I did a speech last week at the Danish Police Union named “fremtidens fagforening: union governance 2020” (Danish for The future of Labour Unions).
Labour unions is a key part of democracy. The right to assemble and fight for better conditions for employees is still very relevant. Nevertheless, unions all over the western world are struggling to attract and retain members. And as demonstrated recently by the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, politicians are increasingly putting forward proposals to limit these hard owned rights in the name of global competition.
So do labour unions have a future? I think so. But not in its traditional form only. Labour unions tend to be very centralised and bureaucratic when it comes to decisionmaking. They seem to be more concerned about retaining their rigid bureaucratic structure, than to engage and involve. The are preoccupied with internal processes and meetings, rather than developing and leveraging their collaborative potential: And by doing this, they loose their legitimacy.
Labour unions could learn a lot from social networks. Social networks are open and involving. They are time and place indpendent, and members can contribute when and how they want to. Social networks are not limited by “political” concerns of their leaders – as leaders are not chosen but incrementally appear from the crowds as a result of “earned” social capital. And Social Networks don’t wait for someone else to make decisions or negotiate better conditons for them.
If unions start to embrace some of these principles, there is a good chance they will gain influence and members. But they have to start now. 2020 may be to late.