Mia van den Bos: The Artist’s Social Union: On politically organising non-productive workers

 

Advisor/tutor: Ghalya Saadawi 

July 2021

Abstract

This thesis reviews the possibilities and limitations of the trade union model of political labour organisation in a contemporary arts context, in order to answer key research questions. Firstly, is trade unionism possible or effective in an arts context? Secondly, what could an effective form of localised labour organising for artists and art workers look like in the context of the globalised contemporary art world? The mode of production and valorisation of art is analysed using a Marxist theoretical framework in order to map artist’s relationship to capital and scope of disruptive leverage. The debates around the position of art as work, the term “art worker” and the division of labour in the art industry is laid out. The post-historical effects of the fall of the Soviet Union and the neoliberal revolution in the development of the ontology of contemporary art and the concurrent decline in traditional trade unions is analysed. Possibilities for trade union renewal and new tactics required to combat speculative financial capitalism and some key historical examples of different forms of radical artist organisations are presented. Finally, a proposition is made for a renewed form of artist’s union that acts in solidarity within a broader movement of precarious workers.