Tech Tips & Tools For Change

Katie Arnup at Unifor is the first Canadian unionist I've seen, to date (besides me), to use a badge on Facebook: a small logo or other graphic in the corner of a user's photo. It's an inexpensive way for union members to show their allegiance to, and play a small but collectively important part in, campaigns such as together FAIRNESS WORKS, launched by the Canadian Labour Congress (that's what Katie did). TV commercials are wonderful, as are the efforts unions are making to reach their own members about the campaign. But a free little badge that sits on each union member's Facebook profile picture declaring their allegiance would, in a small way, reach many more people. Get your union a badge and get the word out.

Another campaign I've been following is the one by the folks at the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, in their strike for better working conditions. Their under-reported but well-organized global actions against the federal Tories could serve as a model for many of us. One small setback to their campaign was yet another decision by a labour board that confirms what we should all know by now: your employer owns its email system and if you use it for unauthorized (i.e. union) purposes you might lose it, without warning.

Have pity on my tattered teeth: don't use Change.org to run an online action. Every time I see a union (or any other organization I approve of) using it to put some digital pressure on an employer I wind up grinding my teeth in frustration. Here's why: First, though they won't release the numbers, clearly Change.org is making a ton of money. Second, if your members sign on for one of your campaigns, then Change.org has their address and will use it in ways you can't control and in ways that are increasingly distant from Change.org's progressive roots. Third, there are several more principled alternatives that don't and won't sell the use of their lists for cash. Fourth? Fourth is what should be but isn't: a single mailing list for the labour movement that all affiliates can access, and in confidence. I guess that's a political impossibility. But it would be, by far, the most effective way to mobilize workers online and we would own it; we'd be building our own capacity and not someone else's. Take a quick peek inside Change.org.

Tools for Change has a quick survey of some online action tools you may not have heard of. Not all are suitable for use by Canadian unions, but they can serve to inspire an idea or two, perhaps.

Tech Tips for Trade Unionists is the title of a series of regular blog posts by Eric Lee of LabourStart. Eric is a gizmo freak and goes looking for things most of us wouldn't try if they were offered up on a plate, for free and with lifetime on-site support. Yet, even then, it's kinda fun to try to imagine the poor buggers who might find a use for them.

DuckDuckGo is the name of a fairly new search engine that, unlike Google (and the also-rans like Bing), doesn't collect all kinds of info about you. There have been efforts like this in the past including one by ILO/ACTRAV (the workers' education office at the International Labour Organization) that biased its results towards the interests of trade unionists. While I'm not optimistic that this will be any more successful than the previous attempts, who knows, maybe the Snowden spying disclosures are having an effect and this one will get some attention.

Bogus text messaging can and has caused unions problems. Here's just one example of a wave of such stories in the past six months. Hard to tell whether this is a new trend in response to increasing union reliance on texting or just a slow day in the newsroom. And while we're on the subject of phones, the always spot-on Alex White blogged recently about four things unions should know about mobile. Fact one, according to Alex: One out of every three monthly visitors to the average large website comes exclusively on mobile platforms. "This means," he says, "that if you don't optimize your union's website for mobile and tablet, you're potentially sending away up to a third of your audience." As yet, there aren't many unions adept at using mobile devices, even though 36 per cent of all emails are being opened on a mobile device of one sort or another.

Joel Duff at the Ontario Federation of Labour has been making a real and effective splash there and across the province since his appointment as communications director. A recent, inspired effort of his made a campaign grow by making it easy to spread. Here's the story: The OFL has been organizing support for the striking municipal workers in the Township of Bonfield. By unilaterally amending the workers' terms and conditions of work, this small town declared war on the Canadian Union of Public Employees. As there's a fear that the town's tactic will spread (and because the workers in Bonfield could use and deserve it), the Fed has been out there mobilizing support for the workers and their union.

What Joel has been doing is using his mailing list to get boilerplate text out to a large group of hardcore trade unionists. The text he provides prior to solidarity rallies or other events can be copied and pasted into Facebook or Twitter, making it easy for activists to pass the word along -- accurately. He makes it easy for the word to get out, and for the word to be accurate and not missing a crucial letter or two -- something that has happened to us all. Thank you, Joel.

LabourStart is one of many global news services that let you filter by topic, and you'll reach the following conclusion quickly by just browsing: health and education workers and migrant workers are taking it in the neck pretty much everywhere. Whether in the public or private sector, from Albania to Zimbabwe, employers are increasingly aggressive, with many more lockouts than before, and much more use of scabs. The upside is there are also lots of stories about battles being won.

New Unionism remains a great concept, well-executed. Check the New Unionism Network and expand your idea of what unions are, how we should be organizing, and why the current organizational lines of demarcation don't always serve workers' interests. Oh, and while you're there, contribute to a large global conversation about why and how these things can and should change.

I haven't talked about Flickr in a while. It's time for me to review its very useful features and the extent to which it can act as a resource even for those who never pick up a camera. But I'm not going to, at least not for a while. Because the Activestills account on Flickr says it all. Look at this and think about all the ways in which these folks are harnessing the power of all those mobile phone cameras out there. That's all you need to know about Flickr.

This kinda stuff seems more like marketing than organizing to me, but it's worth noting the impact campaigns by companies like Bell and Air Canada have online when they offer material incentives of one sort or another. Is there something here we can make use of? I suspect not. Union mugs in exchange for. . . .

The Actipedia project aims to create a database of useful case studies we can access in the search for tactics and tech that do work. On the day I wrote this, there were stories of effective actions in Mexico, Australia and Tunisia. Look for useful stuff and leave your own stuff behind.

I've mentioned Cory Doctorow here before, and I will again. If you're looking for a book (paper or digital) for a young adult, give some thought to Doctorow's most recent release, Pirate Cinema. Help give the budding digital revolutionary in your social circle some good ideas. Best of all, you can take a peek before you buy by downloading the entire book. If you're like me, buy it if you love it. (http://craphound.com/pc/).

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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