Originally published in the 26th issue of the magazine Zweikommasieben
The 2018 “Panic!” research project from the universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield paints a clear picture of the class divide in culture: only 18.2% of creative workers in music, performing and visual arts are of working class origin, showing an over-representation of workers of upper-middle class backgrounds. As put in the study, “the proportion of young cultural workers from upper-middle class backgrounds more than doubled between 1981 and 2011, from 15% to 33%. The proportion from working class origins dropped by about a third, from 22% to 13% over the same period.” Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries https://createlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Panic-Social-Class-Taste-and-Inequalities-in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf
The report identifies that there are multiple pay gaps (class, gender, ethnic) endemic to the cultural industry: “Who works in the sector is a crucial form of inequality. However, the reasons for, and consequences of, this inequality are complex. They include unpaid work, but also more subtle barriers to entry, such as the homogeneous values, attitudes and tastes of people working in cultural occupations.”
Much like unpaid work, late payments practices widen the class divide in the cultural industry, by making a distinction between who can afford a “financial buffer” and who does not. This shapes who can afford to participate in a cultural industry which relies more and more on freelance work.
It is in this economic context and in protest of a cultural industry which normalizes late payments that GASP magazine came out with a campaign on Instagram called “fuck net 30”, denouncing payment processed at least 30 days after the freelancer delivered their work, putting them at “ high risk and low chance of survival”. Payment practices which facilitate the payment of freelancers after 30 to 90 days contribute to structural inequalities in a cultural industry highly populated by the upper-middle class. https://www.instagram.com/p/ChC16HsLpGl/
Precariousness and freelancing are essential characteristics of working conditions in the cultural industry, and “unpaid work is experienced as creative freedom for those with resources; for the rest it is exploitation.”O’Brien, D. and Taylor, M. (2017) ‘“There’s no way that you get paid to do the arts.” Creative work is associated with structural beliefs which frame it as vocational, selfless and unique, Nicolas Roux, From the Bourgeoisie to the Life of an Artist: Crises of Succession and Anticipatory Socializationwhich enable industry practices which put less emphasis on timely and fair compensation.
European directives set the limit for the pay of goods and services between businesses to 60 days “unless expressly agreed otherwise.” Creditors are “entitled to claim interest for late payment (at the rate of at least 8% above the European Central Bank reference rate) and €40 minimum as compensation for every unpaid invoice, plus all other expenses for recovery costs.”Late payment: Commission urges 4 Member States to comply with the Late Payment Directive to protect SMEs in their commercial relations
In practice, enforcing regulations is left to individuals, who face industry pressure and possible retaliations, creating an unhealthy work environment with a heavy mental toll. Chasing employers to clear unpaid invoices is itself a time-consuming activity (representing an average of 20 days of work a year in the UK, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed).Pay Up: How to end late payment for the self-employed
In particular for performing artists, clearing invoices in time is essential as touring involves production costs which cannot be delayed.
As the issue is not with the legal framework surrounding late payments, it is really the ethics and inner workings of the cultural industry which needs to be questioned. When asked about late payments in the music industry French artist Rrrrrose Azerty, states the following: “It's hard to go into a freelance music composition full time because of a lot of reasons, and the biggest is the frequency of payment and amount of paid work. It's hard to be inserted into a network of paid work and commissions. But I also think it's too late to fight for some compromises with capitalism, we need to fight for a bigger change of system, to separate the way to get a salary - and be able to have a decent life- without the necessity of being productive.”  Rrrrrose Azerty identifies as middle class, she has one parent who is a civil servant, and works part-time.
In the context of an on-going pandemic and incoming recession, it is fair to assume that late payments as an industry practice is bound to widen the class divide between cultural workers. In its policy response to the on-going economic crisis which results from the COVID-19 pandemic, the OECD points that the cultural sector, along with the tourism industry, are among the most affected industries. Inadequate public support schemes and the acceleration of the transition to digital media has led to an unsustainable demand for free or cheap digital cultural content, making freelance creative work even less financially viable. Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
Cultural and creative sectors seem to be in a toxic relationship with the people they rely on the most: “Public cultural institutions and big private players alike rely on an interconnected and interdependent network of freelancers and micro-firms which provide creative content, goods and services.” Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
The OECD study explains further: “Creative jobs often come in precarious forms of employment, and the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how such jobs often fall through the cracks in terms of public support. Typically, to make a living throughout the year, a creative professional (artist, writer, journalist, musician, etc.) will have several project contracts as a self-employed or a freelancer, sometimes combined with a part-time salaried job, or the combination of a main salaried job (often in a non-creative sector) with a “second” creative job. However, the basic difference with respect to typical precarious gig economy jobs is that cultural and creative jobs are generally highly skilled and qualified,require high levels of specific human capital investment, and their productivity is much harder to assess than that of a car driver or a delivery person. Moreover, such workers need not only to make a living but to maintain and cultivate their personal networks to ensure the future viability of their business.”
