This week in Antwerp, UNI held its second Digital Organizing Forum. More than 120 union leaders and activists from over 30 countries gathered to share experiences and techniques for using digital tools to build worker power.
“We are here to face the challenges of how to get workers active and mobilized,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “This goes beyond using Facebook and Twtitter, but it means using all the tools we can–in this moment of urgency and opportunities–to help workers get their fair share.”
From Europe to Australia to the Americas to Africa, activists discussed diverse issues and were able to draw some shared solutions. Panellists presented various tactics and methods that have been successful, and the lessons learned from mistakes.
Participants learned about the U.S. National Domestic Workers’ Alliance’s app that allows precariously-employed workers have benefits. They heard about how unions are using artificial intelligence to answer members’ questions and bring them into campaigns. They heard about the work the labor movement is doing to update its online presence.
One common theme was the need to experiment. Whether building an AI chatbot or connecting members through WhatsApp, keeping an eye towards what works, fixing what doesn’t, and then scaling those success up came through.
“Digital tools are a living breathing thing that require an investment,” said Megan Sweeney of SEIU, United States.
There are tools available that don’t carry a huge financial cost, but they need to be deployed thoughtfully, with clear goals and benchmarks for success.
“Organizing online shares the same fundamentals as traditional methods,” said Mel Gatfield of United Voice, Australia. “But using online methods allows us to find new leaders who might not speak up in a crowded meeting or live a four-day drive from the union’s office.”
This ability to expand unions’ reach and capabilities is critical for growing unions.
“Putting our heads together and sharing our experiences is a key part of the trade union movement,” said Oliver Roethig, President of UNI Europa. “These tools will not only help us organize, but also strengthen our ability to collectively bargain, preferably on the sectoral level.”