Union: there’s an app for that

It’s time for a trade union smart phone app.

Unions are falling over themselves in a belated attempt to get some of the networked benefit that has accrued to participants in the student protests and the Arab Spring. Suddenly union branches up and down the country are setting up twitter accounts, and many are also creating blogs and experimenting with other forms of social media to get the message out there. This is all fantastic stuff, but it should have been done years ago.

As usual, unions think they’re being wonderfully innovative;  as usual, they are several years behind the curve. Everyone else has been on twitter for years.

It’s time for us to be proactive and move to the next stage.

As this article points out, the Internet as a separate entity is essentially over, as it pervades so many aspects of our lives that we are often no longer conscious of being online. Many of us – including more and more working people – now have smart phones: iPhones, Android and BlackBerry. These phones connect us to webs of data that track our location, recommend restaurants to go to, tell us what’s on at the movies, when our next train is due and where our friends are.

We’re broadcasting constantly without consciously being “on the Internet”. This is only going to increase, so that the distinction between on- and offline becomes even murkier.

It’s time for unions to take that first tentative step into the murky waters of web 3.0 and develop a smart phone app. There’s an app for everything else; why not one for workplace organising and campaigns?

What would a union smart phone app actually do? The more functionality it has, the better – but the more difficult it would be to build.

A simple app would provide updates from the union, relevant to the sector you work in or your particular interests. This would include some data on your rights at work, press releases, solidarity alerts, calls to action and campaign information, and the ability to easily share and integrate with services like Facebook and twitter. An app like this would be very easy to build, as most of it could be pulled together using RSS feeds.

A more useful app would provide much more relevant information:

  • Who is my shop steward, health and safety rep, or union learning rep?
  • Can I contact them directly from the app?
  • Who is my full time officer?
  • Where’s the nearest union office, and how do I contact them?
  • How can I find some one from the union who specialises in equalities, or green workplaces or whatever other specialist query I have?
  • How can I coordinate my union benefits package?
  • Does the union have a recognition agreement with my company? When was the last pay deal negotiated, and what was the settlement? When is the deal back on the table, and what are the timescales for consulting on it?
  • When is the next branch meeting?
  • How can I get more involved in my union?

It would be fantastic, too, if there was away to communicate with other members – particularly those in your branch – through the app. This would enable people to share views on union issues, and ultimately build more participation and cohesion. As this important article argues, we need strong and dynamic networks to create a community of activism and build a fairer future.

An app like this would be a lot more complicated to pull together because it would have to communicate with the union’s membership database, with membership details verified over a secure connection – after all, some of the information is sensitive. It would probably be more practical to build a separate database to serve the app, but this would still mean exporting a significant amount of data from the membership system, which is likely to make admins and lawyers jumpy. But since some banks are able to develop banking apps, this shouldn’t be beyond the realms of human possibility.

A good first step would be to beef up online “My union” sections of the main union website, where members can log in and manage their own details, and then sync this with the app.

An even more sophisticated app would be one aimed at accredited reps: in addition to the functionality outlined above, it could include:

  • Bargaining indicators and advice
  • What’s the RPI and CPI? How do I build an argument for a pay rise around this?
  • How is my employer doing financially?
  • What have average settlements looked like across the economy? What about my sector?
  • Have any settlements bucked the trend and provided unusually good results? What were the key factors in achieving this?
  • A handy reference to labour law
  • A guide to discipline and grievance procedures

This would require union research departments creating up to date, relevant content – but it could make a real difference to the bargaining power of union activists.

Are you a smart phone user? What would you like to see from a union app?

Any union devs out there with ideas they’d like to implement?

Posted in Activist resources and tagged .


  1. Great idea! I’m at a union HQ and we’re looking into app development but finding that the majority of our members don’t have smartphones. I love your idea but do you think we have enough union members with access to make a difference?

  2. This is music to my ears, Unions are often the last to modernise mainly due to being run by older people who live in the past.
    The idea of a “union app” is an interesting one and one that needs serious consideration. It could be difficult to manage but the way the world is going it has to be the way forward … until the next new technology comes along, and then once again they should be pushing forward not lagging behind.

  3. Pingback: INK: April 22, 2011

  4. Pingback: Three reasons why your union shouldn’t bother with an iPhone app | AlexWhite.org

  5. Apps are ideal, like QR codes, for specific targeted information. Many unions, (e.g. www,mandate.ie, http://www.impact.ie) have huge amounts of varied information on their websites. Consequently, would it not make as much sense to get members to simply bookmark the union’s main site

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.