially be blacklisted from the industry if their names were to be leaked. You really need to build that trust, and remote work, while it provides a lot of benefits, can also make that part pretty difficult.

Mel Buer:

Is that a pretty big concern then, blacklisting from the industry? Do you find that studios are likely, not overtly, but certainly keeping an eye on the type of union organizing, that pushback, that retaliation is…

Stephen:

Yeah, absolutely. I just personally know several people who have been fired, and while there’s not an official industry blacklist, it certainly seems like they’re having a much harder time getting hired afterwards. So, concern for that type of safety, especially with at-will employment, meaning you can be fired for any reason and then they can say that it’s any other reason. Poor job performance describes the firings of a lot of union friendly folks that I know who, for some reason, didn’t seem to have poor job performance before they were fired.

Kelsey:

Although I would say, on the other hand, there was a better Activision Blizzard King organizer, Jessica Gonzalez, who there were companies who were actually reaching out to her because of her union organizing. So, it’s not necessarily 100% you’re never going to work in this industry again risk. It’s there that some bigger companies maybe, but there are some union friendly studios out there.

Mel Buer:

They would be at least willing to notice the see change and not try and push against what is an inevitability of unionization in the industry. I think that’s great.

Roland:

Yeah, I’ve always been a little suspicious of the idea of an industry-wide blacklist. It always struck me as something of a scare tactic similar to that of a permanent record. You might run into an instance where a recruiter from Riot might be talking with a recruiter from Epic who talks with people from Blizzard, and if you have these personal connections and they might know of your activity, but I don’t think there’s an official, organized blacklist because of situations like Jess’, situations where people were hired because of their union organizing experience, that makes them a real team builder, a leadership person, that some companies find appealing.

Mel Buer:

I would imagine that there wouldn’t be an official blacklist, because any retaliation for union organizing is illegal, so having that official list would… If someone found that, that would be quite a bombshell and it would be extremely unwise, frankly stupid, on the part of any studios who would be willing to maintain that in any official capacity. That is just a very neat paper trail to some pretty serious NLRB charges. But Julie, I want to circle back around here and really dive a little bit more into the specific working conditions that you were discussing, particularly as it relates to remote work.

Mel Buer:

We’ve had some pretty intense conversations since 2020 about the utility of remote work, the ability for workers to be able to work from home, not only because it does help parents save on child care, there have been studies that show that working from home and not having to commute 45 minutes to two hours every day does a world of difference to your wallet, to your mental health, with the obvious trade off that there’s not as much community that you can build among your co-workers. I’m the only remote worker on this side of the country at the Real News, so all of my organizing as a union organizer with my shop is via Zoom, which has its benefits, but also kind of sucks sometimes, because you’re right, you can’t walk into an office to get a question answered or to discuss something that is relevant to your organizing. So, there are trade-offs there.

Mel Buer:

But in terms of what you are hoping to… I find it interesting and kind of sad that, at this point, the only way to force a culture change in cutting down the sexual harassment of women in the workplace, is that women have to remove themselves from the workplace via remote work arrangements in order to feel a measure of safety. And you tend to hear sometimes on the internet and sometimes just in various Reddit forums about the toxicity that exists in certain studios, and that has been blown open in the last couple of years about sexual harassment and really horror stories that happen in some of these offices.

Julie:

Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

Mel Buer:

And I guess as organizers, do you feel that organizing around this remote work arrangement as a sort of stopgap to that sexual harassment is… How do you feel about that being an arrangement, I suppose?

Julie:

I guess, for me, at first I was like… Because sexual harassment was a big thing when I noticed in office. Things are silent, you could catch people glaring, some people talking on the side saying, “Oh wow, she’s looking so good in that tight dress.” You can hear that in person and it’s disgusting, and as a woman, that stands out to me a lot more. But also, doing remote, I was able to… It was kind of hard, I will admit. It is a little hard to notice more abuse in the company, but then there are signs there. And I’ve also talked to people online, we have virtual hangouts, and that’s when I started to find out more.

