Popular socialist streamer Hasan Piker did a cool thing earlier this week: he launched a new line of merch aimed at supporting workers. In addition to the clothes being made by union shops, some of the profits are also going to strike funds to help pro-labor causes across the country. The store also includes a tie-die Bernie Sanders shirt that’s extremely metal.
“Been working on this for a year now,” Piker tweeted on Monday. “All apparel is union made, in the USA—all profits from the unionize tee go to strike funds!!” Called “Ideologie,” the lineup includes three t-shirts and three hoodies, with the two union-themed t-shirts featuring slogans like “no value without labor,” and “united we bargain, divided we beg.” The hoodies, meanwhile, are decked out with pepes and other memes, as well as Piker cosplaying as video game characters like Link from The Legend of Zelda.
All of the merch is on pre-order, and some of it’s already sold out. As of yesterday afternoon, the unionize t-shirts had reportedly already raised $126,000 for striking workers. When workers do strike, they often lose pay and benefits, and rely on strike funds to help them weather through long and difficult negotiations.
While it’s a perfect fit for Piker’s main audience of left-leaning, very online zoomers and millennials, it’s also coming at a time when the news is filled with high profile labor actions. Employees at John Deere have been on strike for weeks, rejecting not one but two new contract proposals as they fight for better pay and protections. Amazon workers in New York are currently organizing to unionize several warehouses there. Baristas at two Starbucks locations in Buffalo are also set to hold a vote to unionize this week.
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That might seem like small potatoes, but the company is so terrified a successful vote could embolden staff at other shops that it sent former longtime CEO Howard Schultz, who is so rich he spent over $100 million on a vanity presidential campaign without batting an eye, to try and talk them down. During a meeting with the employees Schultz compared them to those on trains in Nazi Germany headed to Holocaust camps, and also said the company was working on a new cold brew station to make life easier for them since “50-60 percent of our customers are into cold brew.”
Even the tech and video game industries are starting to challenge their bosses. Workers at Google formed a union earlier this year. Staff at Netflix walked out in protest over the recent transphobic Chappelle standup trainwreck. And developers at two of the biggest gaming publishers, Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, have started organizing and demanding changes amid the ongoing fallout around allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at those companies.
All of which is to say that Piker’s new pro-labor merch line is hitting at the perfect time to capture people’s attention and excitement. It’s also a fascinating evolution of how influencers deploy their star power to begin with. Most Twitch streamers make no money from it. Very, very few get rich off of it. Many of the ones who can make a living off of it are able to thanks in part to merch deals. While audiences and the services that monetize them remain extremely fickle, selling people actual stuff endures as a dependable way to turn fame into cash. In Piker’s case, it’s neat to see that used to promote empowered workers. Hopefully more and more streamers start leveraging their merch for other causes as well.
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