One of the big reasons Comic Book Workers United has been so vocal about its efforts to unionize within Image Comics is to show the staffers at other comics publishers who have or are currently thinking about organising that they are not alone. Though CBWU hopes to one day play a direct role in helping workers throughout the industry, right now the organisation’s focused on leading by example.
While Image’s tacit refusal to voluntarily recognise CBWU is a significant roadblock, it’s an element of the union’s overall origin story that will sound familiar to anyone who’s actually gone through the process of becoming a union shop. For those who haven’t gone through that process, though, the idea of a company initially rejecting its workers’ unionization attempt can be alarming because it implies the company isn’t attempting to meet its workers where they are, and might attempt to retaliate.
Following CBWU’s public announcement of its formation, the organisation’s received an outpouring of support from across the comics space that speaks to the fact that people are paying attention and seem to agree with the union’s stances. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the union said that in addition to people voicing their solidarity, it’s received a massive amount of correspondence from folks “asking for advice on how to start the process themselves,” which was one of its goals.
But at the same time that CBWU is shining a new light on how workers are vested in fighting for better workplace conditions, it’s also reminding at least one former Marvel editor how incomprehensible an idea that was just a few years ago. Also speaking to THR, former Marvel assistant editor Alejandro Arbona recalled how he and a number of other staffers working at the House of Ideas repeatedly considered forming a union of their own. Arbona, who left Marvel about 10 years ago, said that more than anything else, general fear and uncertainty was what held them back.
“For us, it was just idle speculation and wishful thinking,”Arbona said. “Unfortunately, we always came to the same self-defeating conclusions about who’d join us, who wouldn’t, and how the company would respond.”
In CBWU’s case, Image openly responded by acknowledging that the National Labour Relations Board has been petitioned to hold secret a ballot vote to determine whether the Communications Workers of America should represent the new union. The fear of course is how Image, or any other comic book publisher in a similar position, might respond in less explicit, but nonetheless damaging ways to workers who’ve been brave enough to speak up for themselves.