Julie:

I didn’t realize accessibility. Accessibility was such a huge topic for me in 2020 when I found out some of my co-workers have wrist problems and working at home has really helped cut down that driving, little maneuvers they have to get to work. We had a co-worker who was in a wheelchair. He commute to work three hours total, because he uses the bus. There are so many things that you can fight with remote, that I find it doesn’t have to be just sexual harassment, there’s so many other elements that other people are not talking about. It’s just, as a woman, that’s something I hear every day, is sexual harassment. It’s such a big topic in my life.

Mel Buer:

There’s a wide benefit to at least allowing the option of remote work and organizing work.

Julie:

Yeah, giving people options is good, because some people also need to be in office to work, but that doesn’t mean that fits for everybody. If you’re telling everybody to fit in one mold, that’s very ableist of you.

Mel Buer:

Right. Yeah, I think it’s a great thing to organize around. As someone who has lived and worked in white collar industries my entire professional career, both in academia and in news, having the ability to set up a home office and be able to work remotely, with the caveat that I could go into an office if I want to, I can walk onto a campus if I’m not teaching in person and still be able to have that space. It’s really important, and it really does help normalize that sort of accessibility that, prior to 2020, we really didn’t have any conversations about. And I think of all the horror and tragedy that came out of 2020’s pandemic and the subsequent years, normalizing remote work has been one of those things that’s been really helpful, I think, particularly in organizing white collar industries, like arts industries, like the games and entertainment industries.

Mel Buer:

Kelsey, I also wanted to come back around and continue this conversation just about the importance of this kind of organizing for organizing members of the queer community. You brought up a really good point, that there are, and you yourself have experienced that, for all of the movement towards acceptance, there is still a pretty large portion of the audience that you are designing games for that are fantastically, shockingly, maybe not so shockingly, post-gamer gate, bigoted. And how do you see organizing, like this organizing that you’re doing with Game Workers of SoCal, as a space to be able to, if not immediately start some sort of see change in how studios treat the reaction to this bigoted section of their audience, but at least begin that conversation. What is the importance of this kind of organizing for that kind of work?

Kelsey:

Well, I would point to a recent tentative agreement that Tender Claws Human Union recently reached with their employer, Tender Claws, where they actually have specifically outlined anti-bigotry measures and support for trans employees. So, that’s the end goal right there, is material gains that allow people to essentially stabilize, because all these forces are destabilizing in some way for individuals and the group as a whole. To have that solid base really allows people to come back and regroup, and push forward for further change that needs to happen.

Mel Buer:

It’s fantastic.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Mel Buer:

That’s great to hear.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Mel Buer:

And being able to have those sort of contracts as templates for further organizing activities is really great. It’s once someone can set that precedent for that language, it becomes a lot easier to be able to introduce that language shop-to-shop. So, fantastic. Cool.

Stephen:

Oh, actually, now that you mentioned that. This is a great way to loop back to one of the earlier questions you were talking about, why this work? This is work that is supposedly a very well-paid desk job, that type of thing, why are we organizing here and not factory workers? It’s basically that any gain in labor anywhere in the economy, means gains for everyone else. As we’ve been doing our own organizing work, we’ve both supported and been supported by, I think at this point, dozens of other labor groups from across… Not even across the industry or tech sector or whatever, just everywhere. We’ve worked with Medieval Times workers, with Stripper Strike, all these people who are not from games, but we are helping each other out, going to each other’s strikes for…

Stephen:

We mentioned the Game Awards demonstration. That was a double-booked tonight. Right after that, a lot of our members went to Stripper Strike Action. So, I think as you get more people working in labor organizing, getting experience with this building precedents with contracts. Until I saw the Tender Claws contract, I didn’t even know that was a thing you could ask for, I hadn’t even thought of it. So, once that precedent is established in one industry, one group, one field, you can start exporting that, both in precedent and in labor organizing force to other orgs.

