25 December 2011

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Trade Unions in the Age of Social Media

Just as social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are changing commerce, politics, religion, and even romance, so they are having an impact on the world of labor relations, including the formation and activities of trade unions. This could, and over the next decade or so probably will, reinvigorate the flagging labor movement, but not in traditional and familiar forms.

Unions are using social media to keep their members informed about negotiations and to solicit ideas from their members. The result is a more inclusive and bottom-up and less top-down structure to the union, just as improved communication is having a similar effect on other institutions in society. But the real change comes when workers begin to spontaneously organize using these new tools in ways that bypass the union leadership and the formal structure of organized labor altogether.

The term “social network unionism” has been coined to describe the changes that social media are bringing to the labor movement, enhancing peer-to-peer exchanges and horizontal organization at the expense of hub-to-rim one-way communication and vertical organization. Suddenly, making use of social media, workers have the ability to generate organizations of their own, on their own, bypassing the formal structure of established unions. Such informal networks of workers tend not to make distinctions between full- and part-time workers and to ignore the formal union’s structure of leadership, while bringing worker aims and grievances into view that might otherwise have been ignored. This budding transformation has not been much remarked on in the old news media, and the results are likely to take many people by surprise just as the sudden eruption of the Occupy Wall Street movement did, and for the same reason: because they do not see the underlying new-media connections that give it birth.

This development has the potential to be just as powerful as the sit-down strike activity of the 1930s. At that time, workers in steel, automotive, and other industries spontaneously developed the tactic of “sitting down” on the factory floor during a strike. With workers holding down the factory rather than picketing it on the outside, the owners were prevented from bringing in strikebreakers to replace the striking workers. The tactic was not created by the formal unions, and most unions were slow to endorse it. It was also illegal, as a judge’s ruling during the course of one such strike clarified. However, it was remarkably effective, and it was self-organized by the workers themselves in an age without modern communication tools.

Today, doing something like that has become much easier, thanks to social media. One could logically argue that all of the really significant changes to the condition of labor over the decades has come from this sort of spontaneous self-organization on the part of workers, including the creation of unions themselves. Making this easier will likely prove revolutionary, although exactly how the workplace will adapt to it remains to be seen.





About today's Guest Writer:
You can say that the social networking sites have certainly ruled the internet, this includes the trade unions which have crawled their way inside the social media market much to their advantage. Read on to learn more about this subject here.


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