SOCIAL MEDIA AND TRADE UNIONS IN INDIA-ARTICLE SERIES
Understanding and Breaking the Myths about Social Media among Indian Trade Unions
Trade Unions, especially in India, are yet to recognize the immense potential of Social media, and have till yet remain increasingly aloof from using it. Most of the use has been limited to either posting pictures or on some occasions, news about the union activities in Facebook. Many do not have websites, and those who have it are seldom updated. The communication still is predominantly limited to phonetic and personal conversations in the trade union circles in India. Exploration of social media as an organizing tool is yet to be introduced among the trade unions in India.
Understanding the Myths
The author of this article has been invited by various international Labour/Global Unions to talk about the use of social media for trade unions on multiple occasions. In each of the occasions, I found out that the trade union members in India had ‘a mental block’ towards the use of social media, which made it tougher for me to prepare them to explore the possibility of using social media for developing campaigns. Many (not all of them) among the participants of the workshop I had facilitated had pre-conceived notions about social media, which made them stay away from it. Some of them were:-
- Social Media is a waste of time. Many believe that social media had little or no impact on Indian trade union members. And thus rather than ‘wasting’ time on social media, they would rather prefer to use that time in real time organizing and face to face interactions.
- Social Media is for the young. Many of the trade union leaders in India were relatively of the older age and believed that social media is just for ‘kids’. While this myth also opens up the larger debate of the young not being in trade unions in India, it also highlights how the trade unions in India have increasingly shied away from using social media for trade union purposes as their leaders (many of them old in age) thought it was only for the young.
- We already have a website, so you can’t say we don’t use social media: Almost all the trade union members believed that a single website is an alternative to the whole range of social media activities that can be undertaken by Unions.
- Why use social media ourselves, when we can hire others to do it: As mentioned above, almost all the unions, who had websites, had hired either an external agency or an individual, mostly a non-union member to take care of their websites. While some of the unions had trained members to take care of it themselves, the phenomenon is still to catch on in a large scale in India.
Breaking Myths: Using Social Media
Breaking the myths takes time and effort. In both the occasions, it took me a lot of persuasion to do it. Some of the key tricks to go about doing it are:-
- Listen to their reservations and break them using real life examples: Most of the myths among the Indian trade unions are either pre-conceived or are just passed down from one member to another. Evidently, it lacks logic. Thus, the best way to break the barrier is to listen to them carefully, understand the reasons behind their reservations and finally use real life examples to break them.
- Using Case Studies: During my interactions with the participants in various workshops, I found out that India has little or no examples of effective social media campaigns. Thus, I constantly used international examples like that of LabourStart, awaaz, or even the use of social media by Global Union Federations to develop effective campaigns. In the case of India, the use of social media during the ‘Anti-Corruption movement’ and the mobilization for Nirbhaya Campaign might come handy as examples. But there are risks of running into ideological clashes with Unions, while citing these examples. For instance, majority of the union members (including the author) see the former movement as those of middle class with no clear ideological understanding, which might have the potential to create conflict in the discussions.
- Teach them how to use social Media: Many of the mental blocks is also created because the members are ignorant about the skills required to use social media, let alone use it properly. Thus, explanations like social media is no alternative to real life organizing but a complementary to it can go a long way in breaking the barrier. Also live demonstrations of creating accounts and using it can help. Many of the members, after my presentations and demonstrations, used to walk up to me and explain that they never knew that using social media would be ‘that simple’. Thus, it creates curiosity amongst the members who then begin to explore using social media tools for the trade unions.
- Undertake practice sessions: After live demonstrations, theoretical explanations, let the participants undertake practice sessions and developing tentative campaigns for their own. Practically creating accounts and creating campaigns drives their curiosity towards social media and opens up the possibility of them using it again.
- Engage in Discussions: Taking the participants into group discussions, through clearly (cleverly) formulated key questions can help in breaking barriers. Led the ones who are active in social media amongst the group talk about their experiences to other members, take their queries and answer them and if needed also teach them.
- Explain to them the merits of using social media: Using social media is cheap, helps in faster mobilization, attract new and younger members etc. are some of the merits that can be explained to the union members. Highlighting these merits with real life examples and successful case stories can go a long way in breaking the Myths about social media.
(This article series is based on the experiences and interactions, the author had with Indian trade Union members over a period of three years. The opinions expressed in the article is personal and does not reflect the view of the organizations, he works for. The above article is first in the series of articles on ‘Social Media and Indian Trade Unions’. The successive articles will focus on topics like ‘why trade unions should use it, how to use it etc. Keeping looking up this space for further articles. The editor can be contacted at email@example.com. If quoted, please do reference to the name of the author and this site, along with the name of the article)