Mel Buer:

It’s been really heartening too, prior to me writing about factory strikes, like the Kellogg’s strike in 2021, all my experience with union organizing was as a labor organizer with the IWW. And so, I have gotten the cool chance, and I’m sure you guys have seen it too over the course of the last 5, 6, 7 years of seeing absolutely no real popular consciousness of labor organizing in any sort of meaningful way beyond maybe a short clip in the back of a newspaper about a particular strike. You just didn’t really hear about it. You know what I mean? Unless it was big, splashed on the front page, 2008 Writer’s Strike kind of thing, where it’s treated as a joke and a hindrance to your daily routine, so on, so forth.

Mel Buer:

Even in just the last three years, we’ve seen an absolute explosion of what the labor movement could be capable of, and scores of new and younger members, people that are the Gen Z and the Gen Alpha, who are really, really excited about what a labor union can do for you and really breaking new ground in labor organizing that some of the old guard maybe just didn’t want to touch. And I think particularly when it comes to white collar tech industries, we’ve seen what the gig industry has done to these industries, what it’s done to freelance writing, what it’s done to these design and tech industries, what it’s done to the freelancers and contractors who try and get paid by Google, these massive, giant companies that have dominated a workspace and exploited every imaginable loophole that we, at some point in the past, allowed to be opened even wider.

Mel Buer:

We’ve seen what that’s done to the state of work in white collar tech. We’ve seen what that’s done to the state of work in tech design. And it’s not great, and it leads to just a race to the bottom, exploitation in wages, obviously these working conditions are horrible. And to be able to see folks say, “No more, we’re done. We’re done with this particular chapter.” Let’s take this momentum and move it into something that can not only provide a real material difference on an individual basis, but improve the industry that you love to work in and make better products that are more entertaining, that do not break the backs and minds of the people who create them.

Mel Buer:

I’ll get off my soapbox, but it always makes me giggle, kind of darkly in a dark humor kind of way, that we’re not asking for much, we just want the ability to have a say in the direction that an industry goes, because we put so much of our time and our lives in it. And there’s always that group of people that just don’t want to cede that power, purely on the basis of they just don’t want to give it up. It’s not like it’s a money issue. It’s not like it’s any of that. They got plenty of money, very clearly. They’re spending millions of dollars in seven years on developing blockbuster video games. So, it’s not like they don’t have it, it’s just they don’t want to cede that power to the workers who are actually producing that product in the first place.

Mel Buer:

Okay, I’m off my soapbox. Feel free to just add to the conversation, because I think this is a really important one that our audience can identify with.

Kelsey:

You mentioned something about all the new organizing that’s happened since 2020 and it’s shaken up these old guard unions. That was something that was funny to me, because as someone in the games industry, new organizing was just like, that was the only option. There were no unions in the industry five years ago. I’ve been hearing recently, UAW recently announced their plan for a bunch of new organizing and that was considered almost like a break with tradition, it’s like this radical new idea of organize new companies that aren’t already unionized. It’s just mind-blowing to me that that was a new thing for these unions, but meanwhile, we’ve got almost a whole generation who’s excited about new organizing.

Mel Buer:

A lot of these older business unions, and you can pull up audit pages and there are people way smarter than me who have done this in my field, fellow News Guild members, journalists who have pulled up the paperwork from these filings of how much money unions take in, the dues that they have, and what they use those dues for. And ideally what these unions should be doing, is they should be putting a significant portion of their dues toward new member organizing in shops that haven’t been organized yet. And it’s like a monstrous nebulous problem, where it’s not just about the fact that they haven’t allocated resources, it’s that union density is the lowest it’s been since they started recording membership. We’re down to like 6% union density, which is extremely low. So, there’s not a lot of dues to begin with, to be able to push that towards new organizing.

