[consulting] Guilds vs. Unions

Alfredo Reyes alfredo.e.reyes at gmail.com
Mon Aug 10 20:27:41 UTC 2009

That's why I put "guilds" in irony quotes. I should have been more explicit.
The point about intellectual property remains.

On Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 4:22 PM, Matt Chapman <Matt at ninjitsuweb.com> wrote:

> 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.
> Best,
> Matt
> 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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