Social networking sites used to rally support for industrial action

Unions are attempting to rally support from the wider community for major industrial disputes, including those at IBM and Fujitsu, by using social networking sites like Facebook, it has emerged.

Paul Nowak, the TUC’s national organiser, told Personnel Today unions were adopting new online campaigning methods to widen their sphere of influence, potentially to an international stage, and warned “companies needed to think very clearly about their corporate reputation” when disputes arose.

Members of the public can now go online to Facebook and show their support for workers at firms including IBM, Fujitsu and RBS over changes to final salary pension provisions, ahead of potential industrial action at each of the firms.

Nowak said: “Unions are branching out and getting communities involved, not just the workers; we are going beyond the converted. Companies have to recognise their responsibility is also to the wider community.”

He added recent union activity against drinks company Diageo – where Unite encouraged the local Scottish community to send 450,000 e-mails to shareholders complaining about proposals to cut 900 jobs – was a sign of the future direction of union activity.

Peter Skyte, national officer for Unite, said the union’s use of social networking sites for campaigns against IBM and Fujitsu had already boosted membership.

He said: “We are using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get our message across to workers and the wider public. We have seen an explosion of members in some companies where we have used these approaches. At IBM and Fujitsu we are talking about hundreds of people that have joined in each case.”

Unions also hope the new campaigning techniques will help to reverse declining membership levels and attract younger workers to their causes.

Figures released by the TUC (Trade Unions Congress) revealed union membership has continued to fall, with less than half of employees now working in organisations where unions were present.

But Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire’s business school, warned these new online campaign approaches would not be a silver bullet to solve membership decline.

“It can help, but it’s no panacea,” he said. “It makes the young see unions as less strange and alien, but unless unions can develop leverage to improve workers’ wage and conditions, it’s window dressing.”

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