Mel Buer:

So, what they do, is they tighten the belts, they stick to the contracts that they have, they try to maintain control and to maintain the internal organizing that they can do without trying to seek out new members. And we also have a second, larger problem, which is that a federal legislation that’s been in place for decades, is specifically designed to make new organizing extremely difficult. Loopholes in worker friendly legislation from the ’40s have been exploited, and over the decades have more or less successfully punched a hole in the ability for unions to organize.

Mel Buer:

What’s so freaking exciting, is that this new generation took all this into consideration and said, “We’re going to do it anyway, and let’s see what we can do.” And so, what you see in the UAWs, you saw the work of almost a decade of reform movements, which is how Sean Fain is leading some of the most exciting organizing in the UAW. The UAW is also one of the only big unions that’s created chapters for things that have nothing to do with auto working, which is how we have the student unions that the UC system has here in California. It’s how we have all sorts of some… The Freelance Writers Union used to be attached to the UAW, which it’s its own entity now.

Mel Buer:

So, there’s a lot of really interesting organizing that the UAW has done in the past that they’re now just like, “Let’s go. Gung ho.” The first big strike that they had, they were extremely successful-

Julie:

Yeah.

Mel Buer:

… after Fain got elected, and that was because a bunch of radical, mostly younger workers, militant-ass workers, rank and file workers said, “We’re done with business as usual, let’s do something different.” And that’s what I’m seeing in game organizing too, where these young, militant-ass workers are saying, “We are done trying to work within the system that’s not working for us, and we’re going to organize ourselves, and we’re going to do what we can to really fill that gap.” And maybe that’s something, Stephen or Julie, you want to comment on in terms of just the state of white collar tech organizing in general.

Julie:

Yeah.

Mel Buer:

There is a giant gap in terms of representation, union interest in terms of larger… Barring, say, maybe I don’t know, the CWA taking an interest in some of this, these projects and organizing these shops.

Stephen:

We love that, yeah.

Julie:

Yeah, I love CWA. They have been very helpful for a lot of my organizing in general as well. But yeah, you’re right. I think when I first started organizing, it was really hard to organize, because I came from an education medical background, so copying into the game industry was a different experience. We have free snacks, we have desk, and I get to clock out a certain time of day. There is pros and cons from all the industries, but what I like to tell my coworkers is that, privileges runs out. It just runs out and you got to protect yourself, you got to see those patterns. And I’ve been very thankful to see more union story articles, good and bad, just to prove and have more evidence of why this can work out for a lot of us.

Stephen:

Yeah, we’ve definitely felt that dramatic shift in just general acceptance of labor. Some of that’s been over the last decade with a lot of really good organizing work, but some of that is even… It’s been happening fast enough that we felt it within the last three years. Our Game Awards action a few days ago, the reception we got there was largely warm and friendly, we had people who already knew a lot of our talking points that would come up to us asking about things that, a few years back, nobody would’ve even heard of. So many conversations with people who were excited or were encouraging us. And a couple of years ago, that was not the situation we got. Confusion and hostility was the default reaction we would get from people.

Stephen:

And the crowd at the Game Awards, it’s game developers and folks who play games, so it’s not just that developers or just that gamers were mad, everybody seems to be shifting an opinion on this, and that’s incredibly exciting. You talked about the writers’ strike earlier as a joke, compare the reception to the 2008 writers’ strike to this one, where my friends were treating it like a sports game, like, “Okay, we want our team to win this, we’re going to support them however we can, we’ll go out to these strikes, we’ll organize, post, whatever.”

Stephen:

And that energy is really exciting, it’s why I think the total percentage of the game industry that’s unionized right now is pretty low. Most folks do not have union jobs and it’s going to be a while before we get to that, but the ideological playing field, we have won that. People, pretty much across the board, at the very least acknowledge that these are all problems, whereas three, five years ago, you would not have gotten that.

