Labour Relations Goes Virtual

One area in which the new ways of communicating and collaborating that are discussed so often at this site are coming to the fore is in labour relations. Social networking sites are proving to be a valuable tool for labour union to bring a group of people together in a common cause.

In a widely-reported event last month, IBM workers in Italy wanted to stage a protest over a performance bonus they had not received. They decided to hold the protest in Second Life; IBM has long been a business leader in the virtual world. Protestors from around the (real) world blocked access to some of IBM’s “islands”.

The protest got plenty of press – which in labour relations is often half the battle. Of course, the other half is having an effect on the business of the target corporation, and I’m not sure what effect a Second Life protest can have in this area yet. But as more companies open up their presence in these environments (and start to make money there) it may prove to be a useful tool.

Unions are also turning to Facebook to organize protests and boycotts. In just one example of many, a Facebook group has been set up to support a boycott of Kettle Foods, a UK chip (crisp?) maker which employed an American labour relations consultant to successfully prevent a certification drive. When the article was written, the group had 1000 members. Of course, Facebook groups with thousands of members are a dime-a-dozen, but in this case (unlike the Second Life protest) the union is reaching actual customers of the company. And, of course, the bad press can only help the union’s cause.

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