The internet is helping the trade union movement transform the way it recruits and deals with its members, according to a new research paper.
Unions are increasingly using the web to modernise the way they operate, although this presents a set of new challenges, the Institute for Public Policy research (IPPR) has found.
Will Davies, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said increased online activity was enabling the trade union movement to evolve from highly formalised, top-down structures, to more fluid models of organisation.
This is essential to the future success of the unions as the more traditional attractions of membership, such as wage premiums or cultural identification to the labour movement, disappear.
The internet is also helping unions such as the TUC appeal to younger workers and implement self-organising systems.
Technological successes include an online application system from telecoms union Connect, interactive advice from the TUC’s workSMART website, online voting and consultation by civil service union PCS, and new web-based services for Unifi members and employers.
However, Davies warned that they must guard against members becoming distant and less involved in the whole union movement.
“The internet offers unions opportunities in improving their organisations and services,” he said. “But it also makes membership problematic, enabling individuals to shirk more dem-anding forms of membership.”