Trade unions have been in decline for a generation, losing members, power and influence. This is due to both external factors, generalised as ‘globalisation’, compounded by what Richard Hyman calls the “conservative inertia” of many unions, and their failure to adapt to changed circumstances.
Since the dawn of the Internet, new technologies have been heralded as offering a new opportunity for unions to organise, and some trade union activists have embraced the Internet – the LabourStart website being a well known example that has very effectively mobilised international solidarity campaigns.
Trade union attitudes to new technology are complicated by the fact that these technologies are usually introduced by capital to improve productivity; often there is an obvious negative consequence for members’ terms and conditions. In addition, new technologies are widely associated with globalisation, which is still something of a dirty world in trade union circles.
Another complicating factor is around the control and ownership of technology. Although much of this happens above the heads of most users, there is a “software war” between the two main proprietary formats, Windows and Mac, and the free and open Linux format. I feel that it is important for trade unions to take sides in that war, as it will determine whether information technology is controlled by corporations for profit, or by an accountable structure of users and developers.
How best can trade unions use new technologies to renew and revitalise their organisations?
I am interested in this from more than one perspective, including that of trade union leaders, for whom recruitment appears to be a priority, and different groups of activists, whose interests may at times be opposed to that of the leadership.
Do you have any thoughts?