Trade unions in Second Life – what’s the point?

Second Life is a virtual reality world accessed through the Internet. Participants create ‘avatars’ – online figures that can interact with other characters – and enter a world that in some ways mirrors real life: there are shops and businesses, and it is possible to buy real estate, clothes for your avatar, or a number of other products. You can also hold meetings or events in Second Life in real time, with your avatar interacting with others. The environment is much like that of a computer game.

Second Life reached the attention of trade unionists when the global union federation UNI staged a protest against IBM in Second Life in September 2007. Two thousand avatars took part in a demonstration outside IBM headquarters in Second Life, wearing union T-shirts and carrying (virtual) placards.

There was union wider activity on Second Life in the form of Union Island, where the TUC, Unison and several other organisations had a presence. This did have a purpose: Second Life is increasingly used as a workplace for telecommuters, so a union presence was useful to deal with issues specific to workers here. However, in January 2010 the decision was taken to close Union Island due to it not being used sufficiently.

While this is interesting and innovative, it is not relevant to most trade union activists: 70% of respondesnts to my survey felt that a trade union presence in Second Life was “useless”, and only two used it.

My experience of introducing activists to Second Life during training sessions has generally been ridicule, with comments like

“you should get a First Life first!”

I found Second Life time consuming, with high barriers to entry: installing software, learning the environment, a high speed Internet connection and computer with a good graphics card. There was little perceivable benefit for the kind of activism I am involved in.

The concept of Second Life clearly has potential – for instance, for distance learning, or for union conferences – but I believe that it is of little practical use to most trade unionists at the moment. It is also worth noting that Second Life is not a neutral space – it is owned by US Internet company Linden Lab, and therefore has the problems associated with other corporate-controlled places.

So: union communication departments, concentrate on low cost, easy to access technology, like email, text message and social networks. Second Life should not be a priority.

Any one have a positive experience of Second Life?

One thought on “Trade unions in Second Life – what’s the point?”

  1. I agree that SL is useless as a place for Unions to use as a hub. SL Union Island was a great idea, but with limited resources and without people who could be there 24 hours, or at the very least, ensure a once weekly meeting took place, its use fell away after the initial launch events.

    SLLU has managed to over come this… it has members from across the world who forward their cause and ensure meetings regularly (in the past year, these meetings have been mostly under the guise of SL Left Unity Feminist Network) on its parcels inworld. Discussions are inclusive and are open, and usually have some sort of outcome, perhaps around events organised on the platform (SL has a good live music following and literary and poetry events are also organised). These events organised through sllu are designed to highlight issues. In the past, there have been feminist issues, strikes, anti-fascist awareness raising, local issues such as the Greek Riots etc -all successfully highlighted using the platform… or sometimes using the notoriety of the platform itself in order to get newspaper space in sections of newspapers that normally don’t discuss fascism or the G8 (ie the gaming or technology sections).

    Many people with physical disabilities, or social difficulties use SL and these people have been brought into political activity using the platform. Recent activity in SLLU saw awareness raising of the economic situations in countries across europe; the brit elections and the Gaza flotilla murders.

    SL has not the immediacy of Twitter or FB or the other social media, but it does have a use for people wanting to properly discuss issues. It has attributes that other media don’t have… and these have been explored in various articles across the net (do a search for plot tracer sllu sl left unity for some).

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