Tonight I came across a couple of blogs that discussed the labor movement's use of social media and digital technology. Both blogs made some interesting (and very positive) points, and both encouraged labor to take further steps to embracing new media forms.
Here's a quick run-down on the content of both blogs:
"1000 Digital Strategists for the labor movement" suggests bringing together all of the organizers and staff members in the labor movement who use social networking and other online tools in order for them to share skills, stories, and strategies with each other and with rank and file activists. While the author doubts that a large, one-time conference or major event would be the most effective way to go about the spread of this digital knowledge, it is the author's opinion that labor organizations could realistically hold training events in different cities every two weeks with the goal of creating 1,000 labor movement digital strategists. The author also suggests paying for these trainings instead of sinking money into high-prices website consultants or other specialized professionals. Essentially, developing web-savvy strategists could become a grassroots movement that would both aid the labor movement and empower people at the same time. And what's more, it would encourage participation in the union movement in new and diverse ways. Those folks who can't make it to an action, meeting, or event can contribute to online campaigns, communication, and promotional work.
"The Wisconsin Protests: A Lesson in Union Communications" is a blog entry from New Labor Media: The Labor Union Guide to Social Media that discusses the central role that social media played in the recent protests against Governor Scott Walker's promotion of anti-union legislation. According to the author, "word spread virally in large part due to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like." I can personally attest to this observation; many activists in Eugene, Oregon, where I live, followed the events on Facebook and other sites and shared news this way, far ahead of the mainstream media. The author proceeds to make a powerful statement that I'm going to reprint in full here because I think that it's very astute:
"Labor leaders, please learn this lesson if you haven't already. Social media is creating a much greater level of solidarity and unity among those in the labor movement, which has been sorely lacking for decades. Union leaders and members are connecting with each other from one end of the country to the other, and coming together to support the cause. From Richard Trumka down to John Smith, a first year apprentice, and everyone in between - social media has created a new mechanism for connecting and communicating with labor folks from all walks of life, at all levels - and you and your labor organization needs to be an important part of it."
It would appear that more and more union members and activists are heeding these words. And as recent events in Tunisia and other countries indicate, social media can serve the same purpose in movements for democracy, human rights, and political change. The technology, of course, is no substitute for face-to-face grassroots organizing. A movement is made up of people who come together to create change, and we mustn't forget that essential fact. However, social media helps to keep a movement informed, organized, and in the public eye. Hopefully, as the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. continues to widen, labor activists will use these new tools to fight for economic and social justice.