There has been a fair amount of activity over on the Designers forum at Ravelry.com, tossing about the idea of a union. Again. The last time I posted on that forum it lead to death threats. That is not hyperbole. I do not post on that forum any more. But I have a few things to say on the issue (ok a lot of things but I will try to edit down to a few) so here they are, in no particular order.
I am pro-union. I grew up in a union household, and I was a proud member of TWU Local 764 for many years, where I was honored to be selected by my peers to serve as a shop steward and a member of a contract negotiating team. I am not tossing around the words 'proud' and 'honored' lightly - my union years were an important part of who I am today. I do not think a designers' union is a good idea for a variety of reasons, which if listed would take me well out of the edited post ballpark so I won't go on and on. But here's the biggie.
When I was a union member, the people who spoke on my behalf were people that I trusted, people that my peers and I had elected to speak for us, people that had gained the respect of the people on both sides of the negotiating table by acting responsibly, even through disagreements, even through the occasional scream-fest. There are several people posting on that thread who I would not trust to give me directions to the corner grocery store, let alone have a voice in how I run my business. No I won't say who they are - and they probably aren't who you are guessing. That's not the issue. The issue is before you follow someone into an endeavor that will take a lot of time and money and brain-space away from your own business and your own life, make sure that person is worth following. Do some research, don't just skim the threads and think you are making an informed choice. Follow who you like, but know who that is. Your name and reputation are at stake.
OK well maybe it's not a union, it's an association or guild or society. I have a little experience there too. I am a past member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Membership there is something that one aspires to - the barrier for entry is high. That's as it should be. It was not formed to educate aspirants (although there is a lot of education that happens once you are a member), and it was not formed to bring new people into the industry. It was and is a membership organization that self-selects to high standards, for people who are working professionals, who can then interact with either other and the industry at large to the betterment of all.
That's not the kind of society I see being talked about. I see a society or guild or union or whatever that pretty much anyone can join so it doesn't seem 'elitist', and that whoever screams the loudest - or has the most free time - will wind up leading. How do you think an organization like that will benefit the design community? More to the point, how do you think an organization like that won't actively hurt us as a whole by making us look like a collective of excitable idiots?
But back to the knowledge is power theme of this entry. I have heard over and over again that established designers don't share financial information because they are afraid of retribution from the big bad publishers. I call bullshit. I see people, new people trying to run a business in the needlearts industry and I tell them all kinds of things. I overshare. I'll tell you anything you want to know if I think you are running or trying to run a legitimate business, whether full time or part time, whether focused on traditional publishing or indie publishing. I worked hard and spent a lot of money and time acquiring my extensive network of contacts and information. I am not posting the results of that effort for all to see - but I am happy to share with those I look forward to working with as colleagues. If that's elitist I can live with that.
Anyway, believe it or not I DID edit this post down! And I hope that discussion on Ravelry and here and wherever else leads to some interesting discussions. All I am asking of anyone in this business is to look before you leap - then leap away!