Mel Buer:

That’s a huge piece of it. A lot of what this is, is a messaging game. How can you effectively convince potential new organizers, or potential new members that what you’re offering is a solid compromise or a solid solution to longstanding problems? It does help to have that more outward facing goodwill toward the concept itself, and I think that’s a real generational shift, I think those of us in the younger spaces have, for most of our adult lives, been met with total BS when it comes to economic conditions, social society. We could run the list.

Mel Buer:

For me, I’m on the younger side of the millennials, I’m 31, so graduating high school into the worst of a recession, and then starting college in the last gasps of a horrible decade of war, and now coming out of grad school, which was an attempt to brighten my situation, into a pandemic and the ensuing years of inflation and horror that is our economic situation, and never really feeling that stability.

Stephen:

I think a lot of the kids we talk to have… It’s funny, when I was in school, and I think when a lot of the rest of us were, the attitude we would get was like, “If you want to get in this industry, you need to fight, everybody you see is your competition, you need to be working crazy hours and not talk back to your boss under any circumstances. If you’re dealing with harassment, you need to deal with it. All of these things, and because it was a dream job and that makes you very easy to exploit when that’s how these schools train you.

Stephen:

But now, we run a university outreach program where we go to various game dev programs and talk to the kids there, and we barely need to do any work at this point, they’re already on board most of the time. And that shift from even five years ago, of this feeling that you will be exploited and if you’re going to be in this industry, you just have to deal with that, to there are people fighting for change and you should join them, is the message they already seem to have when we get there. That is huge.

Mel Buer:

Right, the idea that it doesn’t have to be this way. And it’s such a huge portion of the American working public really works in these types of industries, and these types of industries are by and large ununionized at this point. And to be able to not discount the importance of this type of subsection of entertainment in white collar work is really, really important. And really working to change, it’s going to have a ripple effect, really. And because the games industry is so ubiquitous to so many people’s lives, meaning the video games that we have in our houses, you can see behind me on the shelf here, are all the video games that we play, and it’s just part of the entertainment of sitting down after work.

Mel Buer:

And I think being able to also say, “God, how cool would it be to say, ‘This is a union-made video game?’” This is a product that is made by unionized workers, who went home every day proud of the work that they did, and did not have to suffer through asinine, ridiculous working conditions in order to put that product out, I think is going to be really exciting to see. Roland?

Roland:

Oh, yeah, just wanted to point out, that is a line item in Tender Claws’ contract, that they include the union logo in the credits of a game, so you might be seeing that soon enough.

Stephen:

And I would guess that’s probably going to lead to a slight bump in sales, especially for the folks who are excited about this stuff. You see union-made, like, “Oh yeah, I’ll check that out, that’s cool.”

Mel Buer:

Yeah, it’s a good selling point for bosses who might be reticent. And maybe because these companies are often helmed by slightly younger executives, as far as my understanding of it as an outsider, that might mean that they’re more willing to start that conversation than to just shut it off entirely.

Stephen:

Yes.

Mel Buer:

And that comes down to hoping that they have a soul.

Stephen:

Well, if you get everybody on board, they don’t need to have a soul.

Mel Buer:

That’s true. They just got to sign on the dotted line, that is true. Well, I think this is great. I think maybe the last thing that we can talk about here as a rounding out of the conversation is, we’ve touched on the action that you did this last week, the picket, and the response to that. What are you hoping, as a working group, that you can accomplish? What are some of the goals that you’re hoping to accomplish as you pull that momentum from last week’s action into the new year and into a new couple of years of organizing after the insane 2023 that Southern California had for union actions? What do you think?

Roland:

So, again, how do I sound?

Mel Buer:

Great.

