Should Unions Tear a Page From Clicktivism Playbook?
Continued from previous page
38 Degrees and other campaigning networks sometimes claim to have a democratic decision-making process too, but it doesn’t resemble the kind of democracy we’d expect in a union.
Some time ago 38 Degrees sponsored a campaign to stop a Conservative government’s attack on Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).
When the legislation passed anyway, they sent out a mailing to all supporters asking what to do next.
Should we continue fighting to preserve the NHS, they asked, or move on to other things? One cannot imagine a union asking a question like that of its members.
This is the worst kind of short-termism.
One of the newest clicktivist networks which also claims a “membership” of hundreds of thousands is SumOfUs, and unlike Avaaz or 38 Degrees, it limits its campaigns to challenging corporate misbehavior.
This is good, and on many occasions SumOfUs have found common ground with unions.
But not always, and campaigns have been launched, apparently in defense of workers’ rights, without any consultation with the unions involved.
And SumOfUs has also been criticized – by myself among others – for having, like 38 Degrees, claimed credit for victories which did not belong to it.
These various campaigning and protest platforms can be powerful allies for trade unions – but unions should also be wary of becoming over-reliant on them and should, where possible, use their own tools to do the same thing.
I’m not trying to bash these networks and say they are all worthless – the opposite is the case.
Online campaigning is an important part of what we do in the trade union movement, and we need allies where we can find them.
The Trades Union Congress in Britain has gone out of its way to build bridges with the new campaigners, including hosting large “NetRoots” conferences modelled on those held in the USA.
But I also think Malcolm Gladwell, Derek Blackadder and other critics of the clicktivists have a point, and unions should be cautious before rushing out to embrace this model of campaigning.
Where we can, we should develop our own tools to mobilize our members and supporters.
Unions have the ability like anyone else to create an online petition, but we can also shut down a factory or even an entire country if need be, which is why our ideas about membership and activism will be quite different from those of the clicktivists.