National Writers Union: A natural outgrowth of the underground press
The Voices from the Underground Series has many dedications. Writers were asked by me to dedicate the books to whomever they wanted and I compiled the names into one collective dedication. I dedicated it further to “non-newspaper forms of media that complemented the underground press during the sixties, including FM-radio, poster art, and underground comix” as well as underground papers outside the United States. Then I dedicated the series to “our intergenerational peers,” those media freeks and activists who are the age now that we were then.
Finally, I dedicated Voices from the Underground to the National Writers Union, the only labor union for freelance writers in all genres and at all ends of their respective careers.
The National Writers Union was founded in 1981 by veterans of the underground press. It was a natural outgrowth of these activists’ long years supporting labor unions in other industries and professions around the world but never having their own union. I joined about two years later—I can’t remember the exact year anymore but it’s been over a quarter of a century since I received my first union card. I saw a classified ad in The Nation reaching out to freelance writers to join a union. I couldn’t believe it. A union actually for me!
I never asked, “What can the union do for me?” I joined as soon as I deposited my next paycheck and immediately began to wonder how I could help the union. At the time, Michigan members didn’t have a chapter so we were all at-large members. I was a founder of the Southeast Michigan chapter and one of its first co-chairs. Writing is a solitary craft but as professional writers we’re all in it together.
The National Writers Union has had its ups and downs since then but I’ve remained a proud activist member. It was the best decision I ever made as a professional writer
- for the support and education I have received from participating in genre listservs with writers who know more than me and less than me but who all have information and experience to share;
- for the tools I have been given to do my job better, including, for instance, the Authors Network, which I created while I was a national officer to help book authors create low-cost, effective national book tours;
- for the collective power I share working with other writers to improve professional working conditions in an industry that—because of the Internet, electronic publishing, and other technological changes—looks nothing like it did when I joined over a quarter century ago;
- for the strength I gain knowing that I am not alone in contract negotiations in all genres and all publishing options because of the heroic work of the the Grievance and Contract Division, whose members provide free contract advising to NWU members;
- for the many friends and media contacts I have made all over the world; and
- for the solidarity I gain belonging to a group of people like me who define themselves as writers. (My first book, Beercans on the Side of the Road: The Story of Henry the Hitchhiker, is a novel about a young college dropout in the mid-seventies trying to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up and wrestling with the question, “What does it mean to be a writer?”)
If you are serious about your writing, I urge you to join the National Writers Union.
If you are ready to help in the struggle to improve working conditions for writers in all genres, I urge you to join the National Writers Union.
If you are looking at a publisher’s or agent’s contract, let me be blunt: You are out of your mind if you don’t join the National Writers Union.
Ken Wachsberger, Member, National Writers Union, Southeast Michigan chapter, and former national officer
Founder, Azenphony Press
Editor, Voices from the Underground Series