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How digital communication transformed activism

This blog was written following a teach-out facilitated by the author.

For the ongoing USS-Strike to defend our pensions, digital communication on e-mail and social media have played a tremendous role. In fact, in contemporary society it seems almost unthinkable that social movements were able to mobilise protest events without access to the internet. It seems useful to appraise how activism has changed since the advent of social media.

I begin by reviewing some of the main tasks of social movements. First, social movements are engaged in framing processes: they need to convince people that there is a problem and what the problem is, who is responsible for the problem and what should be done about it. In the case of the the current dispute, the problems are the proposed changes to pensions and the way the pensions are regulated.  UUK and The Pension Regulator are responsible. One tactic is strike action.

Second, social movements need to mobilise resources including people (supporters, activists, and leaders), access to meeting spaces, media and money and enlist support from the wider public, decision makers such as politicians, and experts. In the context of the USS strike, this requires mobilizing members to come to the picket lines.

Finally, social movements need to make decisions about tactics and strategies as well as about their organisational structures and decision making. For the strike for USS that includes decisions to continue or to suspend the strike, and the pursuit of alternative and/or additional tactics.

Digital communication and social media have made some of these tasks much easier, but have made others more complicated. It is possible to distinguish internet-supported and internet-based repertoires of action. Internet-supported actions are a continuity of previous forms of mobilisation – instead of handing out leaflets or contacting people via a telephone-tree cascade system, meetings or protest events are announced via websites, on e-mail or via social media. There is no offline equivalent for a hashtag-campaign on social media – this is an example of new internet-based activism.

So how are online- and offline activism related? Some are concerned that online activism decreases the involvement in offline activism and leads to slacktivism or clicktivism. However, others believe that digital prefigurative participation or engaging with an issue online through social media leads to participation in offline protest events. Collective action is based on collective identity (for example, as trade unionists) and organisational structures (for example, the UCU branch), but digitally-enabled activism can  produce connective action which is networked and may not be tied to collective identities, organisational structures and leaders. In the current dispute we can see that hybrid forms of action exist.

In her book, Twitter and Teargas Zeynep Tufekci brilliantly analyses the ‘power and fragility of networked protest’. The power might be quite obvious. When social movements are ignored by the mass media (see for example the lack of mainstream press coverage of the USS-strike) or are censored, digital communication allows the spread of information and can enable citizen journalism.

In 1999, Indymedia was created by independent journalists and activists in the context of the WTO protests in Seattle. Although the website still exists nearly twenty years later, including regional sites in many languages, today Indymedia is hardly known. It has been replaced by the behemoths Twitter and Facebook on which citizen journalism as well as fake news are disseminated. We also see that mass media and social media are not mutually exclusive;  articles and broadcast news media are frequently posted on social media. In addition, not everyone’s tweet or post gets shared, some have far more influence in the digital public sphere than others. Communication on social media raises important questions of verification, and representativeness.

Tufekci also discusses the impact of digital communication on the leadership, logistics and infrastructure of social movements. New communication technologies allow the kinds of quick dissemination which made the occupation of Gezi Park, Tahir Square and the Occupy camps possible. In contrast, the American civil rights movement required meticulous and lengthy organising over long time-periods. Slow dissemination allowed for capacity building over a longer time-period which created space for extensive discussions outside the public eye – for example concerning tactical shifts, and social movement organisations had a central role in providing an infrastructure for the decision making processes and dealing with dissent and conflict arising from these debates.

In contrast, Tufekci demonstrates how digitally mobilised movements can experience a ‘tactical freeze’ due to the lack of decision-making structures. Connective action is less well placed to deal with disagreement and building trust. Debates are played out publically, and while open debate might be welcome, it can be dominated by a few, prominent, but not necessarily representative voices. Moreover, discussing tactics openly  can signal to opponents where the breaking points in the movement are.

The USS strike has undoubtedly benefited from the existence of social media. While we stood in cold, snow and rain, it was inspiring to know that the picket lines were strong at Universities across the country. Moreover, social media enabled activists to crowd-source information about management practices at the institutions involved in the dispute, and to share information to support the protest. Petitions were circulated and signed, universities were named and shamed. Activists skilfully employed not just open digital spaces but also closed spaces which allowed for strategizing outside the public attention.

