Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Podcasts and Tweet-ins

Webwork column in April-May 2010 Our Times.

According to an Ipso survey, Canadians now spend more time online than watching TV. Does your union’s communications strategy reflect that? We have far more access to the web in getting out our message than we ever had to TV, including through podcasting. So, let’s get to it.

Wayne McPhail’s session on podcasting at this year’s LabourTech conference in Windsor, Ontario, got rave reviews from participants and generated a lot of talk over coffee and dinner about the technology, and about ideas for content. RadioLabour 5 is past the talk stage and available now. (See It’s the summary version of the 30-minute RadioLabour weekly global news pod. RadioLabour, itself, is becoming well-established, with 30,000 weekly listeners. Yep, you read that right: 30,000. RadioLabour is also carried on 140 radio stations in the U.S. via a partnership with the Workers Independent News Services (visit

RadioLabour isn’t the only labour podcast around that focuses on international issues. The venerable and well respected China Labour Bulletin has its own audio pod. It does mini-documentaries, interviews, and reports on changes within China’s trade unions, and on worker protests. If you think that China’s union scene is monolithic and static, that’s proof you’ve not been listening.


Union pods are slowly growing in number and sophistication. Chances are that pods, at least for special events, will soon be as de rigeur as websites — and as expected of unions by the members. Union Hour is a UK podcast also available on CD. Listen in to a sample of a regional union news and national issues pod at


I’m just not certain what the lesson here is yet but. . . . Paul F. Tompkins is a comedian who committed to a Toronto gig — not through an agent, but through a Facebook group. He set a lower limit of 300 fans for the group and when it got there he rented a venue and appeared. He pretty much guaranteed himself a few bucks and a full house instead of risking an empty house and the bill for the room.

Have you spent months, or even years, collecting friends on Facebook only to find yourself daunted by the prospect of inviting them all, one by one, to join the new campaign group you’ve created? One Man’s Blog (subtitled “Specialization is for Insects”) has a solution for you: simply follow the instructions at


I remain personally unimpressed with Twitter, but I think I’m gradually being proved wrong. In May, the Council of Canadians organized a “tweet-in” in opposition to the free trade agreement with Colombia. Twenty-five thousand tweeters participated, virtually, in the Commons Trade Committee’s debate on the proposed agreement. To see how a “tweet-in” works visit the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ global justice committee’s tweet-in campaign against free trade with Colombia:

More tweeting followed a LabourStart campaign in support of workers in a Taiwan electronics factory. As the workers make touch-screens for some of the most popular smartphones around, using the Twitter fan groups for those phones (phones have fan clubs?) to get the word out was a pretty effective strategy. It helped put pressure on the companies whose names are on the phones to squeeze the manufacturer.

On a less savoury note, Twitter and other social networking sites are becoming a labour relations battleground. Andy Hanson of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) wrote in to report that at least one Ontario school board has retained a security company to search such sites for comments by employees. Hanson has had to represent his first member disciplined for tweeting. And workers at the
Ville de Qu├ębec are going to court to challenge a $90,000 contract to monitor employees’ use of sites like Facebook.

In the good old days, you could stand in line at the grocery store and complain about your supervisor and not have to worry as long as a manager wasn’t in the line next to you. Say the same thing with the same intent on Facebook or Twitter and you might get toasted. It’s as if employers were hiring security guards to follow workers outside of work time. The 21st century version of that grocery check-out line has Big Brother waiting at the cash.


“Big Brother is watching” can take on another, perhaps less ominous, meaning though. Local 615 of the Service Employees International Union at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has proposed that the bargaining table have webcams installed so that negotiations can be webcast for members.

I could, and might yet, spend a whole column listing the pros and cons of something like this. But, for the moment, I’ll restrain myself and simply say that it, and things like it, are things we should be thinking about now, not later.

And while you’re trying to come up with a policy on webbed bargaining, you might as well think about one regarding tweeting from the bargaining or grievance table or strike vote meeting, and what to do when a member walks into a meeting with a Thumbtack mic stuck into an iPod. Is this stuff good? Bad?

Or just another way people will do what they’ve always been doing?

No comments: