Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Line up 1,000 loose cannons pointing in half-way the right direction

Excellent post by trade union blogger Johninnit from the TUC congress in Brighton. He makes four predictions about how unions (or at any rate unionists) will be using Web 2.0 by 2010. He addressed a fringe on this subject with Eric Lee who helps edit Labourstart (who I have met). I have never met John even though he once made a banner for me in “Second Life”.

1st - He believes that it will empower the grass roots and points to the 13,000 users of the successful TUC network unionreps.org.uk who share advice and resources. Globalisation could also encourage unions to form connections internationally. There is a General Motors Workers’ blog where GM car plants across the world connect with each other.

2nd - More creative on-line campaigning. Unions and activists can nowadays produce near professional quality campaign material. The Postal Strike YouTube video shown (above) on this post (pardon the pun) is he believes an example of what can be achieved by activists. Quality may be mixed '…they may be loose cannons sure, but if you could line up 1,000 loose cannons pointed in half-way the right direction, I know which side I’d rather be standing.'

3rd - Is an improvement in Union democracy and consultation.

4th - Using the internet will also reach out to young workers who would otherwise never consider joining.

The trade union movement is notoriously conservative (with a small “c”) which personally I feel is a reflection on its membership. Membership has fallen since the peak of the 1970’s but in recent years has stabilised. Sometimes you come across activists who think either its all doom and gloom for the movement or equally bizarrely, we’re just on the verge of “Revolution Now” comrades. It’s refreshing to read something which is both positive and realistic about the future of trade unions for a change.

This is not an alternative “techie only” argument to the traditional values of organising, educating, training, internal discipline and building the union. It should not be either a "free-for-all" by activists regardless of rule or policy. Nor of course, is it a substitute for talking face to face to members when this is possible in the complex modern workplace. The success or otherwise of such traditional values will make or break the movement in the end. Rather, our society and economy has changed radically in recent decades (years?) and trade unions simply have to reflect this.

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