The Big Debate – Creative Workers Unite and Take Over

Here’s my post in relation to The Big Debate event in Birmingham (2nd Nov). I was supposed to write this over on the Birmingham Post blog but I didn’t get round to starting it until the weekend before and then I discovered I lost the log-in to the Post’s blog. Ah well, here goes anyway:

big debate imageThe defining characteristic of the New Labour approach to the Creative Industries (although it’s hard to say that the previous Tory administrations had much of an approach at all) was to place the business owner at the centre of the universe. In effect to do what the Tories would have done anyway, and will do again, that is, champion the small businessman or woman over the workers.

Now I’m not intending to spark a worker’s revolt here but every aspect of government consultation on the creative industries over the last ten years concerned itself with placing industry at its heart. And quite right I suppose given the value that was suddenly placed on this set of thirteen sub-sectors (it’s worth remembering that before 1998 the ‘creative industries’ as a grouping didn’t exist). But in doing so I wonder if we kind of lost the point. I wonder if we’ve forgotten to focus on what’s creative about the creative industries.

Of course the most creative bit is the workers. Without voice at the government’s consultation table and without a union to recognise them they’re the ones feeding the machine and keeping British creative ‘stuff’ ahead of the game. They’re the ones toiling late into the night to maintain the cutting edge that New Labour traded on for so long. They kept the cool in Cool Britannia and still do.

I’m not arguing that those workers have been totally anonymous or silent all these years but given the number of creative industry initiatives they’ve really not had a chance to be heard. Yet one of the interesting aspects of the rise in social media has been to suddenly give them a platform. Everyone from receptionists to studio managers are blogging or on twitter or facebook. Their chatter foregrounds and exposes the creative process in a fascinating way. It shows the intricate web of relations that exist between what you might think of as competing companies. It reveals the kind of creative banter that makes the industry tick, gives it its heart.

Of course it doesn’t reveal long hours and low pay, not with their bosses also keeping a close watch on proceedings. But maybe that’s exactly what it could do; to galvanise and to give voice to the crucial role workers play. At the very least it demonstrates what a tight knit group there is within and across sub-sectors of the creative industries – and ‘tight knit’ is exactly what you need if and when you find you need to fight your corner.

I’ve always thought that given it’s a made up grouping we need strong sub-sectoral trade bodies rather than a single creative industries one. But perhaps what we actually need is a period where we focus less on business owners and instead value the hard work and creativity of creative workers. And given the Tories might be back at the helm, maybe what the workers need most of all is a Union.