Collectivity besides the company

Workers’ representation in the German film and television sector

Lisa Basten, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)

Work in creative industries has attracted increasing attention in recent years. Academic research on creative work has focused on four main areas: Firstly, the economic significance of creative industries (e.g. Bertschek et al., 2017), subjective claims to fulfilment (e.g. Basten, 2016), project-based work arrangements (e.g. Windeler & Sydow, 2001) and the high risks of precarity (e.g. Haak, 2008). All of them, it is argued, imply specific challenges to the work of organizations that (want to) represent the collective interests of project-based workers. They correspond to challenges faced by unions, employers’ organizations and social legislation as a whole. The “crisis of normalcy” leads to a “crisis of representation” (Mückenberger, 2016).

Past research on the representation of workers’ interests in creative sectors in Germany have focused on trade unions and attested them both immense problems in organizing creative workers (e.g. Kalkowski & Mickler, 2005) and innovative measures to still try (Mirschel, 2018). But despite the problems collective actors face in creative industries it remains questionable whether this is actually a problem of these workers’ solidarity or of the established structures and organizations of representation in Germany.

My case study in the German film and television industry reveals that there is a dynamic number of associations, initiatives and unions that represent the interests of filmmakers. My data rests on 20 semi-structured interviews with experts working in the organizations, participatory observation over a 3 year period and an online survey among over 60 organizations active in the film and television sector and neighbouring sectors. For conceptualizing my research I draw from the concept of institutional change, in particular the role of agency in “institutional work” (Lawrence, Suddaby, & Leca, 2010) and the role of strong or weak ties in organizational change (Granovetter, 1983).

My results show the importance of building networks across organizations in a fragmented landscape of collective representation – a phenomenon not yet filtered into the duality of social partnership – and suggest ‚network solidarity‘ as a concept to be explored. The interorganisational network representing creative work in the German film and television sector span professions and overcome national boundaries in European initiatives aiming at Brussels.

Unsurprisingly, network solidarity is not (yet) a story of success and is far from reaching the shaping power trade unions have in other industrial sectors. Hindering issues that can be distilled from my research are conflicts over status identity (e.g. the hybrid relation of employer and employee in creative projects), the temporal concentration of collective activity around specific issues (like “gender equality” or “copyright”) and the absence of a political and legal framework enabling networks rather than single organizations to speak up for workers’ rights.