DEV Community

Cover image for Labor Unions In The Digital Age
Enri Marini
Enri Marini

Posted on

Labor Unions In The Digital Age

Labor unions have been a critical force in shaping the modern workforce, achieving significant victories that have improved the quality of life for workers globally. However, in the digital age, labor unions face new challenges and opportunities that require them to adapt and evolve. In this article, we will explore the challenges and opportunities for labor unions in the digital age and how they can better serve their members.

Importance of Labor Union History

Take a walk back in history with me. Labor unions have been at the forefront of achieving positive changes and legislation still in effect today. They have fought for and won paid maternity and paternity leave, paid time off, limited working hours, guaranteed healthcare, due-process for unjust and discriminatory hiring and firing of employees, environmental safety, and workplace safety regulations to prevent harm and death.

Pensions, retirement accounts, social security, and life insurance payouts are all legislative rights that labor unions fought hard for and won. The important takeaway here is that we must not take such things for granted and they did not simply manifest out of thin air.

Challenges Labor Unions Face in the Digital Age

In the digital age, labor unions face new challenges that require them to adapt and evolve. One of the main challenges labor unions face is the perception that they are run by organized criminal syndicates. This perception has been perpetuated by movies and TV shows that depict labor unions as corrupt and violent organizations. While some labor unions have been involved in illegal activities in the past, this does not represent the majority of unions today.

Another challenge that labor unions face is their lack of investment in member welfare. Many labor unions have not kept up with the changing needs of their members, such as investing in technical skills, retirement benefits, cultural workforce diversity, and salary increases to keep up with inflation. This has led to a decline in union membership, as workers seek other ways to improve their working conditions and benefits, albeit ineffectively as wages have remained stagnant since the 1970s.

Lastly, labor unions tend to form exclusionary social cliques that prevent them from effectively serving their members. Some labor unions have a reputation for being insular and unwelcoming to new members, particularly those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds seeking upward mobility.

Many labor unions have long standing covert and extroverted discriminatory practices of excluding members based on race, sex, religion, and other protected social classes. These practices include hazing apprentices with the intention of driving them away from the union to exclude them from benefits, holding seniority within the union ranks, allowing cronyism and nepotism to run rampant.

This has led to a lack of diversity within labor unions and a failure to address the needs of all workers.

creative commons photo saying the word opportunity

Opportunities for Labor Unions in the Digital Age

The digital age presents several opportunities for labor unions to better serve their members. Modern communications technology (social media, cellphones, low-cost computers, low-code/no-code software development platforms, free online college education platforms) can be used to better organize, rally, and educate members on how to effectively collectively bargain and advocate for better working conditions, including a living wage.

Labor unions also have a major opportunity to drive innovation in their respective industries by serving as thought leaders without financial sponsorship from any single corporation, since their funding comes from member contributions who work for various companies. This would lead to more critical public discourse about predatory practices like perpetuating vendor lock-in instead of sustainably solving problems, encouraging development of new businesses to innovate, and using IP law to bully competitors into silence.

The need for integrity and real-time communication will only continue to grow as the 5th industrial revolution continues to advance. Labor unions have a major opportunity to demonstrate how to stand for more than ingratiating themselves and their limited membership. Labor unions can use technology to promote the development of new and emerging industries. For example, they can advocate for investment in renewable energy, which can create new jobs and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. They can also support the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing, which have the potential to transform industries and create new opportunities for workers.

Another way that labor unions can adapt to the digital age is by embracing new forms of collective bargaining. Traditional collective bargaining involves negotiating with a single employer or group of employers. However, in the digital age, workers may be employed by multiple companies or may work for themselves. This makes traditional collective bargaining difficult. Some labor unions have responded by embracing new forms of collective bargaining, such as sectoral bargaining.

Sectoral bargaining involves negotiating with an entire sector or industry rather than individual employers. This can be an effective way to ensure that workers in a particular industry are treated fairly and have access to important benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.

Labor unions can also use technology to promote transparency and accountability. For example, they can use blockchain technology to create transparent and secure records of collective bargaining agreements and other important documents. This can help to ensure that agreements are enforced and that workers are protected.

In order to be successful in the digital age, labor unions must also address issues of automation and job displacement. As technology advances, many jobs will be replaced by machines or automated processes. This will have a significant impact on the workforce, and labor unions must be prepared to adapt.

One way to do this is by advocating for worker training and education programs that can help workers acquire the skills they need to succeed in the new economy. Labor unions can also advocate for policies such as universal basic income that can provide a safety net for workers who are displaced by automation.

Another challenge that labor unions face in the digital age is the rise of the gig economy. Many workers in the gig economy are classified as independent contractors and are not covered by traditional labor laws or protections. This makes it difficult for labor unions to organize and advocate for these workers.

However, some labor unions have begun to adapt to this challenge by organizing workers in the gig economy and advocating for their rights. For example, the Freelancers Union in the United States represents over 450,000 independent workers and provides them with benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and access to legal services.

In addition to the gig economy, labor unions face challenges related to globalization and international trade. As companies become more globalized, they may move their operations to countries with lower labor standards or engage in practices such as outsourcing that can lead to job losses in developed countries. Labor unions can play an important role in addressing these challenges by advocating for fair trade policies, promoting international labor standards, and building partnerships with unions in other countries.

Labor unions have opportunities in the digital age to leverage technology to promote worker rights and protections. Some labor unions have developed apps that allow workers to report workplace violations and connect with union representatives. Others have used social media and other online platforms to raise awareness about labor issues and build support for their cause.

visual diagram showing relation between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors

Addressing Issues of Racism, Sexism, and Exclusionary Social Cliques

To effectively address issues of racism, sexism, and exclusionary social cliques, labor unions must use evidence-based frameworks from neuroscience and social psychology to understand how humans behave individually and collectively. For example, labor unions can adopt trauma-informed care to conduct better outreach in systematically disenfranchised communities. This starts by realizing that the workplace is more than just a place to obtain financial compensation, and that the boundary between work and personal life is non-existent, especially in the digital age.

They can also use interpersonal dynamics to understand how group behavior can impact the effectiveness of the union. This means ongoing education about group development, covert and extroverted means of influence and pressure, character disturbances in the human psyche, and the impact various influences have on the human development process.

As technology advances, a small number of companies and individuals are capturing an increasingly large share of the wealth. Labor unions can advocate for policies that promote a more equitable distribution of wealth and income, such as progressive taxation, higher minimum wages, and stronger social safety nets.

Next Steps

The digital age exponentially increases the rate at which institutions and people need to adapt in order to remain relevant. To succeed, labor unions must overcome their own bureaucratic tendencies and digitally transform to become more than just a fencesitter beholden only to their corporate partners.

To build a better future, labor unions need to fundamentally shed their ineffective ways and work to promote the welfare and wellbeing for all, which includes non-members domestically and internationally, regardless of creed, race, sex, religion, and other identities.

Let us all work side by side in unity to support the mission of a more equitable and sustainable future for all workers with the focus on promoting worker rights, protections, and community-building in a rapidly changing world.

Thanks for tuning in. Critical discourse is encouraged and welcomed. See you in the next article.

Follow me

› Linktree:

› LinkedIn:

› Substack:

› Twitter:

› Medium:

› YouTube:

› DEV Community:

› TikTok:

DISCLAIMER: I am not sponsored or influenced in any way, shape, or form by the companies and products mentioned. This is my own original content, with image credits given as appropriate and necessary.

Top comments (0)