Thursday, May 6, 2021

The rise of one of the first unions of video game workers

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The culture of online gambling had a history of toxic culture, especially the right-wing “Gamergate” movement, and that kind of culture rubs off in the workplace. Gaming companies, in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests, rushed to release statements claiming Black Lives Matter, but they rarely acknowledged, Agwaze said, the conditions they created within their businesses.

One of these businesses, Ustwo, presented itself as a “fampany”, a clumsy “family” and “business” portmanteau. He proclaimed his commitment to diversity and inclusion, but when he fired Austin Kelmore, president of GWU-UK, his internal emails criticized him for spending time on “diversity programs and work practices ”and to be a“ self-proclaimed bastion of change ”. “An e-mail, shared in The Guardian, proclaimed, “The studio works as an ‘us’ collective rather than leadership versus employees,” but also said Kelmore had put ‘the leadership’. . . on site. “(The company spokesperson told The Guardian that Kelmore was leaving for reasons unrelated to his union activity.) GWU-UK fought for Kelmore, but even before the pandemic such processes were taking place. time; after the pandemic, they were even more supported.

Agwaze’s time organizing with GWU-UK had taught him that businesses were often less efficient and practical than he expected. “They’re more of a chaotic evil,” he laughs. Few of them were aware of the labor laws or how their actions would be viewed. Then, as with the Black Lives Matter protests, they scrambled to try and earn goodwill through largely symbolic actions, like donating money to racial justice organizations.

Yet all of this reflects the start of a shift in the industry, signaled by the rise of political awareness within and about gaming. Members of the UK Parliament have even formed a multi-stakeholder group to look into the gaming industry, although Agwaze noted that GWU-UK’s invitation to speak to the group was delayed due to Brexit and the general election. December 2019, and then because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, it marked a change from the assumption most people had, he said, that “it’s good, because these are video games.” It must be fun, even in his working conditions.

With the pandemic, Agwaze said, some of the union’s usual ways of gaining new members – in-person meetings and speaking engagements – have had to be scrapped, and the 2020 game developers conference, where they had scheduled a panel, has been postponed. . New members found them anyway, however, due to immediate problems at work. “They’re more like, ‘Oh, the shit is on fire right now! I need to find union help! He said. Workers in some companies were on leave, but were asked to continue working without being paid.

Others have been told they have to go to the office despite the lockdown. And then there was the issue of immigration. The games industry, Agwaze noted, depended on immigrant labor – he was himself an EU migrant living in the UK, a status that could be disrupted by Brexit and, under the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the government’s intention to crack down on migrants. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems: workers who lost their jobs were unsure of their visa status, and with the backlog at the Home Office and labor courts, there was a lot of uncertainty among the workers who brought them to the union for help.

All of this meant progress – and more challenges – for Agwaze and the union. Workers in game companies and the tech industry in general were finally starting to understand themselves not so lucky to have a dream job, but as workers who produce something of value for companies that make a profit. After all, as Agwaze noted, “In the year and a half that we’ve been around now, we’ve been the fastest growing branch of the IWGB. We’re the fastest growing industry they’ve ever had. The union is a crucial step in changing power in this industry and claiming more for itself.


This article has been adapted from Work Won’t Like You Back: How dedication to our work keeps us exploited, exhausted and alone by Sarah Jaffe © 2021. Available from Bold Type Books, a trademark of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


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