Monday, June 13, 2011

Robert Reich, Scabbing On Arianna’s Plantation

The Huffington Post has now surpassed the New York Times in online readership, Working in These Times reported today, and their newsroom is now bigger, too, with 1,300 staff members, compared with the Times’ 1,200. However, the Times still pays their unionized writers (at least the “professional” ones), while the Post relies on volunteer bloggers for the bulk of its reporting.

In response, the Newspaper Guild and the National Writers Union have called on bloggers to refuse to write for the Huffington Post and for an electronic picket of the website. The unions are demanding a pay schedule be established for the compensation of all bloggers and that they be given greater editorial control over their work.

Not everyone has respected the picket, including Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner, Robert Creamer of Americans United for Change, and bloggers at the labor-funded Campaign for America’s Future, according to Working in These Times. Reich has argued that he is a proponent of the Creative Commons and gives his work freely to all. Yet he copyrights his books and makes a great deal of money from them. Furthermore, he is independently wealthy and does not depend on his blog posts for his survival.

The point of the Creative Commons, like all commons, is to maintain a resource that the masses can share and use for free, (since the ruling class controls and makes us pay for virtually everything else), not to give the ruling class freebies to sell back to us. Huffington Post produces big bucks for Arianna Huffington, who essentially runs a digital plantation, exploiting the free labor of 8,000 journalists who have “voluntarily” become actual slaves in hopes of branding themselves for a better future of wage slavery.

Of course this behavior is not really voluntary. With most print media downsizing in response to declining readers, there is a growing pool of unemployed and marginally employed writers competing for a dwindling number of paying gigs. For those unable to secure a job, it makes sense to write for free for a while in order to build a following that can be leveraged when applying for future writing jobs, or at least it might make sense if they were writing for a medium that didn’t bring in revenues.

On the other hand, it makes no sense at all to place oneself in competition with one’s natural class allies. It is this competitiveness that leads to the illogical behavior of voluntary slavery. In contrast, workers who act in concert have a much greater chance of influencing the conditions of their work in a mutually beneficial way, like forcing the boss to pay them. A strike in this case ought to be easy to win considering how little the strikers risk. Unlike chattel slavery, where rebellions were suppressed with deadly force, or work stoppages, where workers lose their wages, a strike on the Huffington plantation simply means that writers who weren’t getting paid anyway can choose to not get paid by someone else for a while. If the strike is disciplined and all writers participate, including Reich and his scab cronies, Huffington will have nothing to post and will eventually have to offer her writers something in order to stay in business.

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