Time to join the union! How cultural workers can collaborate with workers unions

PART I: 15 April 2021 – Workshop Practising solidarity unionism. Or how a cultural worker can stay alive in pandemic?”, with Anna Marjankowska

Online (Zoom), in English, please, fill a following questionnaire until 14.04: https://forms.gle/H9fxoDt9nEgZqUGYA

PART II: 16 April 2021 – Panel discussion with Patrick Lohner, Nina Paszkowski, Phillip Stewart and former employees of the three Munich branches of the Walther König bookstore

Online (Zoom), in German, please register under the following link:  https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwkdO2hpzsuGdYLmAvEpk7bHafS9vKGMTY2


Unfortunately it is not obvious anymore to be a member of any kind of workers organisation. We tend to solve our problems related to workplaces individually, try to cope by means of coaching, workout and therapy sessions. We forget that the source of our problems is structural, it is the art system itself, and a change needs a collective, a group of people, to enforce and perform it. The goal of this two day event is to present contemporary unions as offering a real alternative to individual struggles, to encourage to get involved and become a member of a union.

During the first evening a workshop for art workers will be offered, see the description below. During the second evening we will take a closer look at two cases of collaboration of artists with workers unions. Nina Paszkowski/Freie im Museum and Phillip Stewart/ver.di will talk about a successful action they undertook in order to raise working fees of freelancers working in Cologne museums. Patrick Lohner/Freie Arbeiter Union (FAU) and former employees of the three Munich branches of the Walther König bookstore will talk about the fight for the rights of workers at the bookstores that is currently happening.

Part I: 15.04, 7 p.m.

Workshop “Practising solidarity unionism. Or how a cultural worker can stay alive in pandemic?”, with Anna Marjankowska

Have you ever been asked for opinion on budget planning and distribution of resources in your institution? Have you ever felt that you haven’t been rewarded adequately for your engagement in the project? When was your last raise? How many hours did you work last month? How many of those were unpaid?

If you feel overexploited, underpaid, tired, hopeless, afraid of losing your job, and still trying to deliver interesting art projects to the audience during a global pandemic – you can leave this workshop with a plan for what to do next.

The workshop is dedicated to workers of the art industry – hired in institutions, hunting for grants, freelancers, multiple jobholders, project coordinators, artists, curators, art handlers. Working remotely, at the offices, at the kitchen tables.

Using tactics of solidarity unionism we will go through methods of mapping the physical and social environment of our jobs and search for elements that workers can modify to trigger bigger changes that can have a real impact on their everyday life, working system, mental health, specific working conditions in the art world and creative industry.

The workshop is designed for max. 15 people and will consist of 3 parts:

(1) knowing your workplace and mapping the power structure,

(2) finding your tasks, finding your friends,

(3) what will happen when you start to organize.

The workshop will take 1,5h.

In order to register, the participants are asked to fill a registration form, that will also serve as a survey to map the expectations, and prioritize certain workplace issues (until 14.04: https://forms.gle/H9fxoDt9nEgZqUGYA).

Anna Marjankowska is a nightmare of your employer, researcher of modern working conditions specialized in the art field, wrote an MA thesis on ‘Production of ‘Surplus Value’ and Discourse of Creativity. Spreading Beyond the Art Field’, in 2018 started organizing essential workers using radical unions' tactics. In the years 2018-2020 held positions in the boards of the highest institutions of the labour movement in Iceland (Alþýðusamband Íslands, Efling stéttarfélag), currently working in the care sector. Specialized in organizing 'hot' workplaces: facing wage theft, threatening workers with bankruptcy and group firings.

Part II: 16.04, 7 p.m.

Panel discussion with Patrick Lohner, Nina Paszkowski, Phillip Stewart and former employees of the three Munich branches of the Walther König bookstore

Patrick Lohner comes from Munich and has been involved in trade unions for around 15 years. In his profession as a cook it is bitterly necessary as precarious employment conditions are known to be particularly present there. His organizational home is the Free Workers' Union (FAU), where he also worked for many years on the editorial board of the trade union newspaper "Direkte Aktion”. He is currently active in the FAU-Munich in the trade union secretariat and is in charge of the labor struggle at the Walther König bookstore chain.

Nina Paszkowski studied Fine Art at Camberwell College of the Arts in London and moved to Madrid after graduating in 2013 where she exhibited at Galeria MaisterraValbuena and Museo del Traje, among others. After receiving her MA in Art Studies from Maastricht University in 2016, she worked as a freelance project coordinator for the Akademie der Künste der Welt/Cologne. Currently, in addition to her artistic work, she leads art education workshops for the Museumsdienst Köln, the Kölner Institut für Kulturarbeit and the ModeKollektiv in Bocklemünd. In 2017 she founded with friends the School of Political Hope, a grassroots initiative that uses artistic methods (e.g. storytelling events, organizing workshops, art activism actions) to initiate political-social processes. Since 2019, she has been a member of the initiative Freie im Museum, which campaigns for better conditions for freelance employees in Cologne's museums.

The Initiative of Freelancers in Museums, which is supported by ver.di, sees itself as an independent representation of the interests of all freelancers working in the field of cultural education in Cologne's museums and is also linked to colleagues in the Rhineland. The goal of the initiative is to strengthen the positions and fee conditions of freelancers in the museum sector (https://www.facebook.com/FreieImMuseum/).

Philipp Stewart is trade union secretary at the trade union ver.di (district Cologne-Bonn-Leverkusen).

A group of 11 students of art, art education and stage design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, as well as theater direction and art history at other universities. The duration of their employment at König-Buchhandlungen ranged from 1 year to 4 years. Links to the topic:




The events are part of the project “and only the birds fly first class...“, which invites reflection on the structures of the art system and possible reactions to them. Its aim is to go beyond ordinary criticism of the mechanisms of the art scene and present progressive ideas and solutions. The title of the project comes from the song “Mr. Nichols“ by Coldcut and Saul Williams, which is a very apt description of the emotional state of despair, disorientation and the need for turnaround in order to achieve a world in which “only the birds fly first class“, i.e. a world without inequalities.

The project is curated by Aneta Rostkowska, director CCA of Temporary Gallery.

BBK Köln
And She Was Like Bäm!

Funding and support:
Kunststiftung NRW
Kulturamt der Stadt Köln
Hotel Chelsea
Deltax Wirtschafts- und Steuerberatungsgesellschaft mbH

Image credit: Picketing Strikers of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.