Speaker Notes: Ieva Padagaite, Blake House Co-op

From Bullshit jobs to solidarity

Hello, I’m very glad to be here on a day like today, even though the future looks grim and little makes sense. Today is Blake House Filmmakers Cooperative’s first birthday and I’m surrounded by so many inspiring people sharing ideas about creating a different kind of future.

I co-started Blake House coop as an alternative to precarious, exploitative and unethical practices in the creative industries, because trying to win the rat race was too hard for me
Because zero hour contracts, minimum wage, 14 hour shifts, abusive bosses, competition amongst colleagues and the complete non-existence of purpose in my work made me disillusioned, anxious and isolated. I saw my friends forced out of the city by rising rents, moving back with parents at hospitals with mental health crises. We blamed ourselves, because we were not good enough because we weren’t talented enough, not beautiful enough, not male enough – unwanted.

I co-started Blake House because I couldn’t justify my reality and if I did I would’ve gone mad. Because I wanted to create an alternative for myself and my friends to work with dignity and purpose. Because I wanted to use my skills, my craft, my time as an antidote to the reality we are conditioned into.

I don’t think people still realise the extent of the problem of the state of work and mental health. We suffer in silence, because in society where everything is allowed and possible,
it can be only your fault if you are not clever enough to meet your needs and aspirations.
Shame keeps us silent.

As a filmmaker working mostly on campaigning films. I interview many young freelancers, women, minorities about their dreams, aspirations and challenges. I hear heartbreaking stories that I can relate to on a very personal level, stories about exploitation, poverty, sexism, mental abuse and collapse of self worth stories where almost everyone opens up about mental health and the shame of failing one of these films made for an Altgen campaign around freelancers coops will be coming out soon.

And now with Brexit, Trump, humanitarian and environmental crises hitting us tirelessly. For better or worse we now have a situation where people don’t just want change, they see the world going in the opposite direction from what is acceptable and more and more people open up, share their stories and come out of isolation, realising that they are not alone, they start to realise their collective power and that there is an alternative. Here lies a huge opportunity and responsibility for cooperatives to inspire, empower and amplify voices and actions of people wanting and trying to build a different kind of economy for themselves and others, based on solidarity, kindness and equality.

I have to confess, I’m not a natural cooperator myself. In fact, my whole upbringing led me to be the exact opposite. I grew up in Lithuania, born just a year after it’s independence from the Soviet Union. I grew up in the new America, where capitalism and neoliberalism embodied freedom, open borders and that I, unlike my parents can achieve anything, be anything I choose to be. I was told that if I follow instructions, get a degree, work hard and be better than others – I’ll be happy. I did everything that was expected of me and I was still failing.

And then a slow shift started to happen: I read an article called Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber in the coop magazine Strike! My entrance into the coop movement where I found the place of belonging, solidarity and support. Where I heard Altgen say that I don’t have to climb the ladder. Were I found other Young Cooperators who refused to build their success on someone else’s failure. Where I met Sion from Calverts Coop and Marisol Cultural Coop who told me that I have a right to be angry and helped me find the words and confidence to express my ideas.

So I feel very privileged and lucky to have had that, and I know the importance of stories and ideas that played a big role in my personal transformation. It’s up to us to create spaces and opportunities for more people to become cooperators, especially now, when so many are questioning the status quo. We need to ask how people value and defend democracy and freedom whilst spending a third of their lives working at a job where they have neither.

If on the right they say that a “big big wall, a great wall” can solve all your problems, that immigrants, “all the immigrants” are stealing your american dream… We need to tell a better story, we need a vision of a co-operative future that people can relate to on a personal, not theoretical level. Before we talk about economic change – we need to talk about personal change.

If we are serious about spreading cooperation and building a cooperative economy, we need to recognise that cooperatives consist of personal political acts and depend on individuals being cooperators. We can’t talk to faceless entities or a number at companies house, we need to talk to people on a personal level about what it means to be a cooperator for me and for you.

The cooperative movement and those with mission and resources to lay out the roads to equality, solidarity and cooperation. Today, what is the state and role of organisations and institutions that once built on desperation, honest need and courageous visions to fight for equality? Why is it so hard to relate to them today? Why do they seem faded and bloodless – justifying their existence on history and tradition, turning into museums
instead of actively responding, progressing and transforming together with people’s needs and values. People newly discovering cooperation and their political voice need support, they need a springboard to launch themselves and inspire others. They have energy that you can’t replicate. And what happens is, that at this time of awakening and creation you are met with an alien language, lack of passion, and yet more hierarchy, bureaucracy, hypocrisy and a huge disconnect from your reality. We need less management and more facilitation, Less top down strategies and more grass roots culture, less branding and more platforms for people to co-create and transition.

We need to seriously rethink what cooperatives mean today. It’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination how we use the word worker in reality. When we go though school and university, none of us identify ourselves as wannabe workers. Workers used to go to factories and now we have robots. You don’t identify as a worker in a service based economy, in fact you’re too busy making up definitions of your very special and unique job title that will add to your personal brand and justify £50K of debt for higher education
that the word worker just won’t do. To allow more people to recognise worker coops as the most sensible, exciting and responsible thing you can do in the 21st century – we need to elaborate on what a worker today is. We need to claim the narrative of the future of work. So that people in the growing creative, tech, freelance and other service based industries could identify with the term without cringing. We need to recognise new emerging and evolving values into our culture and expectation of work, like the importance of meaningful work flexibility of how and when we work creativity, agility and progress. Because young people are not all spoiled, entitled narcissists like we’re often being accused of in media.
Because our values are quite in line with the culture of coops and we care more that the world lets us express.

It is very important that in this time of division and growing inequality, cooperators take it upon themselves to be storytellers, an antidote, to counteract these toxic narratives with courage, curiosity and compassion. We need to say and show that the future of work is ours to build. That it’s not only cooperatives that are pioneers of the 21st century, but the cooperators in them. And to build roads forward we need to cultivate a shift in public consciousness, to build a common direction and vision with many different paths to move in the same direction.

You can also read a transcript of Ieva’s speech on the ‘Bethnal Bling’ blog:

From bullshit jobs to solidarity

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