Do furries need to organize?
A furry fan drew an inflated skunk embroidered with the emblem for the Industrial Workers of the World union squishing a hamster in a top hat with the caption of “squash the boss”. Such a piece is not anything too unusual. The oddity that caught the eye of the Daily Dot was that the union itself posted the piece to their Facebook page.
Soon thereafter, the IWW's Twitter account joined in. Though, for some reason, they quietly back out later, as the original Tweet referenced in the Daily Dot article appears to be deleted. (Its text remains in the article despite this – a feature of the standard embedding code for other sites. Tweeters, be wary of this.)
But has furry reached a point where we need to squash the boss and organize? Or are unions barking up the wrong tree? The answer, like the fandom, may be complex.
The furry fandom work environment
Outside of the fandom, supporting a union or not is certainly up to the workers if they feel that they need to support organizations whose goal is to prevent over exploitation of employees. Within the fandom it is hard to argue how a union, as currently designed, could help. Those creating content are typically self-employed. There are exceptions to this rule, as a handful of people have started to come together to make businesses, such as Bad Dragon, Corgi Events, or ArtworkTee. Insert FurCast noting that their sponsor Twin Tails Creations wasn't listed.
Anyway, my point is, in most cases the bosses of the furry businesses, for better or for worse, are individual clients. Those who work in such a position can point out the blessing and the curse it is to work in such a way. The blessing is that you can choose to take on clients when you are ready and that some can be a delight to work with. Of course, time waits for no business, so that will force you to take on new clients if it’s your only source of income. Especially burdensome is that you may get an impatient or monstrous client that will make you want to scream to the Twitterspace.
In these kinds of work environments, a union as they are currently designed may not be at its strongest element to assist. Most unions typically are best for forming a coalition to counteract the networking that large corporations can use against their employees to exploit their labor. In furry, this is usually not the case. Sure you can have a crappy boss, but those crappy bosses are not the same person for more than a few months at a time. Instead it can be multiple nightmare clients that can appear sporadically during your career.
The best way these unpleasant individuals are avoided at the current moment is via an organization called “Artists Beware”, which is a social network dedicated to sharing stories of nightmare clients so that artists are aware of problematic bosses before they take on their jobs. In a way this is a union of artists who work together to help other artists ensure they are not taking on problematic clients. [It also works the other way, for problematic artists.]
Unions and Fandom
Organizations are not one size fits all. While some unions try hard to represent as many worker types as possible, it can become unwieldy to represent people in industries that they do not fully comprehend. And furry, sometimes by design, can be a bit perplexing.
When unions try to expand into these unexplored territories, which they might be tempted to do to get more dues, they run the risk of becoming over extended and losing the edge they need to work in the sphere that they are familiar with. While the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) showed interest in representing furry workers because of that one piece of fan art, the fandom’s work is hardly industrial. So, it may not be in IWW’s best interest to follow through and try and take on furry members. The exception being if a furry happens to work in the industry of industry as their main source of income.
If any union may be a better fit for the furry entrepreneur, it would be an organization such as the Freelancers Union. Of course, before joining any organization, particularly ones you are going to be paying a membership for, you should do your research on your needs. Which is my way of saying thattheir insurance isn't the best reviewed product out there. It should also be noted that the Freelancer’s Union, just like the individuals they represent, don’t really fall under the traditional orthodoxy that unions usually do. Because their clients usually don’t all work for the same corporations, their utility of collective bargaining doesn’t exist as it does with traditional unions.
For furry - guilds maybe more effective than unions
Even in the furry fandom itself, there are many spheres and it would be difficult to create a one size fits all organization for the needs of artists, musicians, podcasters, crafters, performers, writers, and all the various other talents.
