2021, Innovations in Research

Craft Workers Organize

The Movement of Precarious Workers in Artisanal Industries

Much has been made in recent years of the rise of craft-oriented industries. Regularly heralded in popular accounts as forms of business driven less by impersonal corporate logics and more by a commitment to quality and community, craft industries are increasingly commonplace in the urban contexts of the Global North, especially in cities like Vancouver.

Although the figure of the craftsperson regularly factors into such commentaries—their passion for their work perhaps occupying a mythological position—the broader workforces of these industries, from production support to service, are commonly left out of our collective imaginaries of these industries and the alternative they are purported to present against the corporate dominance of production in the 21st century.

As such, this project centres the voices and interests of those workers, a set of workers that is simultaneously more diverse, lower paid, and dramatically more insecure than their artisan/craftsperson counterparts. Set against the methodological backdrop of workers' inquiry (a critical methodology intended to empower workers), in documenting and contextualizing craft worker experiences and attitudes, the project attempts to build capacity and common cause for workers interested in pushing back in pursuit of their own interests.

The research demonstrates that solidarity is on the rise amongst precarious craft workers and that these workers are increasingly taking matters into their own hands by organizing union drives or initiating public campaigns demanding better treatment from their employers. This spate of worker action points to the potential of worker organizing in the COVID-19 period as well as the manner by which marginalized workers can begin to build networks of solidarity in industries as diverse as craft brewing, baking, bicycle maintenance, and coffee roasting.

This study reports on the workplace stratification of some of Vancouver's more iconic local industries, particularly craft brewing and artisan/third-wave coffee. It demonstrates that conditions in these industries are far from the rosy depictions often presented in popular media and industry commentary. In interrogating these industries that regularly purport themselves to be progressive alternatives to corporate business practices as well as centres of community engagement, it behooves us to consider the conditions workers experience within them, especially as public accounts of harassment, late pay and overwork have been on the rise over the last 18 months. In critically examining such conditions, the project allows us to see through the veneer of these industries to the often highly inequitable conditions faced by their workers, all with an eye to building capacity for the improvement of these conditions as well as public accountability for industry players.

About the project

Presentation at Innovations in Research on April 13, 2021

Benjamin Anderson

PhD Candidate, School of Communication; Lecturer, Labour Studies Program and School of Communication

Labour conditions, craft/artisanal industries, precarious work, worker solidarity, labour organizing


Benjamin Anderson

Benjamin Anderson (he/him/his) is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, where he researches the industrial cultures of and worker organizing potentials in emerging craft and artisanal industries. In addition to his studies, he teaches courses in SFU's Labour Studies Program and School of Communication. His work has appeared in Labour/Le Travail, TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, and elsewhere.

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