Trade union flash mobs – a new organising tactic?

Trade union campaigns often seem to be stuck in the last century. It’s no wonder we struggle to attract young members: too often, it looks like we’re trying to recruit them to go back to 1983. We’re seldom innovative when it comes to using new organising tactics, or taking into account the fact that many of the workers we hope to recruit – particularly in the service sector – are culturally quite removed from the demographics of the our manufacturing heartlands. We tend to be behind the curve, always trying to keep up, to look relevant.

Every now and then, though, union activists come up with something that is genuinely new, creative and innovative. An interesting example is the use of flash mobs. Flash mobs started just for fun as spontaneous ‘happenings’ organised through social media or text messages. People would converge on a location – train stations are popular – and at the same time all take part in an activity: singing a song, not moving a muscle for five minutes, and so on. There was no political or campaigning purpose to them, and the point was simply to insert a bit of random fun into every day reality, film the results and upload them to YouTube.

Very soon, people started to see the activist potential of flash mobs, and trade unions have begun to get in on the act.

Here is a good example of a union flash mob, by the AFL-CIO Pride at Work group. They’re urging the boycott of a group of hotels accused of treating workers unfairly.

While I can see many trade unionists cringing at the idea of being involved in something like this, the tactic has the benefit of being funny and non-aggressive – meaning we’re more likely to win the PR war.

Of course singing Lady GaGa songs is not for everyone: as much as I would have liked to see wildcatting Lindsey refinery construction workers camping it up to “Telephone”, it may not have been entirely appropriate. But it is a new weapon in our arsenal.

Some more examples of unions using flash mobs here.

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