Sunday, July 18, 2010

The New Unionism Page or How I Learned to Love the TUC

I’m giving serious consideration to renaming this column “The New Unionism Page.” I mention something from the New Unionism website too often, I know. But then, if you have visited the site you know how rich it is and so, perhaps, you’ll forgive me if I again point you towards it.

Recent additions to the site include a debate around an article on the future of global unions; the failings of the current versions; and a (rather bizarrely) interesting piece about the need for a new definition of “managing.” My fave, though, is a call by Poul Erik Skov Christensen, general secretary of the United Federation of Danish Workers, for a fundamental restructuring of the Danish labour movement and the creation of One Big Union.

Another bad habit I have developed is that of pointing to things happening in Great Britain. UnionLearn is less a resource for Canadian trade unionists than it is an example of what’s possible, including one-stop shopping for a wide range of on- and off-line courses for staff, stewards, activists, local leaders and new members. Take a gander at


Crank it up a bit and go drool over The site, run by the TUC (Trades Union Congress), is a combination professional development and social networking site for union staffers. Not just for one union, but all unions in Britain.


If you’re a union researcher you already know about GURN, the Global Union Research Network. Sponsored by the ILO, the ITUC and all the GUFs (global union federations), here you can download PDFs of publications from around the world. All from unions or a labour perspective, and on topics ranging from precarious work to climate change, to the uses and mis-uses of economic history. See See, as well, the ITUC’s youth blog:

Your local could probably use its own domain name (the bit of your e-mail address after the ‘@’). But if you thought about it you probably concluded it was beyond either your resources or your technical expertise. However, it’s really simpler and cheaper than you think. Here’s a simple how-to:

As I write this the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution has just passed with demos all around and teachers and sugar workers union activists sitting in jail. Events of the last year in Iran have been cause for a lot of comment and enthusiasm about various online organizing tools, with Twitter being the flavour of the month for the past year or so. Balanced analyses of how the Iranian pro-democracy organizing took place and what role social media played are pretty few and far between, so please excuse the referral to this article in Business Week:

Surprise, surprise: when you’re asking people to do something risky and trust you, it’s the face-to-face organizing that works. But if “technological determinism” is just a way of making sitting alone while sending millions of e-mails and Tweets into the void seem like an organizing campaign, ignoring the utility of gizmos like Twitter and SMS is equally goofy. This LabourList post on the subject is worth thinking about:


Ever just go ahead and do something routine, in what you think is an ordinary way, and get feedback indicating you’re a genius? Genius is pushing it a bit, perhaps, but that’s what recently happened to us at LabourStart. As I write this we’re in the early planning stages for our first-ever open-to-all global solidarity conference.

It’s being organized by a small conference committee that was held over from our Washington conference in 2009, plus some energetic folks in Hamilton, Ontario. But this time we also opened up part of the planning to our 700 or so volunteer correspondents, including decisions about what workshop topics we would offer. We used our internal blog and posted a draft agenda. Within a couple of weeks we had over 100 suggestions, plus e-mailed suggestions from folks who were often in places where having your name out there on a LabourStart blog might cause you problems.
The input ranged from funding offers from unions through workshop-in-a-box offers from academics, to health and safety issues for LabourStarters. And a whole bunch of thank-yous for what someone called a “unique chance” to have some direct input into what would be on the agenda at a union event.

The agenda changed regularly as a result, making it something of a live document. While not all the suggestions made sense to the conference committee, members at least did some follow-up before rejecting a proposal. So, even those LabourStarters whose ideas didn’t make it onto the agenda knew we were taking them and their thoughts seriously.

The result? A better conference, for sure. But also a bunch of folks with a real sense of ownership over a project, and a bit of a feeling of community, despite the fact that most LabourStarters will never meet each other.

As it all evolved I couldn’t recall a single union conference I’ve attended anywhere in the world where that kind of input was provided for.

If I’ve missed something please let me know about it. Please. Otherwise I have to conclude we’ve missed another easy opportunity to use the net for internal organizing, for building our unions.

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