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Strengthening the digital capacity of IndustriALL affiliates

19 March, 2021The Covid-19 pandemic has forced workers around the world to find alternative ways to communicate, interact and work, becoming more reliant on digital solutions. As we have had to physically distance, union work and organizing have also become increasingly digital. To that end, IndustriALL has been active in strengthening affiliates’ digital capacity.

With the Covid outbreak, unions faced a new challenge and were in dire need to develop their digital capacity. Being increasingly reliant on technology has uncovered a divide where not all unions have access to the equipment; in many parts of the world, information technology infrastructure is poor and underfunded, resulting in reduced connectivity.

“The contact between members and union officials is crucial, especially as we see workers’ rights under attack around the world and there are health and safety emergencies every day. With limited resources, equipment is often not made a priority. As IndustriALL, we wanted to support coordinating information sharing between affiliates and their membership, as well as between affiliates and IndustriALL,”

says IndustriALL assistant general secretary Atle Høie.

Last year, IndustriALL conducted a survey which showed that 117 unions had serious difficulties in participating in our activities due to a lack of digital capacities. IndustriALL has since provided those affiliates with laptops, tablets, smart phones, multi-media projectors, cameras, printers/scanners, broadband/internet connections, Zoom licenses, as well as training on how to use the equipment and Zoom, depending on the needs and providing affiliation fees are paid in full.

"We have faced intensified attacks on worker’s rights, so activities around joint central trade union movement’ struggles and building international solidarity, internal union meetings and collective bargaining negotiations have been held online.

"As the pandemic continue to limit our physical movements, the support of IndustriALL by providing hardware and software tools have further strengthened our capacity to carry out day to day union activities over online and serve our members more effectively,”

says Sanjay Vadhavkar, general secretary of Indian union SMEFI and IndustriALL executive committee member.

“In addition to the challenges imposed by the economic crisis and the spread of Covid-19, our office was severely damaged by the Beirut blast last year, and this has significantly impeded our work. IndustriALL’s support has had a positive impact in enhancing our capabilities to improve digital communication skills and resume our work remotely during this critical period,”

says Sleiman Hemdan, president of Professional union of syndicates for workers & employees of chemical materials and alike, Lebanon.

Wander Mkhonza, general secretary, ATUSWA, E-Swatini, welcomes and appreciates the support which has eased communication during these difficult times.

“Virtual meetings are becoming the new normal and without the necessary gadgets it would be almost impossible to run trade unions.”

Reginald Lafontant, coordinator of IndustriALL Haitian affiliate GOSTTRA, says that since the outbreak of the pandemic, Haitian garment workers have faced greater challenges than ever before. The situation became even more dire in February when President Jovenel Moïse refused to leave power at the end of his term and protests erupted.

“The support we have received has allowed us to operate and address these problems as best we can. Our executive is now able to meet via zoom, and we have been able to work with our national centre in developing a trade union response to the constitutional crisis in coordination with many other unions.

“We are also in regular contact with our affiliates, receiving regular updates from them and providing information on health and safety and other issues. Namely, since the outbreak of the violence, we have been able to alert workers who are on their way to work about police raids or gang attacks.”

The digital support has enabled affiliates to optimize the use of various online platforms and social media for promoting programmes, campaigns and organizing workers. Technology has enabled unions to intervene in conflicts related to collective bargaining, using remote meeting technology to negotiate with the employers and reach solutions.

Khaing Zar, IWFM president, Myanmar, says:

“With the support, IWFM has set up a hotline for both members and non-members and held online meetings to give updated information of Covid-19. Many of our members have been laid-off, temporarily or permanently, due to factory closures and employers have been union busting. We have been able to connect, provide protection and overcome difficult issues for our members during pandemic.”

Youth leaders and young union members have played a crucial role in covering technological gaps. This has given youth more visibility in union work and provided them access to union work at a different level.

"The effectiveness of trade union activities is due to lively communication with its members, but due to the restrictions in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, the way we work has completely changed. With IndustriALL’s support, we have been able to successfully overcome this challenge. Now staff can carry out their activities and we can maintain communication with trade union leaders,”

says Tamaz Dolaberidze, president of Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining and Chemical Workers of Georgia.