Organizing, P2P Networking, and Mapping of the Production Process by the Workers: an Argument for a ‘New Unionism 2.0’

The ‘Organizing’

”The Organising” method, originated in the US, has been achieving successes in the English speaking West and spread in the wider capitalist heartland after the collapse of class compromise or the tripartite corporatist model. The method is adoptable to local conditions as well as to the unions internal politics and specific context. In this method, professional union organisers hired by union, contact to, build relationship with, and mobilize workers at the shop floor level, with the aim of attracting more members to union. Then these activated members are to reach out potential members in broader range and together with the professional organizers they win workers hearts and minds in the work place, for the strength of union, or to increase the ‘union density’. The model “is successful because it begins to realise that autonomy is a powerful mobiliser, and that by giving activists ownership over campaigns in their workplaces, you build confident and dynamic local structures that are able to respond fluidly to complex and shifting circumstances.” (Cyberunions)

For Western industrial trade unions the very adoption of such a model has been an indication of a need for fundamental change towards more active unionism, instead of relying business or service models. According to Walton Pantland of Unite UK, “[t]he industrial relations landscape is changing rapidly, and hierarchy and bureaucracy are the death of innovation. This organising model creates some free space for new activists to find and develop a voice.” While an emphasis on this aspect of the method can be a very helpful tool for organisational change process of unions, often called ‘union renewal’, the model so far is implemented as an apparatus of the old top-down union structure, for merely to increase membership base so increasing density by US, British, Australian, Dutch and German unions. (Dirk Kloosterboer, Bill Fletcher Jr.). This type of exploitation of the method however limits the potential of the organizing model, also for accelerated growth in membership. In addition this way of working with the model do not create ‘sustainable empowerment’ for the workers at the base.

Peer to Peer Social Networking

Networking is becoming the dominant ‘relational form’ under capitalism. The increasing influence of networks in the last decades, parallel to the communication revolutions [internet, web 2.0, mobile phones etc.], transnationalisation of production, and neoliberal offensive has both supported and required the change process for the unions, as well as other forms of social organisation (Precariat meet’n’greet/New unionism, Open source trade unions / Cyberunions / UNI). Social networking as principle mechanism for relating other unions, NGOs, individuals, political groups and even rank and file has been used by unions and other labour organisations in order to form alliances, conduct campaigns, and even organising, hence, to confront the crisis (joint social conference) (Eric Lee).

LabourStart has been one of the early success stories that could bridge many active unionist within a global scope by using a website. From outside the established union mechanisms through the website, and linked-in correspondents, it has connected many campaigns and activists, supporters; launched giant email protests; started and contributed many impact making campaigns some of which delivered very successful results. Although often many rank and file union members have joined these international solidarity campaigns across the world, online international mass campaigning was not enough to turn the tide of crisis for the union movement. Neoliberal capitalist offensive, transnational capital and state elite could have not been challenged effectively by the labour and decrease in union density did not ceased in most of the cases, let alone reaching out unorganisables.

However using online communication and social networking tools called new media or Web 2.0, for given objectives is a new phenomenon for the established workers’ and labour organisations. The new electronic media make possible and necessary a new kind of fe/male labour activist, reaching out beyond the enterprise and the union office, listening to, linking waged-workers up with, and empowering, the increasing number of ‘foreign’, ‘marginal’ and other ‘a-typical’ worker (Waterman). These new technologies bear a great deal of potential for union and labour organisations for transforming old, slow, bourgeois democratic structural elements of unions into renewed and powerful sources of labour class activism, by decentralising and democratising power relations. They might be used in a way so unions can provide an open space and useful tools for members to link with each other, participate agenda setting and decision making of their union, as well as processes in local government and companies. With the arrival of Facebook groups, Twitter campaigns, online free phones and video conference software, union activist bloggers, official union blogs -where, even though electively, union members could also [to a certain extend] find chance to reflect or react to their executives, so the potential has already begun becoming a momentum. This potential of the use of Web 2.0 ,or P2P technology, in tandem with social -distributed- networking principle by, within and around the traditional representative union organisations, has already attracted attention by new labour researchers (i.e. Pantland, 2010).

