May 03, 2005

Internet Power!

Here's a paper (pdf) I just stumbled across from the always-interesting Richard Freeman on labor unions and the internet.
This paper shows that in the 2000s unions in the UK and US made innovative use of the Internet to deliver union services and move toward open source unions better suited for the modern world than traditional union structures. In contrast to analysts who see unions as being on an inexorable path of decline, I argue that these innovations are changing unions from institutions of the Webbs to institutions of the Web, which will improve their effectiveness and revive their role as the key worker organization in capitalism.
Not sure all the examples he gives entirely support the strong version of this thesis, though. The best use of the internet so far seems to have been the AFL-CIO's Working Families Network, which was essentially a massive email list of union members and activists. The AFL-CIO used the lists to raise around $350,000 to support the Safeway grocery strike in 2003, and deployed their email minions to give their activists a swift kick in the pants. Good times all around. Well, hopefully this works on a broader scale. I certainly don't know what, exactly, it will take for unions to reverse the steady decline in labor density over the last twenty years—maybe nothing can stop the trend, maybe only drastic Congressional action, maybe some slick new organizational strategies—but Freeman seems optimistic that the internet will be a flaming scimitar here. Don't we all...
-- Brad Plumer 8:51 PM || ||