Roland:

Cool. I guess in full transparency, 2023 was a rough year for us, it was a rough year for the entire industry. Internally, our group also saw the same layoffs that we were protesting about, and that hooked us on our back foot, especially in a historic year like this, it felt almost like we were unprepared for this moment in history. But that didn’t stop us from reaching out to other unions and other industries from making connections with the actors, with the strippers, with Medieval Times, with the writers. If you unite here, even the hotel and culinary workers, I think our strength as an organization is how we connect the game industry with a wider labor movement. And them showing up for us on Thursday is just huge, a vivid illustration of how not alone we are in this fight.

Roland:

So, in 2024, I imagine that we want to continue that, we want to show game developers… Show where we are in the wider labor struggle, and show how the rising tide lifts all boats, and that’s where I see our organization, where our working group going, is making that connection between games and the wider labor movement.

Kelsey:

Yeah, I would also say, with this recent victory from Tender Claws Human Union, and Sega is on the horizon, Activision Blizzard is on the horizon, I think that’s going to energize us to also organize within our own industry a bit more too, and connect the ranking file of each of these unions that normally don’t get to talk to each other so much. So, connecting within our industry and between industries.

Kelsey:

Just want to add one more thing, going around back to something Stephen was talking about earlier, how even if we’re white collar workers, if we unionize, that helps other people unionize. If other people unionize, that helps us too. We had our pamphlets that we were handing out, and right on the back, what you can do, number three, no matter what industry you’re in, if you can also organize, talk to your coworkers, and unionize your companies as well, that helps everyone else who’s trying to organize.

Stephen:

Yeah. And I think, finally, Roland talked about the layoffs. That is something that everyone has been hit by, even if we weren’t laid off. We had layoffs at our companies, we had our friends laid off, I can’t remember all of the times this year I’ve had people ask, “Hey, my friend just got laid off, or I just got laid off, do you have any open positions at your company?” And I have to respond with, “Sorry, we just went through our own round of layoffs.” That is a radicalizing moment, where everyone in this industry is living in fear of losing their jobs, even if their games are wildly, critically, and commercially successful.

Stephen:

And I think that has shown a large majority of the industry how fragile our positions here are. How without organizing with our coworkers and folks all throughout the industry and other industries, that we can lose our jobs, our healthcare, the things we built up over decades, overnight, and we won’t even have any understanding of why it happened. That is going to push people into organizing, because they will start to see it as the only way we can get that stability, and I do really believe that is the only way we can get that stability.

Julie:

And if anybody is curious on the data, vogameslayoff.com has some really good data that makes you feel less crazy, that literally every month, almost every week, there was a studio that did layoff, and that website doesn’t even include everybody as well.

Mel Buer:

I’ll make sure to post that link in our description so that folks can see the extent of the state of the industry and why this work to try and unionize it is so important. That is all I have for you folks today. Before we head out though, where can we find your work? Website, social media, if folks are interested in joining or working with the group, what’s the process for getting ahold of you?

Stephen:

Yeah, I think our social media handles are unique across each platform, but if you just Google Game Workers of SoCal, you’ll find us on Twitter, we have a website with a lot of information how to get involved, sign up. Yeah, I think we’ve got a link there that we can get to you.

Julie:

Yeah, Kelsey just linked one there.

Mel Buer:

GameWorkersSoCal. That’s GameWorkersSoCal.org. So, I’ll put that in the description, we’ll make sure all that gets linked for you guys so that you have a direct line from my audience to you. Thanks so much for taking the time today, and please come back on anytime, open invitation, to just come and talk about the state of your industry or adjacent and related industries. You’re welcome to come on and talk about anything that you care about, any news in this sector, and any organizing you’re doing in the future.

Mel Buer:

That’s it for us here at the Real News Network podcast. Once again, I’m your host, Mel Buer. If you loved today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get notified when the next one drops. You can find us on most platforms, including Spotify and YouTube. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can find me on social media, my DMs are always open, or send me a message via email at [email protected]. Send your tips, comments, questions, concerns, or episode ideas. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you so much for sticking around, have a Happy Holidays, and I’ll see you next time.

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Source: Therealnews.com