I want to thank Peter Hall-Jones of the New Unionism Network for sharing this with us. It looks like a pioneering experiment on Social Network Unionism by unions themselves comes from his home land, the New Zealand.
These kinds of initiatives are very important, brave and if it wants to turn the tide vital for the union movement to take. In Australia, the Netherlands and several other countries, the largest trade unions have been experimenting with comparable social network sites to reach the new dangerous class precariat and unorganised, yet with tight control structures and clear distance from the core ‘businesses’ of the union as organizing, training, and collective bargaining. It seems comrades at Together decided to go braver and do the right thing.
“Together aims to connect workers in un-unionised work places with the union movement and the union experience.”
In order to do this, it provides “…help with issues like workplace bullying, sick leave, holiday pay, employment agreements and sexual harassment”.
Peter Hall-Jones goes on reflecting on Together:
Together is a national service that is being developed for the “precariat” — that rapidly growing cohort of workers who do not fit into the standard labourist model of industrial capitalism. Because it is being developed at the national level, with affiliates’ buy-in, it cuts across regional, sectoral and strategic lines. In particular, it aims to bring together:
- People on casual contracts;
- Those in industries like IT, tourism or in small shops, or driving taxis;
- Contractors and workers in remote areas and small towns who don’t currently have access to a union;
- The families of current union members.
Membership costs just $NZ 1 per week, which is roughly 20% of typical union fees in New Zealand. (One kiwi dollar is equivalent to about $US0.87 or £UK0.53 or ¥68). Family membership is also on offer, bringing a still larger audience back into unionism’s traditional orbit. In fact, the word they use here is “wh?nau”, which is a Maori word suggesting something more like “extended family”. So, for instance, if mum or dad is a union member, they can also arrange union support for their children, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces and grandchildren.
As affiliated unions sign up to support and promote the system, they sign a “Memorandum of Commitment” (click to download). This is they key document to read, if you want to understand how Together works. Needless to say, there are all kinds of potential conflicts and pitfalls and fishhooks in a project like this. It is a credit to the kiwis that they’ve managed to negotiate such concerns and get Together off the ground.
Will this be “the missing link “– a clear route between the precariat and the mainstream of the labour movement? If not, will it become the first step of something that evolves further? It is far too early to make any meaningful assessment of the project, but, as the great Anon once said: “The best map in the world will not get you anywhere. Only going will get you there.”
Sure that it will take a painful process and easy to speak but forward steps for renewal should include self-organising, self-training, self-representation mechanisms, in parallel to opening up of the collective bargaining and decision making. Taking potential of each rank and file equally into account is the other side of the story. As it is essential for making #Real Democracy a reality for unions it is also the key for mobilising the potential energy of the precariat. Therefore it is very important for unions to effort for creating platforms that gives members access to each other, as well as union’s experts, reps, executives and the core information about the organisation. As Peter Hall Jones suggests it is too early to asses Together’s own experience, yet surely it signals that such braver steps towards a peer to peer social network unionism shall be taken in a near future.