by Charles Lechner
The advance of online tools and digital strategy is very much in evidence at the AFL-CIO Convention. Some data points:
- The listening sessions conducted for many months included robust online conversations.
- There is now a Digital Department that has had thousands of participants in online webinars and offline training events.
- A number of well-regarded netroots pros have been hired over the last two years.
So it was a pleasant surprise, though not a complete shock, to see that the most prominent booth display at the convention was for the Digital Dept., complete with an amazing “Boots Online!” sign.
It’s also been great witnessing a robust conversation on the official hashtag #aflcio13. One journalist present even suggested that part of the program – dozens of 90 minute action sessions – were “designed to give the proceedings the trendy buzz of a Netroots Nation conference.” Sounds good, right?
We’ve been advocating since 2009 that unions take digital strategy more seriously. This requires a number of things all done at the same time, including:
- Strong, public support from the top for this direction.
- Changes in job titles, duties, and the mix of staffer specialties in communications and organizing departments.
- Actually organizing the digital aspects of unions with metrics and evaluations.
- Finding ways for the digitally savvy to exert what we might call ‘expertise based influence’ that does not derive from how long they’ve been employed, who they know, or their spot on the pecking order.
- Pushing change to the edge of the labor movement – the locals – and assigning appropriate resources to make that happen. (As opposed to merely having a decent team at the International working on strategic campaigns.)
- Working with a wider array of capacity building partners and encouraging more local connections between unions and capacity building opportunities outside the union- or labor-movements. (Like NTEN, local alternative media conferences, and of course Organizing 2.0.)
- Setting a goal of training 1000 digital strategists inside the labor movement – and making it easy to find out where they are.
- Helping locals evaluate the cost and quality of digital communications services that they purchase.
- Launching a Circuit Rider program that creates jobs for social media and digital strategy freelancers to work with multiple locals at the same time, as part of a coordinated, managed and sustainable effort to help every local – not just the strong ones.
- Collecting case studies across a wide array of situations and make them available for inspiration, with an appropriate taxonomy. Include both successes AND failures.
The union movement is clearly on the right track when it comes to integrating online and offline organizing, and this convention sets some very positive precedents for that work. But in the rush to celebrate accomplishments, it’s easy to skip over the need for an accurate map of the terrain. The labor movement is weak and it needs as much help and as many allies as it can get. AFL-CIO President Trumka has made it clear that he wants to open-source the labor movement, creating programs, tools and campaigns that everyone can join, modify, and share. Those of us excited about how new communication tools can make a difference for the labor movement have a duty to accept that challenge.
Charles Lechner is part of the team at Organizing 2.0 where this post first appeared.