Have you seen the new hash tag? It’s #fairfiberwage. Designers who teach classes are publicly rebelling against unnamed organizations that do not pay their teachers fairly. I’m not going to link to any of the blog posts about this because you, dear reader, can Google the hash tag. Also, I don’t really feel like giving these authors any publicity. “Why?” you may ask. Well, it’s just that becoming productive, working human beings exposes us all to risks, especially when we decide to become self-employed or run our own small businesses. Furthermore, I feel like all the chatter about this distracts from something much bigger and much more important than fiber artists and designers and the money they make: Everyone deserves the dignity of a fair wage.
I suppose this is why, off and on, I have considered giving up blogging. It might seem absolutely wonderful that anybody with an Internet connection and a computer can just publish whatever they think or feel about absolutely anything, but there is another side to social media and the “everybody is a journalist, everybody is an author” trend: It can truly make the world seem totally contaminated with “me-itis.” Just think, even this blog is mostly an exhibition of aspects about me that I want to show off. Just about every post is saying to you: “look at what I made!” On the other hand, I don’t drone on and on about how special I think I am, or how I think you should think I’m just so super-duper, and I don’t rant. I most certainly do not see myself as unique enough to just go on and on about my uniqueness. I mean, I think I have some individual qualities that are great and stand out, but why should you care?
Anyway, the first problem I have with the fiber teachers’ ranting is the fact that they want to make their customers responsible for their earnings. That’s not how the world works. These teachers, who are mostly designers, are often self-employed business people. It’s as if they wanted to turn their decision to run their own businesses into the consumers’ problem and not their own. There’s also an idea floating around there about how craft festivals and conferences should start using a labeling system to publicize that they’re paying their teachers a fair wage. I just don’t see that as productive because then everybody would have to get into a discussion about what wages could be fair and, yet again, it puts the responsibility on the consumers’ shoulders, beholding them to basically enter some sort of “contract” with the services they are buying, adding some sort of extra value that the consumer does not actually benefit from. Also, labeling practices just turn into another way for employers to abuse their employees in the end, legitimizing their bad ways. Companies and organizations do all sorts of things to get that label even though the label is a bit of a lie. Besides, the world of self-employment gives the worker absolute freedom to decide for herself or himself. As a freelance worker – yes, that’s right, I am also self-employed, as an English teacher, and here in Europe I am exposed to all sorts of exploitative practices that would make your stomach turn – I can accept or decline offers from people at my discretion. If I don’t like the conditions on a contract or the pay is too low for me I smile and say, “Thank you, but I’m not available” and I get on with my work. Why can’t these fiber artists do this? It’s very simple to answer this question: They aren’t taking responsibility for their choices and they are not holding themselves accountable for their own businesses or self-employment. If you own a business or you work for yourself it is your responsibility to find work. It is a risk that you are taking and it could go well or badly, depending on a number of factors, including chance. This is something that the fiber industry seems to forget. In no other area of business have I seen more people trying to lay responsibility on the consumer. They say things like, “If you don’t buy the products they won’t be available in the future because the business won’t survive” and “You should buy independent designers’ patterns because if you don’t support them they won’t be designing in the future.” On the one hand, I think that craft supply companies and related small businesses are super generous to their customers. I am grateful for that. On the other hand, I think knitting and crochet consumers should start pushing back and resisting. If I don’t buy something it’s because I don’t need it or want it. Period. I am under no obligation to buy cute things on Etsy or take a class. That’s how the world works. If we don’t like this system we are just going to have to change the world. In the current system we work for money and in turn we use the money for survival and entertainment. As consumers, we are responsible for ourselves according to the decisions we make with our money. There is nothing more than this. Any other attempt to add value to our consumption is just more of a falsely added value. There is really no such thing as “responsible consumption” in the end. It’s very sad, but it’s really how capitalism works. In capitalism, the only way you can consume responsibly is by surviving with the money you have and/or increasing your capital.
Which brings me to my other point: Why should we, as lovers of craft hobbies, privilege fiber artists in a campaign for fair pay? Why shouldn’t we argue for fair pay for all workers, be they professionals, artists, or unskilled laborers? I believe that back home in the United States it’s just really difficult to survive right now for a huge number of people. There are people working two or three jobs that don’t have enough money to take care of themselves and their families. There are teachers working in public schools who are overworked, exhausted, and not compensated fairly for their work. There are university professors working two part-time jobs at two different institutions barely scraping by on $10,000 or $12,000 a year (or even less!). There are cashiers, waiters and waitresses, and other retail workers who can’t make ends meet because the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in eons and there is no law to ensure that companies have full-time workers. My beef, you see, with these blog rants about how festivals and fiber craft events aren’t offering their teachers a fair amount of money is the fact that they are not the only ones suffering from unfair labor practices. Unfair wages and labor practices run rampant through all sectors of the job market. Let’s fix that problem and then, when it is in fact fixed, we’ll see that maybe more people in general, and even fiber arts teachers, will have more opportunities to receive fair pay because we can’t buy craft classes, luxury yarn, indie dyed yarn, indie patterns, organic tea and yarn gift boxes, kits for KALs and CALs, and all those other baubles if we don’t have enough money to buy them with. Furthermore, this is a luxury thing, an extra thing that we can buy, it comes after paying rent (or mortgage), lights, gas, food, clothing, etc. Let’s have more people working and receiving a fair wage so they can afford to have nice things like knitting and crochet supplies, fiber arts classes, and all those crafty treats.
I encourage all fiber arts teachers to continue to strive to make changes within their profession. I most certainly hear them! It’s really tough to make a living and there are so many organizations and companies that are making it harder with their unfair labor practices. But also, they need to start fighting for their fellow workers in society. Their fellow workers buy their stuff, after all, and the more people with money to spend the more stuff the fiber professionals can sell. Additionally, it just looks self-centered to complain about an individual problem in a world where workers everywhere are exploited, disrespected, and mistreated. Let’s not forget that women are paid less than men in a vast majority of professions even though they have the same qualifications. All of this fiber artists’ outrage, in fact, smacks of a total lack of compassion for other people who are having similar experiences, just in a different profession or job, because it’s too focused on arguing about why their problems as workers are unique and special when, in fact, they are absolutely not.