Kickstarter and organizing

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Tagged: unions, kickstarter, labor

As I'm sure you know, the past few weeks have seen a wave of acrimony around Kickstarter and its nascent union, Kickstarter United. The company fired two employees who were involved in union organizing efforts. Kickstarter claimed it was for unrelated performance reasons; the workers filed an NLRB complaint. KS's CEO said that "The union framework is inherently adversarial"; the union asked the company for voluntary recognition; the company refused and is insisting on an NLRB-run election first.

I've been pretty unsure how to react to these events. I support the idea of tech-worker unionization, inside and outside the game industry. I don't like Kickstarter's apparently obstructionist and wishy-washy position. (Geez, calling your opponents "adversarial" and then refusing voluntary cooperation? I guess it's adversarial now.) But I am not at all familiar with the particulars of union organizing or how NLRB procedure works out for the various sides.

The union has pointedly not called for a boycott of KS or KS projects, but -- like many people -- I have been much less inclined to interact with the company since this situation flared up. Some prominent projects have jumped ship to other platforms such as Indiegogo.

Last week the union posted a call to action. This is straightforward: no boycott yet; express your support.

So that makes me feel better about starting to browse and back KS projects, as I used to do regularly. I do support Kickstarter United and the right of KS employees to unionize. Kickstarter is ready to organize. There. I have said so.

To be clear, I'm not a heavy KS backer. I keep an eye on the narrative game projects and occasionally back one if it looks cool and I think it needs the boost. (Plus whatever Cyan puts on the stove, but those are much higher-profile affairs.) The last time I put money down was August. Now I've caught up and kicked some money at a game or two.

This is not to say that I consider Kickstarter to be union-washed and clean. I am, to half-coin a phrase, keeping an eye out for the union label on new projects. I hope more projects declare their explicit support. And I'm definitely watching Kickstarter's policies and (more importantly) their actions. They've built up a lot of good will helping to launch niche and indie projects -- including mine. That goodwill is now theirs to lose.