Hashtag Hijinks & Facebook’s Fast One

Now that it's been around for a few months, let's check in on the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL), which came into effect July 1.

Some unions thought the law applied to them and so they asked people (like me) who are on their mailing list to expressly consent to being on that list.

Meanwhile, folks on the corporate side of things seemed (I did a random check) to be advising employers — and hence anti-union workers, you can bet — that unions are commercial enterprises and, therefore, anything we do by email is indeed subject to this anti-spam law.

You read it here first: sometime soon we're going to see an employer or employee take a union to the CRTC (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) over an email sent in support of an organizing drive. Or, the complaint may allege that a union is trying to convince workers to pay it, a commercial enterprise, to insure and represent them.

Hear that? That's the noise an in-house union counsel makes when puckering: I took a gander at the CRTC's Rules of Procedure, just for the fun of it. Fun, I discovered, is not the word.

Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, thankfully, has prepared an analysis of the Canadian Anti-Spam Law as it applies to trade unions.


FairSay is a progressive consulting company that runs events in the UK and other parts of Europe. Subscribe to their eCampaigning Forum: it's free, not overly UK-specific, and the advice of seasoned online campaigners from Greenpeace, Oxfam, Amnesty and other organizations long in the "business" (long before unions, anyway) is worth having.

By the way, you can now get a graduate degree in campaigning that emphasizes online communications. You have to go to the UK to get it, but maybe we'll see one here soon.


It continues to gall me that trade unions experiment so little with new tech and tactics. Usually it takes a corporation to show us the way. At least we can take comfort in knowing that we're out-resourced.

But when a bunch of right-wing religious zealots like Signs4Life mount an anti-abortion campaign, plastering ads all over Halifax's public transit, there's no comfort of any kind to be had.

The South House Sexual and Gender Resource Centre (SoHo) harnessed the power of the crowd to turn the situation around. They raised enough money on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe to get pro-choice signs, with accurate medical information, on every bus in Halifax. Check out the Halifax Media Co-op's story.

It's a given that organizing is most effective when you're organizing people to actually do something. So why ignore crowdsourcing as an organizing tool? Others don't.

This isn't just about using crowdsourcing for funding — it's about mobilizing a constituency and taking it places. If you convert a few people along the way, that's just a bonus.

Imagine a union using a card-signing strategy along these lines: "I will sign a card as soon as eight people in my department agree to do the same." Or another action such as: "I will boycott this or that company (who said anything about Amazon?) as soon as 999 people also agree to do so."

Far more creative was the fast one folks with the Living Wage Campaign in Britain put over on Amazon. They created a fake book called Living Wages for Amazon Workers and posted it for sale on the behemoth site.


The Toronto & York Region Labour Council sits smack dab in the middle of a polyglot sea. So, much to its credit, it has a Chinese-language site and mailing list.

It's beginning work on a similar network for the Filipino community by asking Filipino-Canadian union members to come together and contribute their ideas.

Wherever you are, there are likely workers not only looking for info on their union in their first language, but maybe also about unions in their country of birth. Has your local made the effort?

Drawing in a member to do the work is best, if it's possible and not too onerous for them. Otherwise, there are free page-translation services you can make available — not to mention things like LabourStart's multilingual, multinational newswires, which you can display on your local's site.


In June I participated in a strategy session organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which looked at the union's international work. While prepping a modest little presentation, I took stock of how many "unauthorized" union-related petition appeals (almost all hosted on Change.com . . . err . . . Change.org) appear in my inbox.

By unauthorized, I mean a petition set up by an individual union member or someone not directly involved in a workplace conflict. It's well meant, but not integrated into the union's campaign strategy.

For instance, as I was writing this I received a nice, feel-good invitation to support members of the faculty association at the University of Windsor, in Ontario. But it wasn't integrated into the union's strategy. Instead, a nearby activist, with an interest and a well-developed solidarity gland, had done the inviting.

More awkward to deal with are the calls that come my way to boycott Amazon, in support of members of ver.di, the German trade union, who work at the beast's European distribution facilities.

Trouble is, the boycott call is not coming from the union. Worse, it downright contradicts ver.di's strategy of flash one-day strikes, strikes that cost Amazon money but stop short of pushing it into moving its cheap and portable facilities out of Germany.

At this year's LabourStart Global Solidarity Conference, which took place in Berlin, we had our usual correspondents' meeting. Once again we debated our policy of running a campaign only when a union requests or endorses it, or when one of perhaps three NGOs we like, Canada's Maquila Solidarity Network being one, asks us to.

The vote was close, but the policy stands. With good reason, in my view. When one of those "anybody can run one" campaign or petition sites sends you an appeal, look, as we used to say, for the union bug.


Hashtag hijacking, tweeting under a trending hashtag to serve your own agenda, is something I've seen mostly in a prankish context. Good folks, for example, grabbing the hashtag for a Tory event and overwhelming Harperites with a huge number of tweets.

But earlier this year I came across the UK charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, who piggybacked a hashtag created by striking tube workers in London and used it to highlight just how inaccessible many tube stations are for people who use wheelchairs.

Normally I'd be banging the drum for the union (no surprise there, I hope) but, in this case, the effect was positive without, as far as I can tell, detracting from the union's message.

Judge for yourself; not everyone agrees with me (shocking, I know). And while you're at it, consider what another couple of charities did with the same hashtag.

Hashtag hijacking is an underused tactic. Hell, half the school principals I know of have an official Twitter feed and use hashtags, at least occasionally, so parents can easily track things happening in their kids' schools. I have not heard once of a union (individual members are a different story) hijacking those hashtags. There is some productive fun to be had for those who are a dab hand on the tweet button.


Are you using Facebook to push your union's agenda? Have you been noticing little messages from the Big Bad Book telling you to "boost" your posts so you'll reach more people?

Well, since Facebook changed its algorithms to shrink the organic reach of Pages, chances are your posts aren't even reaching the folks who follow you. Facebook is squeezing the stone bloody. Doing what you used to be able to do using Facebook as your primary social media tool is about to become pricey.

That's why you should stay focused on your website and email list rather than committing significant resources to new platforms as they come along.

Online campaigners have been harping for years: we need to own our platforms and tools. Your website and your mailing list are yours — no one and nothing, not even the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (famous last words), can take them away from you.

Derek Blackadder is the co-ordinator for LabourStart in Canada and an honourary member of the Toronto Workers' History Project’s Archive Committee. Feedback and ideas for future WebWork topics welcome. 


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