NLF Highlights-Published by the Murphy Institute
CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
Highlights for March 2020
The global video game industry – catering to 2.5 billion gamers across the world who annually purchase upwards of $152 billion in games – has become a new site of labor organizing. The mostly young people who carry out the game design, programming, aesthetics, and quality assurance for games like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft, are finding reasons aplenty to unite as workers. Having largely grown up without an experience of unions, their passion for video games has run headlong into the 50 to 70-hour work weeks (known as “crunch”) that are common in the industry prior to a game’s release. Often these hours go unpaid or underpaid. And once the games are released, mass layoffs are common, and those who have contributed to the game’s development often find their names missing from the credit rolls.

In the current issue of New Labor Forum , Jamie Woodcock describes nascent worker organizing in the U.K. that arose outside of traditional union channels, largely on-line, foregrounding demands for worker control more so than for wage increases. Woodcock assesses the use of social media as an organizing tool and conjectures on the lessons the UK campaign offers to game workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Recent self-organizing among game workers in the U.S. has, in fact, spurred the formation in early January of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees launched by the Communication Workers of America. We offer an article from the L.A. Times that describes that budding effort. And we conclude with a talk by Jamie Woodcock on his book, Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle.
Table of Contents
  1. Organizing in the Game Industry: The Story of Game Workers Unite U.K. / Jamie Woodcock, New Labor Forum 
  2. Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers / Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times
  3. Video: Jamie Woodcock presents Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle / Jamie Woodcock
Organizing in the Game Industry: The Story of Game Workers Unite U.K
By Jamie Woodcock / New Labor Forum

The videogames industry is often talked about as a “new” or “young” industry. Compared to many existing industries it is, of course, comparatively new. However, the first videogame—the Nimatron —was made in 1940 and briefly featured at the World’s Fair. Programmers working for the military were hacking games onto computers in the 1950s; Spacewar! , made by MIT student Steve Russell , was being distributed across a predecessor of the internet in the 1960s; and arcade games were being launched by companies like Atari in the 1970s. Even if the latter date is the point from which videogames were really commercialized, the earlier examples demonstrate that the industry originated almost half a century ago. In this article, I provide a brief overview of the videogames industry and then focus on workplace issues that have spurred organizing efforts among some workers in the industry

Read the full article here
Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers  
By Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times

The last two years have witnessed a wave of walkouts, petitions and other workplace actions at video game and tech companies.But despite this swell in labor activism, employees at no major video game studios and only a handful of tech offices have formally voted to form or join a union.A new campaign launched Tuesday by one of the nation’s largest labor unions — and spearheaded by one of the leading video game industry activists in Southern California — aims to change that.The Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE for short) is a new project of the Communications Workers of America aimed specifically at unionizing video game and tech companies.

Read the full article here
Video: Jamie Woodcock presents Marx at the Arcade : Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle  
By Jamie Woodcock

This pathbreaking book offers a radical analysis of how people play, produce, and profit from video games, and the major role the industry plays in contemporary capitalism.

Watch the full video here
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