Saturday, January 28, 2012

Virtually building a real trade union

This week's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee received a presentation on the Web Access RMS (WARMS) which will be provided to branches later this year (RMS - the "Replacement Membership System" - is UNISON's membership system).

WARMS will enable access to the RMS over t'intraweb with what looks like a more user friendly interface and greater speed and ease of use. I hope this will be an asset to branches, particularly since it will make selecting members for bulk email distribution very easy (subject of course to the accuracy of the information on the system...)

I've been blogging now for more than five years (though I appreciate that for those of you who have been reading it has seemed longer). It's startling to reflect how far the Union has come online in that brief period. Back in 2006 we saw the internet as a noticeboard on which to paste information, not as a tool for recruitment and organisation.

Since the facility to join UNISON online was introduced more than 120,000 members have applied for membership in this way, with the proportion of all new members joining online shooting up from 14% in 2009 to 25% in 2010 and almost 35% last year. Whilst this still means that almost two thirds of new members are recruited "offline" it nevertheless represents a massive shift, indicative of the impact of technologically facilitated social change upon our movement.

We need to understand far more about how we move more of our activity online, overcoming the prejudice of those who counterpose "clicktivism" to "real life" - who fail to understand how social media can be used to facilitate activities which are far from merely "virtual."

Since the average age of a UNISON member is 48 (and although 48 is a very fine and youthful age at which many are considered to be in their prime...) we need very much to embrace an approach to trade union activism which will appeal to the Facebook and Twitter Generation.

This won't, I suggest, be done in an abstract way, but by applying the tools of social media to concrete circumstances of particular struggles and disputes. These tools may prove to be of particular value for rank and file organising given their utility in facilitating "horizontal" communication outwith official heirarchical structures.

Mind you, we need to tackle the problem that some of our most radical activists are some of the most conservative souls when it comes to dealing with the virtual phenomena of the developing online world...

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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