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Day 1: Digial Labor Conference

I am at a conference called digital labor: workers, authors, citizens in London, Ontario, Canada. The conference aims to examine social, political and cultural dimensions of labor that are shaped and disciplined by new digital technologies. While library professionals have discussed ad nauseam about moving library to digital there has been little discussion regarding labor issues inherent in this shift. I hope my blog posts provide an opportunity to think about labor issues within library community.

Vincent Mosco, Canada Research Chair in Communication and Society, Queen’s University, kicked off the conference as a keynote speaker and asked the audience to bring labor research closer to the center of communication research. He employs the concept of convergence. While the term is often used to describe technological convergence, Professor Mosco distinctively emphasized the convergence of unions across professions. By using the concept of convergence, he stressed that we should be able to advance labor interests and address current problems that are faced by technological changes, corporate concentration and rise of neo-liberalism. Professor Mosco pointed out specific successful cases of union convergence in mobilizing workers. Unions such as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Washington Alliance of Technical Workers (Wash- Tech) were successful in challenging the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation(CBC), in organizing workers in the wireless sector, and in winning against Microsoft. He argued that convergence is not the only option but rather one among many strategies that need to be utilized to address current labor issues. It is important to use the concept of convergence to help study communication labor within the broader communication scholarship.

The question then is how do we define knowledge labor? It is complex to define knowledge workers but there is conceptual and political significance in terms of answering this question. Professor Mosco addressed that conceptual significance guides us to think about who should be the center of research while political significance will help us to bring workers together across various occupations. In order to succeed as a political project, he stressed that we need to bring people together across broad spectrum and various level occupations. Professor Mosco emphasized praxis – theoretically understand labor and incorporate political dimension.

He suggests that we need to think about labor as an agency rather then dependent variable. The research should focus on giving voice to workers in order to create a political movement. By looking at what workers are doing in response to technological changes, neoliberalism, etc. we will see a resurgence of unions nationally and internationally. Finally he urged us to think fiercely global but also to bring the struggle home. He called for the inclusion of a global division of labor in labor studies in order to understand the complexities of a changing global division of labor. The scope of outsourcing labor has been expanding to legal workers, journalism etc and moving up the value chains. It is not just about US companies outsourcing IT jobs to low-wage knowledge labor in India but also Indian based multinational corporations in the US as a leading outsourcing industry. In response to this, he pointed out that resistance has been growing in China, India and around the world. The question is what’s next? Will knowledge workers of the world unite? Democratically or for democracy? Will library workers be a part of that struggle?

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