Social Media, Insecure Work and New Solidarities

Working group on changing conceptions of work

Research Agenda

Social Media, Insecure Work and New Solidarities
Research/Teaching Priorities

On May 17th 2013, a group of researchers, communication experts, social media activists, labor and community organizers, met at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center to discuss lessons learned from using social media in new strategies of labor organizing in precarious work situations. One of the central goals of the gathering was to more clearly identify how the research, teaching and other expertise of universities, especially in California, can better understand and support the integration of new media technologies in innovative organizing strategies aimed at improving working conditions for precarious workers. Below is a summary of broad research and teaching topics that surfaced in the process of preparing for the symposium and during discussions at the symposium itself. This is not meant to be a comprehensive catalog, but hopefully can be a guide to faculty members, students, and university researchers who are interested in social media and labor organizing. We also encourage researchers and scholars to make use of, and contribute to, a growing Zotero bibliography on these topics available here:

Research topics:

Social media and daily life: How are workers currently using social media in their daily lives? How does this differ by the age/gender/race gender of workers, and their different working conditions? How does this use shape workers’ social networks? What are the opportunities and obstacles of building on these existing informal used of social media for strengthening labor solidarity? Big example is restaurant workers who like to socialize together.

Social media and social movements: Social media has become prominent in a range of broad political organizing and social movements, including democracy and human rights movements, environmental movements, and in electoral campaigns. What can labor organizers learn from the use of social media in other social movement and organizing efforts?

Social Media Labor Organizing Case Studies: What broader lessons can we learn from particular cases of efforts to integrate social media into building labor solidarity? How does this differ in cases of new worker organizing and cases of building more effective internal member communication?

Social media and dimensions of labor solidarities: Workers solidarity is built in part on common identity, experiences and values that are strengthened through processes of communication and collective action, but there are multiple dimensions in which such solidarity are recognized and built. They might be rooted in particular experiences in the workplace, or in social status (e.g. immigration, excluded workers, place of residence), or in relationship to broader production processes (e.g. commodity chain organizing or campaigns linking consumers and producers), or around values. What are the implications of using social media in building these different dimensions of labor solidarity? Are there dimensions of labor solidarity that are more conducive to being built through social media and if so, why?

Social media in different types of labor organizations and strategies: How are different types of labor organizations and organizing strategies making use of social media? How does this use differ in traditional industrial or craft unions versus workers’ centers and new forms of community unionism? What are the different uses of social media in labor organizing versus expanding labor’s voice in elections and legislative campaigns?

Social media tools and applications development: How are existing social media tools being used, and what helps make them most effective? What kinds of new tools and applications should be developed?

Social media and ladders of engagement: What are the implications of different first points of contact (e.g. email, twitter, pinterest, facebook or in-person). Are there some that are more effective than others? For different populations? What helps move people form an initial point of contact through social media to more active engagement with a campaign or organization? What are the factors that contribute to people being moved to take some initial action?

Social media and on-line education: Education environments are places where strong social networks are formed and movements for social change emerge, and youth are at the forefront of using new media technologies. The growth in on-line education has important implications for education as a site of social change. What are the implications of growing on-line education for labor solidarity?

Politics of protest versus politics of possibility: What are experiences of framing issues in politics of possibility compared to politics of protest? “Homes for All” example from Right to the City, or “Caring Across Generations” from NDWA as examples of politics of possibility.

Experiences of undocumented youth after high school, especially non-dreamers: Migrant youth drop-out rates. Post high school experience.

Digital disempowerment?: Ways that the digital world becomes barriers to people being involved? ‘Clicktivist’ problem (as substitute for organizing).

Connection between small campaigns/issues to broader movement? Building work together at a local/immediate level and campaign building.

Tactics versus strategy? Social media as central component of organizing strategy, versus one tactical piece of organizations work.

What contributes to people paying attention to certain social media messages and not others? What resonates? What medium makes a difference (e.g. text seen as urgent action, email more general)? What are the implications for centralizing/decentralizing tendencies.

Process of social media reinforcing problematic conceptions?


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