The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated new forms of work and consequently expedited the need for digital organising as an alternative way to reach out to workers in this new reality.
UNI Apro together with FES Asia, co-sponsored a webinar held on 6 May 2021 that was dedicated to understanding how digital organising can help unions scale up their organising and build workers’ power.
The key aims of the webinar are to highlight some of the best examples of successful digital organising campaigns by UNI/UNI Apro, share ways on how to overcome the difficulties of digital organising, and how to maximise the benefits of various digital tools long after the pandemic subsides.
This important event attracted more than 500 participants from UNI affiliates and fellow labour organisations across the region to sign up.
Opening for the webinar, Micro Guenther, Managing Director for FES Asia, paid tribute to the labour activists across the region who are struggling for their economic and even physical survival. Expressing FES Asia’s solidarity with the union partners, he also said that this is an important transformative time due to the changes accelerated by the pandemic. Digital tools will be critical to the success of union building and workers power in the days to come. FES Asia is proud to present the webinar together with UNI Apro to support unions embarking on their digital transformation journey.
In his welcome remarks, UNI Apro Regional Secretary Rajendra Acharya thanked FES Asia for its constant and strong support to strengthen unions’ capability during these trying times. He recognized that despite a digital divide, the Asia and Pacific region had still done well to adopt technology in many aspects. Similarly, the pandemic had spurred the need for unions to adapt new ways to their work. Chief among them is organising.
Encouraging the participants, Rajendra said, “Whatever the situation, we as trade unions – organising and building workers power cannot be compromised. And in the context of the pandemic, digital organising will be a critical tool for our actions and interventions to protect workers”.
The first presenter to kick off the session is Andy Snoddy, Head of UNISCORE who provided a global overview of digital organising. He emphasized that unions were no stranger to digital tools but the pandemic had accelerated the growth in their uptake. He assured that these tools will remain relevant to unions even after the pandemic is gone.
Josh Peak, Head of SDA National Digital Program and Secretary of SDA South Australian Branch, shared the SDA Australia experience in organising retail workers during the pandemic. The SDA originally wanted to focus on using more digital tools to better communicate with their young membership base. The plan kicked in just before the pandemic struck which allowed them to overcome the obstacles in reaching out to people if using the traditional organising method. Digital campaigns benefitted SDA as they saw an increase in membership and secured better treatment for many of their members.
In a roundtable discussion, the discussants, facilitated by Hovig Melkonian, Organising Director UNI Asia & Pacific, include Mohamed Shafie BP Mammal, President UNI MLC Malaysia, Michala Lafferty, Senior Organiser UNI SCORE, and Tilak Khadka, Organizing Coordinator UNI Asia & Pacific.
Together they delivered a lively and interactive session threaded by their respective ground experience from organising logistic workers in Malaysia, the Philippines call centres, and gig economy workers in Nepal.
A common ground they agreed on is the evidence during the pandemic showed that digital organising can be effective and even more so than compared to the traditional method. But care has to be taken in terms of adapting the use of the tools to the cultural and legislative context. Digital organising when done right can make unions better organisers and empower the members more.
Hailing from Romania and Australia, Florentine Iancu, President SITT Technology Union – Romania, Emily Holm, FSU Australia and Moira Cully, Digital Lead, Victorian Trades Hall Council, shared with the participants the type of digital tools and how they were used in the organising efforts.
Florentine’s presentation impressed the audience with its huge success in particular for the digital platform developed by the union itself to manage the membership base. More importantly it has demonstrated that digital tools can really bring members closer to one another and to deepen the sense of collective ownership.
Emily and Moira’s joint presentation touched on the use of Megaphone, a union-built online petition platform which differed from the existing third-party platforms by ensuring the union-user remains in control of the data. The case studies they shared showed that such online tools can be used for both “big” or “small” issues, and the tool can help build membership in various ways.
Wrapping up the two-hour session, Hovig Melkonian, expressed his appreciation to all the presenters and discussants for their valuable contribution. He look forward to working with UNI affiliates in the region to dive deeper into digital organising in the days ahead.