New Orleans Talking to organizers in Europe in recent weeks, it was interesting to hear that prospects for new warehouse distribution center operations by Amazon have triggered waves of social media comment, protest, and, of course, interest in what the jobs mean, what they pay, and how to deal with the reputation of the company to its rank-and-file warehouse crew. To organizers this is the scent in the air that could bring them running at the potential of organizing the workforce from the ground up. Who knows. Easier said and done, even across the pond.
After batting around various ideas about how to use social media in prospecting for organizing leads and identifying organizing targets, I ended up reading a long piece in The New Yorker that largely focused on a website and app operation called Glassdoor, based in the US but with a footprint in Europe as well. Glassdoor and its different, but similar, competitors like Vault, JobVent, and F**kedCompany among others, allow people to comment on and evaluate their employers and bosses the same way that popular sites like Yelp allow restaurant customers to rate and rank restaurants and their dining experience.
The article and much about it praised the transparency that such sites allowed employees and in the spirit of the moment some advocates thought it could help expose situations involving sexual harassment and even abuse by offering such a forum. The article wasn’t just a fan letter though, pointing out repeatedly the conflicts of interest commercial sites like Glassdoor have by essentially allowing companies for a pricey fee to take over their Glassdoor website and soften the critique. The problem of company encouraged and sponsored reviews that poured sugar in the coffee to distort any criticism also poisoned the transparency and more high-minded mission statement of Glassdoor. At same time they claimed that personnel departments paid attention to comments and often were asked to comment in job interviews about negative comments on Glassdoor.
All of which got me thinking that it would be wonderful if there were a “real” site that was noncommercial and worker-run and oriented, rather than commercial and corporate infected, so that workers could share information and find out the whole story on their companies, inside and out. There’s still every evidence despite contradictory impacts that transparency in pay tends to resolve inequities. The requirements for salary publications in the United Kingdom have certainly had impact, including the resignation of a noted BBC reporter when she found she was paid way less than her co-host.
We need something like a Wikipedia for Workers, if you follow my argument here. Sure, this would help organizers, and I wish it would help unions, though I doubt that they would have the interest or capacity to alter their model sufficiently to take advantage of the information and interest. The real beneficiaries would be workers gaining the information and the ability to use it to self-organize and stand up for themselves and each other in their workplaces and force competition and equity in their industries.
That’s my phone ringing. Someone needs to answer the call!