[consulting] Guilds vs. Unions

Matt Chapman Matt at NinjitsuWeb.com
Mon Aug 10 20:22:47 UTC 2009

I don't know anything about the Graphic Artists Guild, but the Screen 
Actors Guild and the Writers guild are in fact simply unions, in every 
way. The are not 'trade associations' and they do not include employers, 
and they have nothing to do with intellectual property protection.

Only the Producer's Guild is a trade association. All the other 
Hollywood guilds are just Unions by another name. There's no such clear 
definition of the term 'guild' as you suggest.


Alfredo Reyes wrote:
> Unions and Guilds seem to be getting conflated here, but they are very 
> different things.
> Guilds are like trade associations - they can include employers, 
> workers and independent consultants. Unions are for workers and 
> freelancers only, not for business owners with employees or 
> management-level employees.
> Guilds are medieval in origin. They existed to stifle free trade, 
> protect territorial monopolies, enforce social hierarchies within 
> trades, and to hoard intellectual property. They weren't just 
> fraternities that banded together to educate and certify their 
> members, they actively worked to withhold knowledge from outsiders and 
> new tradesmen. Guilds lost influence in the 18th century, and were 
> criticized by both classical liberals and socialists as stifling free 
> trade and creating inequalities among workers.
> In modern times, in the United States at least, the three most 
> well-known surviving "guilds" are the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers 
> Guild and the Graphic Artists Guild. The primary mission of these 
> guilds is to enforce intellectual property and copyrights. This is 
> problematic for anyone working in the free software field, as the 
> major surviving function of these guilds is to enforce an intellectual 
> property regime that almost all Drupal coders are opposed to, or at 
> least not working within. The only reason these guilds outlasted all 
> the others that passed away over the past 200 years is because they 
> were able to advocate for, create and enforce increasingly restrictive 
> intellectual property laws.
> Unions are workers' organizations. Only non-management employees and 
> freelancers, or Drupal shops organized as membership organizations 
> like Koumbit and the Chicago Technology Cooperative, would be eligible 
> to join. That means some of the people who are influential in the 
> Drupal community and active in the Drupal Association would be 
> excluded from participation in a union, maybe even Dries, if he has 
> the power to hire, fire and discipline Acquia employees.
> The purpose of a union might not only be, as Victor pointed out, 
> defending the entire community of interests of Drupal coders, but also 
> intervening in individual disputes with employers over wages, working 
> conditions and violations of labor law (these do occur, even in Drupal 
> shops that aren't "sweatshops"). Some Drupal employers might see this 
> as a threat to the control of their companies, to their reputations, 
> and to their influence on the overall direction of the Drupal project.
> Another thing a union could do is provide group health insurance, 
> retirement funds, and political advocacy for fairer treatment of 
> freelancers. This is what the already-existing Freelancers Union 
> (http://www.freelancersunion.org) does. There's nothing stopping any 
> Drupal freelancer from joining this union immediately, but of course, 
> employees of Drupal shops can't join, and the Freelancer's Union does 
> not intervene in employer disputes. Perhaps a tech union not limited 
> to freelancers could provide similar services for all Drupalists, as 
> well as expand into contractual relations with individual shops, 
> although I suspect the demand for the latter would be quite low. It 
> should be pointed out that most, but not all unions in the United 
> States are organized by workplace, while it is more common for union 
> membership in Europe and elsewhere to "follow" the worker from job to 
> job, not depending on contractual relations with individual employers. 
> Perhaps this more flexible model is what IT workers need.
> A union could also provide certifications, events and training, but 
> the barriers to entry to those programs should be low (affordable, 
> available in many locations internationally, and not requiring that 
> you sign away your rights and privacy oDesk-style) and have a firm 
> ground in open source ideals.
> A union could also function as a more democratic counterbalance to the 
> Drupal Association by allowing all its members to constitute a general 
> assembly with voting rights, rather than limiting such rights to a 
>  few permanent members like the Drupal Association does.
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