When addressing the dire situation for club workers in Berlin, cultural theorist Jean-Hugues Kabuiku delivers a scathing critique of Berlin’s main dance music lobby group: “since March 2020, nightlife spaces across the world have essentially been shuttered. Workers in this sector were already facing financial hardship in a tough and traditionally unfair industry, but pandemic restrictions have increased the pressure. (...) So what does Clubcommission do for marginalized and non-institutional collectives in times of crisis who can't access governmental support? In October 2020, Tag der Clubkulture was held, a "showcase festival" that provided events and funding for up to 40 clubs. Recipients of the funding were Berlin's most successful clubs and promoters, and to be eligible they had to agree to host an event in the middle of a growing pandemic. Berlin went into another mandatory lockdown shortly afterward. This kind of action does not support communities in need and is not the level of mutual aid we require in a crisis. ” How Berlin's Clubcommission's actions to save the nightlife are the opposite of relief
The dance music industry and other cultural industries failed their workers in many ways throughout this pandemic, and taking concrete actions is not only essential, it is becoming a matter of survival.
Governments in Europe and North America have pushed for freelancing schemes with a simplified process to set up a self-employed status. But they did not provide enough education about freelancers rights, and they did not give enough financial and administrative support to enforce such rights. In the case of the UK, this results in a multibillion-pound problem for the UK economy and small businesses.Pay Up: How to end late payment for the self-employed
On the other side of the English channel, France is not replacing labor inspectors: 43% of the communes of the department of the Loire, half of the city of Roanne and a third of the city of Saint-Étienne no longer have a labor inspector (according to the unions), because of unreplaced retirements. Active labor inspectors have already limited their workplace inspections to work-related accidents.Pénurie d'inspecteurs du travail : près de la moitié du département ne sera bientôt plus couvert … Continue reading
The impact of austerity politics on the inner functioning of administrations (especially those which protect labors law) is undeniable. Combined with the long tradition of the cultural sectors of cultivating an attachment to precariousness, this leaves cultural workers with an unsustainable payment culture.Pierre-Michel Menger - Sociology of Creative Work
There are several ways to create a more sustainable payment culture in the cultural and creative sectors. In a 2018 call for tackling late payments,https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_dat a/file/745639/creating-a-responsible-payment-culture-call-for-evidence.pdf the UK government suggests that the issue partially lies in outdated payment technologies and that a possible path forward is to rely on “voluntary measures”, putting the responsibility of dealing with late payments to the good will of employers. The efficiency of such methods is highly questionable, and clearly relies on the assumption that employers are good faith actors.
Late payments being the norm contributes to an ethical culture in which payment delays can easily be excused. Encouraging freelancers in the cultural industry to individually for better payments from prospective clients completely ignores the lack of leverage that individual workers hold. Cultural workers must abandon individualism and understand that their struggle with bad payment practices will not end unless they take the matter in their own hands.
The current lack of organizing is a symptom of the over-representation of cultural workers of upper-middle class backgrounds. Cultural workers from working class backgrounds need to realize that they do not share the same class interest as most of their peers and distance themselves, in order to bring the antagonism necessary to bring up institutional change.
Whether it is through a standardized label or a form of explicit pledge, late payments culture can be eliminated in the cultural industry by an explicit adoption of better labor practices, relying on peer pressure to enforce payments in a timely manner. For freelance workers to achieve this goal, there is a time-proven method which can be summed up in one verb: unionize.CREATING A RESPONSIBLE PAYMENT CULTURE https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_dat … Continue reading
|Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries https://createlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Panic-Social-Class-Taste-and-Inequalities-in-the-Creative-Industries1.pdf
|O’Brien, D. and Taylor, M. (2017) ‘“There’s no way that you get paid to do the arts.”
|Nicolas Roux, From the Bourgeoisie to the Life of an Artist: Crises of Succession and Anticipatory Socialization
|Late payment: Commission urges 4 Member States to comply with the Late Payment Directive to protect SMEs in their commercial relations
|Pay Up: How to end late payment for the self-employed
|Rrrrrose Azerty identifies as middle class, she has one parent who is a civil servant, and works part-time.
| Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
|Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors
|How Berlin's Clubcommission's actions to save the nightlife are the opposite of relief
|Pay Up: How to end late payment for the self-employed
|Pénurie d'inspecteurs du travail : près de la moitié du département ne sera bientôt plus couvert https://www.francebleu.fr/infos/economie-social/penurie-d-inspecteurs-du-travail-pres-de-la-moitie-du departement-ne-sera-plus-couvert
|Pierre-Michel Menger - Sociology of Creative Work
| CREATING A RESPONSIBLE PAYMENT CULTURE