Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk with the Metro Labor Communications Association. I was moderating a panel called "Uploading and Downloading Labor's Message." In a chilly and rainy New York City a group of about 40 union communicators gathered at Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians.
I started things off by telling a brief story of a similar workshop I ran last month for a few hundred local leaders affiliated with the Teamsters. In the workshop it was mentioned that if the locals don't get on point with online organizing, mobilizing and education than they should expect that their local unions would exponentially decrease in size over time.
I exmplained that there was a 15 year-old kid who, in just a couple years will be looking for a job -- and not by way of his local newspaper classified section. He will be, most likely, using his Facebook account, his Myspace account, Twitter and probably even setting up a small site that tells of his qualifications.
If this kid wanders over to any number of local union web sites he will be blown away that some sites he visits haven't been updated since the mid 1990s. While the thought of that to some us working in the online community seems impossible, these sites are out there representing the working class every minute of everyday on the World Wide Web.
This is a big problem in the labor movement. Local unions will say that they don't have the resources - both finanical and human resources to build out and maintain a web site. My response to that is: the locals have no choice ... it is either they come up to speed online or plan to lose membership as older workers retire.
At Metro I talked a little about UnionReview.com, how I started the site shortly after the split of the AFL-CIO. I told people how I was getting calls from friends who, after learning of the split in the morning papers, were calling me asking if there were going to be any changes in their dues ... everyone seemed a little in the dark. Labor communicators, apparently, didn't communicate that this split was going to occur or what it really meant for rank-and-file workers.
I highlighted my experience in getting information to folks, sending out emails, starting a blog on blogger and then moving it to its current platform in 2007 after meeting with the people from Prometheus Labor Communications. Proudly I shared with the group that Union Review is now getting anywhere from 15,000 - 20,000 hits a day, and that this is proof that there was/is a hole in labor communications in the United States.
When I thought I was alone in the endeavor of spreading labor news and opinion I began to use other online tools. First Myspace and then Facebook, hooked up with Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. In short, I began to sign up to every social networking tool I could find, learned how they work -- and began to build a little community.
This was not to just blow smoke up my own ass for accomplishments with UnionReview.com ... it is more to prove that 90% of what I have done, so far, costs no money at all, the other 10% is very affordable, enough for me to pull it from my own pocket. The excuse that unions don't have the resources is ... well, not good enough.
I think that the presentation went over well, or at least I hope. It was an honor to be asked to moderate and sit on a panel with folks with incredible credentials, all of whom supported, shared and taught how this simple technology and organizing the working class is imperative for our survival.