Online global trade union campaigning – new lessons learned

What makes some online campaigns popular, while others are not?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because LabourStart is today running a large number of campaigns at the same time.

Some are wildly successful (in terms of the number of messages sent).

Others, less so.

A campaign we’re currently running in support of Canadian postal workers has become the largest one we ever ran. After only four days online, it already had over 10,000 supporters.

But it could not really be called the most important or urgent campaign.

We are campaigning, for example, in support of two jailed trade union leaders – in El Salvador and in Russia. But those campaigns got only a fraction of the support that the Canada campaign received.

Part of what is going on is enormous grassroots support in Canada for the postal workers, who are facing an unprecedented onslaught by the Conservative government. Nearly three-fourths of those who have sent off messages in this campaign are Canadians.

And yet even the non-Canadians supporting this campaign outnumber those who support the release of the jailed trade union leader in El Salvador by about two-to-one.

So it’s not just Canadians supporting a local campaign.

In the past, I’d have said the largest campaigns are the ones that focus on extreme violations of workers’ rights – such as the killing of trade unionists.

But this does not seem to be the case.

Part of what is going on is how people identify with the workers who are the focus of campaigns.

I think that it’s easier for English-speaking trade unionists in developed countries to identify with Canadian postal workers than it is for them to identify with, for example, striking public sector workers in Botswana.

Part of that is simply a question of education. People in the UK or USA have generally heard of Canada, and though few non-Canadians can name its Prime Minister, the country is well-known to working people throughout the English-speaking world.

Botswana, on the other hand, is just another country somewhere in Africa – to most people.

Small countries, or countries where English is not spoken, or countries that are rarely in the news, are going to be harder to crack.

Some of LabourStart’s biggest campaigns have focussed on Iran – but that’s because Iran is always in the news.

Bahrain and Swaziland, where vicious anti-union regimes are crushing workers’ movements, are much less well-known, and the campaigns are smaller.

So how do we go about building much bigger international trade union support at grassroots level for important campaigns in countries like El Salvador and Swaziland?

I think part of what we need to do is mobilize people in support of the popular campaigns, like Canadian postal workers. Those people in their thousands are now on LabourStart’s mailing lists.

When we do a campaign in support of embattled trade unionists somewhere in Africa or Latin America, we’ll be telling a much larger audience about it.

And when those people, who had never previously heard about Botswana or El Salvador, are exposed every week to mailings about those struggles, they will get an education in trade union internationalism.