The problem most of the time, with the use of very loose social networking -merely as connection and communication tool- as a part of campaign based organizing is called ‘after the first five minute’ effect, the sustainability problem. A similar problem rises in hierarchical networks as well, as it is called in network literature ‘netarchies’. The Organizing method successfully adopts sort of [better] distributed social networking [than unions themselves] in order to connect, engage and develop relationships with the rank and file; as well as immigrants, domestic and flex workers (Valery Alzaga Open source organizing article). This is achieved even when it has to operate within traditional organisational hierarchy. After the formation of, say, work place activist groups and reaching at the limits of desired membership in that shop floor, or for the entire region, or sector by using the Organizing method the inevitable question pops up: what now? Unions need to answer this question in order to turn the tide and there are some solutions already exist.

TIE & The Systematic Mapping of the Production Process by the Workers

TIE (Transnationals Information Exchange) represents one of the early attempts to form international ‘tie’s among workers at the shop floor level, among the rank and file union members. In this sense TIE has confined itself to the idea called ‘shop floor internationalism’ in the 70s.1 Today’s it is an independent international network consist of autonomous nodes which dedicated to educate, advice and support trade union activists.TIE-Netherlands, the Dutch node of the network, describes itself as a non-profit organisation which is committed to the advancement and strengthening of independent and democratic trade unionism.

To form a real counterforce from below against global and regional production strategies of companies, the emphasis of trade union organizations should be on local structures and on what occurs on the ground. Workers should organize themselves from the basis. Only when organizing comes forth from local realities and is done by workers themselves they experience the reality of their own power. Education and capacity building of workers and their organizations can contribute positively to their ability to organize actions and to enlarge their self esteem and position towards the management of their companies. Workers should develop critical awareness and should be able to translate this awareness into social action or praxis.”

What is TIE-Netherlands?TIE-Netherlands is a non-profit organisation which is committed to the advancement and strengthening of independent, combative and pluralist trade unionism. TIE-Netherlands is part of an independent international network which works to educate, advice and support trade union activists. In co-operation with these partners and local organisations (trade unions and local organisations of employees), TIE-Netherlands carries out projects in several countries and regions. In the Netherlands, TIE-Netherlands works closely together with FNV-Bondgenoten, the largest trade union of the Netherlands. Important points of focus in TIE’s work are:– Democratisation of trade unions– Freedom of trade union organisation– Empowerment of employees– Resistance against neoliberalism, free trade zones and privatisation– International solidarity

TIE-centres develop projects in cooperation with their local partner organisations.

These projects are aimed at:

– Education of employees and trade union representatives

– Exchange of experiences and information between employees and trade union representatives from various countries

– The joint development and execution of trade union strategies

– TIE also supports actions of solidarity in response to the policy of multinationals

One of the key tools TIE Network has been utilizing, in order to realise such shop floor based assertive and democratic unionism is the MAPEO method, systematically mapping and analysing the production process, be it in one company or world wide chain, directly by workers.

What is Mapeo?The method ‘production mapping’ was developed by TIE-Brazil, in cooperation with members of different trade unions, and led to significant results in the strengthening of workers power and the position of trade unions at the working place. The method is build on the assumption that workers have the most updated and detailed information about the production system, because they are the most important part of it. It departs from the mobilisation and ‘collectivisation’ of the knowledge of the workers themselves about their company, working place and the production system. Together, workers collect the major possible amount of information about the production process, like: the number of employees, the amount of working hours, salary, suppliers of material and clients, breaks, holidays and absenteeism in each section of the company. They are stimulated to analyse what is the structure of the company, in what way the production process is organised, whose interests are taken care of and who profits and who does not. Ways of gathering information are participatory, for example, inquiries among colleagues or the drawing of the company to identify where the main problems for workers are found. After gathering the information it is systematized and analysed by the workers, permitting them to understand their own role in the production process and the position of their company in the global supply chain. This action research, done by the workers themselves leads to new insights and the identification of action points for the trade union organisation at the working place.Production mapping entails a collective construction of knowledge because the information is gathered by the workers themselves at their working place (or local reality) and among their own colleagues. The map of the production process is an instrument to look beyond the boundaries of the local working place and to better understand the production planning of the management. Workers start to understand why companies make strategic decisions (e.g. to outsource certain parts of the production process) and how the production is connected to resources in the local context (for example by analysing the supply of material and the transport of products). Production mapping gives workers a motive to enter into contact with flex-workers and local suppliers, who were defined by them as “threats” or enemies before. Workers can re-establish strategies and organize for consequent planned actions and gain major control over the production process. Backed by the information they gathered on their working place they enter into negotiations and struggles that can change their realities in an effective way. Workers, who for many years have been told that their knowledge and insights are not important, start to realize that their knowledge is important.”

