By John Hanrahan
LabourStart, the union movement’s premier international news and campaigning service, held its annual global solidarity conference on November 18 – 20 in Istanbul, Turkey. Titled From Global Networks to Global Revolution, the conference looked at the important role the internet and social media are playing in workers’ struggles and democratic revolutions around the world.
LabourStart was founded in 1998 and provides the global union movement with a web-based news wire run by hundreds of volunteers from throughout the world. The organization also sponsors and administers “Act Now” email campaigns that protest abuses of worker and trade union rights everywhere. LabourStart’s mailing list now stands at 75,000 members worldwide.
I was in attendance at the Istanbul conference on behalf of the Confederation of Canadian Unions, and as a longtime union leader and active LabourStart correspondent. It is important to recognize the significance of social media to the global union movement and, in particular, the relevance of LabourStart to the struggle for workers rights.
The world is experiencing an explosion of relatively inexpensive and vastly effective web-based communication tools that allow people and organizations to reach huge audiences on a global level. It is suddenly possible to run media campaigns effectively and inclusively without the vast capital resources required in the past. This has the potential to allow democratic, grassroots movements to present points of view, information and facts that counter the pro-establishment and anti-worker propaganda that is the bread and butter of the mainstream media.
It also has the capability to allow union, pro-democracy and human rights activists to find each other and share ideas and strategies. The new surge of web based social media will, in my view, be credited historically with doing more for access to information, education and free speech than any political movement or law passed by government has ever accomplished. Within the global union movement, LabourStart has been, and continues to be, in the forefront of organizations that are using web-based social media to organize workers and defend their rights.
In the last year alone, grassroots organizations and unions have mounted protests against the abuses of corporations and governments on an unprecedented level. For the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, the austerity protests in Europe and the pro-democracy protests now taking place in Russia, social media has been the backbone of communication and organization of these movements.
Corporations and governments have long forced their neo-liberal agenda on workers based on their ability to coordinate their communication and propaganda strategies on a global scale. The international union movement must embrace social media in order to combat this and promote workers rights and solidarity everywhere. Thanks to the recent LabourStart conference, I had the incredible opportunity to meet friends and colleges from over thirty countries that I know share this point of view.
We often say “Solidarity Forever” in the union movement. With organizations like LabourStart and millions of workers around the world using social media and online communications, this may become a global reality sooner than we think.