Workers seek to alter the balance of power in Canadian video game industry

Video game workers in Quebec, under the Game Workers Unite Montreal banner, are partnering with Canadian trade union Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) in an effort to shape the industry for the better. Together, they’re launching a union drive to form a provincewide union for Quebec-based video game workers. Quebec is home to nearly 15,000 workers, according to GWU Montreal, at studios like Behaviour Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Games, Electronic Arts, and Gameloft, making it a hotbed for the industry and its workers.

Together, they’re hoping to make not just one or two studios a better place to work — but all of them. “The general public loves games and consumes them on a daily basis, but has no idea how games are made, or by who,” Marie, a game writer, told Polygon. (Marie requested to be identified by their first name only because their employer doesn’t know that they’re organizing.) “It’s an opportunity for us to take that fight, that work we’ve been doing for years, to a larger platform.”

Game Workers Unite has operated for years as a democratic workers’ organization, but was not itself a union. Now that’s changing: Under CSN, Game Workers Unite Montreal members (which span all of Quebec, not just Montreal) will have access to many more resources. Workers will join individual unions tied to studios, each of which will negotiate with their own employers, CSN president Caroline Senneville told Polygon.

“This structure will ensure the development of solidarity between studios, sharing of collective knowledge, and collaboration around common issues,” Senneville said. “Union members will be able to collectively decide on which demands rally around, all while guaranteeing autonomy to its local components. A province-wide union gives a greater balance of power to the workers as they form a bigger group. This will benefit all, but especially small studios.”

There’s a lot to love about the video game industry, according to Marie — it’s a young, modern field full of passionate, creative people. “But maybe the public doesn’t know that it’s an industry on fire,” they said, referring to the mass layoffs and studio closures that have plagued the business for several years now; nearly 10,000 people have been laid off this year alone. That’s on top of brutal workloads, low pay, crunch hours, and, sometimes, physical and mental abuse. Rida Hamdani, who previously worked in quality assurance, told Polygon that job stability was a huge problem in that sector: Working on a contract, you could have work one week and none the next.

With CSN, GWU Montreal will become a bigger destination for answers and help. “What are the standards for working conditions?” Hamdani said. “What are the labor laws? Is this normal? That’s all things we’ve been doing for a while, but with the help of the CSN, it’s going to make it easier for workers in the game industry to have access to that information and legal help to know their rights.”

The ability to negotiate union contracts, too, will let workers leverage this information into actual change.

It can be easy to separate the worker from the product — in this case, video games — but Marie and Hamdani are hoping the union drive can help humanize the industry. They want players to understand that unionization not only impacts workers and their livelihoods, but gaming itself. It’s not only the ethically right thing to do to support other humans’ right to safe, equitable work; it’ll impact games being made, too.

“If the industry continues to go the way it’s been going these last few years with studio closures and game projects being canceled because of mass layoffs, it’s going to be a big loss for players,” Marie said. “It’s in players’ interest to educate themselves about how a game is made. Who is making games, and in what condition? It’s a creative industry, and the industry lies on workers’ backs.”

“The people who make games deserve the same respect that games themselves get,” said Hamdani.

This post was originally published on Polygon

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