Downloads: 1) Presentation 2) Comparative production mapping

MAPEO has been invented by the activists from the Global South and improved by time, yet it is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. It can be adopted into different contexts, improved and modified by workers and unions themselves according to the varying national, local and shop floor level realities. There are impressive successes won in different contexts as a result of implementation of Mapeo. One recent example is the Ford worker’s self-organisation led to the 2007 strikes in St. Petersburg region, under very repressive conditions. The method had played a key role in Ford workers’ initial empowerment and activation in the company. However Mapeo method has too limitations. First of all, not every union has intention to exploit it, with the fear of it might give rank and file more independence from the union, the information gathered and knowledge uncovered by the Mapeo therefore might stuck either at the shop floor or within the union. This might lead lower empowerment level than it is desired or the potential.

An argument for the New Unionism 2.0: Social Network Unionism

I have been working with TIE since 2007 as an external project advisor and based on my own experience I identified some overlaps and cooperation potential between Mapeo and the Organizing methods. They both thought in accordance and already work with a networking principle, at varying degrees and levels. Cooperation between these two can link those different levels of networking in a less hierarchical yet well organised manner. This element would be facilitating the phase transition that unisons urgently need: from being totally hierarchical organisation to much flexible organised networks. As Waterman recalls: “[t]he organisation: networking relation should be understood neither as a binary opposition, nor as one of vice versus virtue, but as a dialectical one, in which labour organisations and institutions may survive and even flourish to the extent that they understand and adapt to the logic of the network.” The more shop floor networks get organised and the more the Organizing model in implementation adopts distributed network principles the more these methods can pave way for meaningful union revitalisation process. Developing much stronger ties and open communication, a real relationships between union officials and rank and file, without the fear of being taken over by some political fractions.

Based on these insight, such an argument can be developed and advanced that adopting a version of such production process mapping Mapeo and combining it with ‘Organizing model‘ (and Organising 2.0 / Unions 2.0-UNI) techniques, and utilizing these two within distributed and organised online and real social networking platforms, unions can build strong positions for real change. Such networked platforms can be build with Mapeo and Organizing, based on the shop floor realities and strongly and horizontally tied to the union structure would be thought and designed as 21st Century Peer Worker Councils (as NetzwerkIT projects foresees). Peer to peer online and real world social networking among the rank and file, and between these councils from different shop floors, would make a powerful contribution to the union revitalisation process, by not only improving workplace and union democracies. but also making the idea of ‘shop floor internationalism’ of the 1970s (P. Waterman, Kim Scipies) a realistic way forward for the international labour movement. Unions would be able connect workers directly at their localities, online and offline self-training, participation, and exchange can foster among workers through such Social Network Unionism.

New Unionism of the 20st century has brought about many relative advantages for the workers in the West, the capability of self-organising increased, unions had gain social, economic and political power. Such a new approach towards empowering the shop floor by connecting the rank and file among eachother and to the union officials would eventually serve to the rise of a hyperempowered labour class and New Unionism for the 21st CenturyIn this way trade union movement that can challenge the power of TNCs and the super class in the West and strong oppressive state apparatuses, in countries like China and Russia.

In order to map existing practices and monitor ongoing experiments, though which such an argument would be developed a working group [within the UnionBook]a blog [Social Network Unionism] and an experimental social network union [GAIAhas been formed. Both spaces are open for those who have the interest on the topic and wishes to make contribution.

Örsan Şenalp, March 11, 2011 Hilversum

Social Network Unionism Project 

2 thoughts on “Organizing, P2P Networking, and Mapping of the Production Process by the Workers: an Argument for a ‘New Unionism 2.0’

  1. Pingback: Rethikning Labour as a Network-Movement | Social Network Unionism

  2. Pingback: Rethinking Labour as a Network-Movement | Social Network Unionism

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