If furries are to organize in any meaningful way, it may be best to grow our community first by making more guilds rather than unions at this time. Like the aforementioned Artists Beware organization, however broader in that sense. For instance, Artists Beware could be a service provided by an artist’s guild. The guild would provide services to the furry artist to improve their craft as well as provide guides on running freelance artist businesses. Things such as working in the spaces of dealer’s dens, artist alleys, how to improve one’s communication between clients and themselves, and other such items.
Writers in the fandom already have such a guild which provides free services and information useful to authors in the fandom called the Furry Writers Guild. One service they provide is having a list of anthologies and places looking to publish work (both paying and non-paying). Any writer can join the forum for free, but to become a member proper the individual in question must have proven their ability to get published.
I myself became a member in 2015 after having two of my short stories published in anthologies. While I have not made much use of the services since then, it was through those services that I was able to give myself a goal and know where to submit my stories to. It is good to know they are there for those that desire to make use of them.
Artists and crafters, likewise, would be well served to have such an organizations to assist those in need. For example, as non-furries look toward us to make animal costumes, a Fursuit Crafters Guild can be used as a bulletin board for those who make fursuits or puppets to find clients outside the fandom. By presenting an organization such as this, it may move potential consumers in our directions instead of toward sites such as DH-Gate.
More than just for the creators
Going back to the Writers Guild, a situation does highlight the limits of creator based guilds as far as community growth goes. The Cóyotl Awards are a specialized award where Writers Guild members can vote on their favorite books of the year. This, however, assumes that those who write in the furry fandom read the works produced by the fandom as well, and would have the expertise to be able to judge the works against one another.
While one may assume that those who write furry content also read them as a hobby, that may not be the case. This can limit the ability for those who love to read and not write to feel involved as well. It is important to remember that while the fandom is creative, we do need to support those that consume the works we create as well. Especially if they are engaged consumers.
This is not to say the Writers Guild doesn’t understand this. They have a section dedicated to resources for readers. The question is how many readers are missing out on this because they saw the organization name and didn’t think they would find anything useful for them there?
The best way to drop this invisible wall would be to make a more official Furry Readers Guild or some similarly named organization. This would help inspire readers to engage with one another. Specialized membership of this guild could be obtained by writing a critical review of furry books that are published by a qualified site such as Flayrah, Dogpatch Press, or Furry Book Review. In this way it will make it so that the organization gives encouragement to engaged membership rather than just people who like to read but are more passive about their interest. However, those who desire to be more passive would still benefit by having a group of more engaged curators to recommend stories. Furry Book Review is probably the closest site to this that we have now.
Most importantly, the discussions in these consumer-sided guilds can lead to a more active Ursa Major Awards. At this point specialization through guild communities could lead to a much more engaged fandom, and thus bring more interest in those circles coming together to engage with the community’s annual award. A Reader’s Guild can more readily suggest good stories. A Furry Gamer’s Guild could choose the best anthro games of the year to promote.
Only once all the pieces of the fandom get better at helping others get the most out of their corner of the community - and help everyone enjoy the content the ever-growing Internet contains - will we be ready to build the bonds needed to even consider forming other effective styles of unions.
Currently we may be spread too thin and in many different places to form an effective labor union that would be of impact, given the variety of labor laws in different places in the world. Guilds, however, can encourage people to find their calling anywhere.
When it comes to unions - be an engaged client
Outside the fandom, if you want to try and support a labor union, it is advised that you do research on those you want to support. The best of them can help protect workers and ensure that their voices are heard. They can be a representative without the need for a lawyer. The worst of them can be in it for the dues and barely engage with the worker beside taking a portion of their paycheck. Lowering wages with their subscription that merely have Groupon-like “benefits”. Oh, 20% off vitamins at a union store? Must be my lucky day!
Look not just upon an institution's words and cartoon propaganda, but look to their actions as well. Otherwise the organization that you thought would help ensure more security from exploitation will actually become a source of a duality of oppression with your employer and union taking you from both sides. And given the furry fandom’s nature, you know that kind of spit-roast is going to get drawn.