Unions21 Tech Seminar – What’s Next?

Simon Sapper made the opening speech and chaired the morning session of the Unions21 Tech Seminar on 24th January at CWU HQ


Like all unions, we are on a journey to make the best use of new media.


Is it an organising tool with servicing elements – or a strategy for servicing existing members, with some organisational dividends? In our experience, it is both.


So in looking ahead to today’s agenda, I think we see these twin tracks of what new media means to unions.


When I started writing about this in Unions Today, over 10 years ago, interactivity was the exception rather than standard or routine. I don’t even think the magazine was available online.


But now we seem to assume that there is a union dimension to every new app or piece of kit. And we look to dedicated new media campaigning organisations to help us identify and exploit those sorts of opportunities.


If we are all very candid, I suspect two truths would emerge about trade union engagement with new media.  First, that every new media savvy union will have a techhie or two who just love gadgets.  They are often the agents for change.


And second, we all wanted, really wanted, new media to be a sort of magic bullet.  To fix a particular problem – raising the union’s profile to hitherto only imagined heights?  Reaching out to potential members in hard-to-recruit areas?  Virtual workplace meetings? On-line surgery sessions, and (before they were possibly illegal) cyber pickets to give a decisive edge in disputes.


But what  I suspect  we have  also all found  is that just as  we use  new media  to make communication  easier  with our members,   in so doing we have generated expectations about our members’  communications with us – easier, faster, more reliable.  We all have to work on economies of scale to a greater or lesser degree – and a philosophy of instant access can be a real challenge.


That’ s in addition to all the other challenges  of content management, branding (a whole new area for us), libel and the conflation  of our  work and personal identities, and the trouble our members  can get themselves into on FB and Twitter.


It’s become clear to me that what we as unions want from new media we cannot get on our own.  We have to look to partner with each other and with specialists.  Sharing  information  and  best  practice is a good start which is  why I feel  events like this and the UnionHome initiative are so important.


But in making these connections, I think we also have to recognise that the language of Blue State Digital, 38 Degrees  and Change.org  is different from our own.


We talk of members; colleagues in those organisations may talk of supporters.  We look at activism through a different prism to campaign groups.


But if BSD and 38 degrees and Change.org are more effective at mobilising public opinion, maybe it is time to start looking at things the way they look at things – but that is a whole day’s debate on its own.


The Unions21 Tech Seminar is therefore important in itself – especially given the quality and experience of  participants.  But of equal importance is what happens next.


Will unions be able to adopt the examples of best practice in on-line work and show demonstrable improvements over the next year?  Will collaborative campaigns such as www.actionforrail.org and  www.68istoolate.org be joined by others? Will webinars and streaming increase and in so doing  generate more activism?


The Unions21 team should be rightly pleased with and applauded for their work on the Tech Seminar. I hope that in a year’s time we can look around and say we have made some real progress on these issues of common concern.


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One Response to “Unions21 Tech Seminar – What’s Next?”

  1. [...] Simon Sapper from the CWU kicked off by posing the question: What do unions want to achieve online? Is it a organising or servicing tool or is it both? [...]

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