Pakistani content creators and journalists: it’s time to unionize

A recent spate of twitter threads have surfaced over the past few days from Pakistani journalists rifling through a list of their employers transgressions. It doesn’t look good: long hours without overtime, abrasive workplace culture, unfair wages, late or absent payments, the list goes on.

Whatever the validity of these claims, now is the time for Pakistani media houses, journalists and content creators to unionize. This is an industry in crisis. The digital ad market has been squeezed to a pulp and is a completely unsustainable model, relying on social media channels for the bulk of their traffic that, with a minor change in their algorithm, can evaporate half of your viewership overnight. There’s a reason why YouTube’s shift towards advertiser-friendly content was called the ‘Adpocalypse‘.

Meanwhile, making money from paid sponsorships and affiliate content is also a dead end for fair, unbiased journalism. Brands will twist the arm of every newsroom they possibly can. Oh you’re going to run that article shitting on our product? Yeah, we, might have to rethink where we spend our budget…

So if the industry is in crisis, with razor thin margins and unsustainable business models…why unionize?

A Pakistani Newsroom.
Image: New York Times

We copy every thing US startups do, so why not do it again. Gawker Media began the trend back in 2015, being the first major online media company to organize, and now more massive media companies have joined the fray. Vice Media, The Guardian US, Salon, HuffPost, Buzzfeed News are just a few of the newsrooms that have decided to organize.

The reason is obvious. Digital media is an open space ripe for employee exploitation. Young and recent graduates are hired for cheap as their first job out of education, and the sheer privilege of working at a cool, hip, trendy media house is enough carrot on a stick to justify long working hours, the obliteration of work-life balance, and a salary that hasn’t gone up in 5 years. But if you complain about it, the response is predictable, and even somewhat justified: what are you whining about? You have a cushy job and you live in Defense, stfu.

Of course, it seems totally ridiculous to be talking about unionising a bourgeois media sector in Pakistan, while we have workers living off daily wages, whose lives have been completely overturned by the coronavirus and are exploited day in day out. Meanwhile we cry in our AC rooms that the bossy wossy is being mean to me πŸ™ and my salary is 50k I wish it was more so I could go out to Aylanto again this week πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™

But I don’t agree with this. Of course we should fight for the unionization of the labour force too, but if I write that article it will affect exactly zero things, and nothing will happen except I will feel fucking great about myself. But if us upper class bougies losers can unionize our workplaces, and look to the working class for tips on how they organize, how they use their influence to negotiate with the employers, we might begin to feel some semblance of solidarity.

For a digital industry in crisis, where brands rule the roost and workers are atomised into incredibly-online precarious individuals, exacerbated by the coronavirus, now is the time to reach out to your fellow employees and say, ‘hey, we gonna do something about this or no?’

The first thing to do is know your rights. Under Article 17 of Pakistan’s constitution you have the Freedom of Association (subject to ‘reasonable restrictions’) and this includes trade unions and the ability to organize and collectively bargain. Round up fellow employees who feel the same as you, talk through your grievances and possible solutions, and set up a plan to discuss your union with management. You will have to be clear on why you are setting up this union, and what the benefits are for you and your fellow employees, and your workplace.

Remember that organizing is not just about fulfilling your demands, but about fostering a better and fairer workplace environment that can be more productive and more effective. Tell the managers this. Good luck.

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