The method to our madness


You only think you are reading a nicely designed international labour news site with a catchy title.

Sharan Burrow, the indefatigable ITUC general secretary only thinks she got Equal Times off the ground to give her affiliate a voice in the face of a media that steadfastly refuses to cover their issues.

Editor Vittorio Longhi only thinks he has left his home in Rome to travel to the ITUC’s Brussels HQ to coordinate a bunch of freelancers he initially trained in journalism while working on an ILO development project.

Alex Praca, the Brazilian organiser only thinks he has been drafted in from his work in the ITUC’s Americas unit to ensure the fastest growing centre of union growth receives a credible voice.

Because this thing is actually bigger than any of us realise. Bigger than all of us.

Around the globe media empires are crumbling under the weight of a technical change that has driven the information gatekeepers to the brink and opened the door to anyone with a laptop and something to say.

The internet has cruelled the newspaper business model because you no longer need to own a printing press and have the resources to distribute paper to get your message out.

TV networks will be the next to go, convergence meaning that has citizens get access to broadband (an emerging equity issue) you can download anything you want to watch whenever you want it, you no longer need to wait for you’re the six o’clock news – or for your favourite show.

Journalists are trying to hang on to their jobs and their ethics, but it’s becoming a tougher battle everyday.

Newsrooms shed staff, shift specialists to general news, close investigative units, get rid of the sub-editors.

As resources are cut, faith in the quality of reporting drops, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of reduced standards to smaller audiences. But what chance do journalists have when anyone can create content, anyone can write a blog, anyone can make a video?

The challenge now is not to get access, it is to get heard.

In a world of information overload, people take their information from trusted sources; friends and colleagues who share content on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or the next cool app that comes along.

Information is mobile, people don’t visit websites to access information, rather the information is launched out on these networks to find an audience, on a smartphone, on a tablet, maybe one day on a piece of your clothing, crazier things are happening.

There are no rules for what is shared. Things that are important.

Things that reinforce what we believe. Things that make us think. Things that make us laugh. What works is what works.

For the most part that seems to be LOL cats, loyal dogs and Kim Kardashian, maybe laced with overwrought polemics that you either agree with or are outraged by.

So here’s the challenge for progressive political movements: how do we adapt to this new reality to ensure our story is told – and then shared – so we can be a voice for the many against the one per cent?

News aggregators like show what can be done – the US based site aggregates the best, most shareable content, on the web each days and encourages subscribers to share – as they say on their mission statement ‘ to make important stuff as viral as some guy surfing off his roof’.

But the content still needs to be created by someone before it can be shared. And if there are no industrial or labour reporters left then who is going to get excited about a media release?

That’s where the Equal Times come in – a news service telling stories reflecting the lives, interests and struggles of working people around the globe; not just the world’s 175 million union members but the millions, billions, more whose quality of life is defined by their quality of work.

At this point’s it’s just a hypothetical – an Italian and a Brazilian sitting in a room in little Brussels striving to bring the world of work to life. But it is a first step that is conceptually sound and potentially revolutionary.

If just one per cent of the potential audience could be reached this would, in the blink of the eye, become one of the widest reaching news networks on earth.

If that rose to ten per cent – wow, imagine the power.

For 150 years organised groups of worker have been building industrial and political power, in the process they have also created a global network, linked by a set of values that sees cooperation and equality as the counterweight to power and privilege.

Now we have something that every corporate would kill for – a network; not just an audience but actual members; it’s worth repeating that number, 175 million of them.

While media and technology companies dream up new forms of content in order to build audience that they hope to monetise, unions have members who just want to have their stories heard and their interests respected.

It’s already starting – Brazil’s metalworkers union has distributed 200,000 smartphones to members loaded with an app that delivers a daily editorial news service.

In the US, AFL-CIO has begun gamifying activism, allowing supporters to gather points for supporting campaigns that can then be redeemed to direct political activism.

In Australia, I am working with a bunch of local unions to rethink their member comms, incorporating blogs and video news and apps and trialling them until we get the mix right


So it’s starting at a national level.

But imagine for just a moment if it was happening globally as well – a union news service supporting and informing union members wherever they live – connecting workers from the first world with the developing world; building ties that beat global capital at its own game.

Of course Labourstart has been building the infrastructure for more than a decade, creating a global network of 100,000 activists who share news and support campaigns.

But now we have the chance to not just aggregate content, but create our own, to tell our stories using all the discipline of journalism, the creative of social media and the passion of political activists.

A BBC world service dedicated to social change and the power of the many against the few.

The danger for the global union movement is not being too ambitious, it is not being ambitious enough; not being ambitious enough to seize this amazing opportunity at this moment in history when the media changes forever and something fills the void.

Will it be the big corporations or us? It’s really our choice. It starts by clicking here.


Peter Lewis is an Australian-based communications consultant who spent a week in the Equal Times office