At the Australasian Union Educators Conference I'll be running a workshop on the role of union educators in educating and supporting people to utilise social networking and web tools for union activity. There are so many tools that allow people to come together on-line to discuss, debate and plan that it seems union activity and engagement should be an inevitable outcome. However, the on-line presence of many unions is flat and un-engaging, and even attempts to use Web 2.0 and social networking have often not had the pick-up or the impact we may have hoped for.
The problem may be that we just expect members to pick up these tools and use them successfully. Actually, just like any other organising we want our members to participate in, we need to have a clear purpose, develop understanding and support people's developing ability to use them if they are to be successful.
There are some particular issues to contend with - lack of web and tech skills amongst union educators, uncertainty about the involvement of educators in an area that may be seen as the doman of the webmaster, variable web access amongst members and nervousness about the lack of control over the views expressed to name a few. However, even if we can deal with these issues it still remains that we need to have a planned approach to encouraging worker engagement that is grounded in the same principles that shape our approach to union education for face to face organising.