The union movement has come a long way online, and at this year’s Netroots Nation conference, online union activists got a chance to check in and talk about where we still need to go. This year’s Labor Caucus was the largest yet since we first got together at what was then the YearlyKos convention in 2006.
About 60 people came out for the caucus, mostly union members and union staffers from across the movement but also bloggers and activists who support workers. Our own Tula Connell and Michael Whitney of SEIU moderated the session.
We kicked off the caucus by noting what we’ve accomplished thus far. The strong union participation in Netroots Nation is a good sign we’re a vibrant, important part of the progressive blogging community now. We’ve made the case that working family issues are progressive issues.
But there’s a lot more we can do. How do we build our own online union community? How do we connect labor to blogs? And how do we utilize our resources to make changes at the state and local level, to support union members and campaigns?
Michael Morrill of Pennsylvania-based blog Keystone Progress and Julielyn Gibbons, a web strategist and blogger, talked about stategies for getting info to bloggers in ways they can use—bloggers rely upon materials and resources to create content and unions can serve as a resource. Gibbons also noted the effectiveness of using online tools to tell stories—working people telling their own stories about how issues affect them personally. To get in touch with bloggers, union members and staff can become part of the community, including posting stories on community blogs at the state level to get their message out.
We need to educate people in the netroots community, who have been and will continue to be important allies, about unions and union issues—getting in touch directly, building strong ongoing relationships—to get past stereotypes and misinformation, and help people see what unions do and who union members are.
Many of those present discussed the need to educate rank-and-file members about new media. They’re what the movement is about; they are the people whose stories need to be told. They can be blogging, twittering, putting up photos and videos—new media is just another tool to do what unions have to do already: meet people where they are, letting people tell their stories.
As an example, Beth Caskie of the California School Employees Association described how her union used YouTube videos to influence public debate—filling a room for a protest happens once, but when you get images of that online, it can have an ongoing impact.
Beth Allen of the Communications Workers (CWA) discussed the successes and struggles of the union’s program, which empowered members to blog about issues important to them. Allen noted that in a new project, union retirees are using Twitter now to drive conversation.
It was a constructive discussion, one that we need to continue to move forward online. It’s a great feeling to have such a large and active presence from the union movement among the netroots.