December 5, 2012
Coworker.org Officially Launches with First Worker Petition Campaign
Congratulations to Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch, friends of the blog, who have just officially launched Coworker.org and its first official petition campaign on behalf of a fired Walmart worker in Arkansas.
Here is what I wrote about Coworker.org in my recent paper considering alternative models to the existing Wagner Model of labor law in the United States:
[Coworker.org] is an online platform that puts the power of collective bargaining into the hands of all workers, all over the world. It represents a scalable departure from traditional union organizing by providing ordinary people with online tools and training to organize their co-workers and advocate for changes on the job.
When coworker.org launches, it will be a petition-based internet service. The worker’s initial point of entry will be the creation of a petition centered on the change they would like to see in their workplace and would target their bosses. The process of procuring fellow employees to sign the petition would be how these employees would form their organizing committees going forward . . . [B]y using social media “share” functions on services like Facebook and Twitter, workers will be able begin to promote their workplace campaigns and gather coworker interest in the same workplace issues.
It is a fabulous idea which responds perfectly and timely to the challenges facing worker rights organizations in our global, mobile, and tech-savvy economy. Check out the site and if the spirit moves you, sign the petition to get the Walmart worker her job back!
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I'm all for workers having another online petition tool, but can you explain why you think this particular one is so fabulous, and how it responds to the challenges facing workers today?
In the paper, you note that "the Wagner Model system of labor relations remains largely inaccessible to many American workers today...because labor organizing is a costly, resource-intensive activity." You also observe that "[g]iven the hostility of many employers to unions, organizing campaigns often last for years, with fired workers, runaway shops, and major expenditure of union funds left in the wake."
How does coworker.org address those challenges? Sure, it's cheap, but that's because it doesn't do very much. If unions could win campaigns with an online petition, or, for that matter, a paper one, labor organizing wouldn't be so costly and resource-intensive. Will these petitions make employers less hostile to unions, less likely to fire workers? Will it avoid runaway shops?
The only real point I saw was that employees often can't use employer systems to communicate about the union. So perhaps this gives them another avenue to do so, although they still need internet access and email (including creating groups/listserves/online petititions) is free. Perhaps they'll be getting extra advice about organizing, and they'll be able to see other related campaigns. But is the problem with the Wagner model an inability to coordinate, or a lack of organizing expertise?
Posted by: Alek Felstiner | Dec 7, 2012 5:24:19 AM