One important feature of social media use was the mobilisation of humour to support the strike.  Our own #DinosaurOfSolidarity (@of_dinosaur) has quickly gained 1950 followers (and counting) for example. But social media has also carried serious messages. The outcome of UCU/UUK consultations immediately resulted in the hashtag #NoCapitulation which perhaps influenced the swift rejection of this offer.

The question is – what next? How can we prevent a ‘tactical freeze’? It is clear that offline and online activism are intertwined and that the affordances of digital communication are invaluable. We need to consider whether the velocity of digital communication undermines careful strategic decision-making. And how online and offline resources can be used to ensure democratic and inclusive debate. Some things might not be best discussed online, and we may need to learn a ‘digital hygiene’ i.e. knowing when and what to tweet. However we move forward it is clear that movement building in digital times requires solidarity and respect.

Silke Roth is a sociologist @SilkeRoth

Picket and Teach-Outs Schedule, Strike Week 3, 5-8 March!

Last week’s action was warming to the soul, if freezing everywhere else.  What an amazing lot you are!  Highlights included the Monday rally with Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU, and the meteoric rise of the Dinosaur of Solidarity, now a Strike of 2018 superstar (other branches are now requesting appearances…).

Here is the schedule for this week’s strike activities. After each day’s pickets, UCU has organised a series of teach-outs for students and staff to learn together during the strike action.  Please do come along and join these and support your striking lecturers.  You can download the teach-outs schedule here.

You can sign our open letter to the VC here, for delivery on 9 March.

All activities subject to change (who knows, the dispute may be called off!).  More activities may be added, so keep your eyes on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

MONDAY 5 March: (am dry and breezy, showers later)

8am – 12pm Morning picket – meet with picket coordinators or come to Union House

Twitter challenge:  Where is The Dinosaur of Solidarity?

12pm Rally at Highfield – petition to go to VC at 1230pm
2pm-4pm Teach-out, Trago Lounge, Portswood Road

WTF does my lecturer actually do all day?

Christopher Gutteridge from iSolutions has worked near and with academics for over 20 years. He will give a tour of what the hell it is that academics actually do all day (when they are not on strike).

 

TUESDAY 6 March: (breezy all day)

8am – 12pm Morning picket – meet with picket coordinators or come to Union House

THERE WILL BE CAKE.  TODAY IS THE DAY OF CAKE.

2pm-4pm Teach-out, SUSU meeting room 2, Level 1 B42

Strikes on  Screen: Representing Workers 

You’ve seen us on the picket Iine, but is that what strikes always look like? Cinema has long told stories about workers and their struggle for fairness.  Dr Shelley Cobb, Dr Louis Bayman and Prof Nicky Marsh will take you through a history of strikes on screen, then look closely at the context and conditions of strikes and workers in 80s Britain, concluded by a look at women’s strikes and the gendered issues of workplace equality.

4pm-5.30pm Teach-out, October Books, 243 Portswood Road

How do you teach creativity?

Can you teach creative writing? How can we use our imaginations to engage with the world around us?  Join writer and teacher at Itchen College, Catrin Mascall, for a creative writing workshop and open discussion about how we teach creativity in schools and beyond. This session is in support of October Books.

 

WEDNESDAY 7 March:  (showers in the am)

8am – 12pm Morning picket – meet with picket coordinators or come to Union House

POP PICKETS CHALLENGE – video your picket singing! Lyrics sheets will be available, but we’d love to see what you come up with.

1pm-2pm Southampton University Community Choir, Turner Sims Concert Hall
2pm-4pm Teach-out, Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre (by the entrance to Hampton Car Park) NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE

Resistance histories

Come and hear lecturers in History talk about how people in the past have used their imagination and skill in resisting oppression. Whether in the ancient world, 20th-century Europe or our own times, when faced with armed force or with a ‘new normal’ that they reject, men and women have found ways to think, liaise and refuse.

 

THURSDAY 9 March:  (showers all day)

8am – 11.30pm Morning picket – meet with picket coordinators or come to Union House

IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!  Come to your picket prepared to celebrate.

1145am Meet at Highfield, Building 37, for a rousing finish to the strike week.
1.30pm-3.30pm Teach-out, SUSU meeting room 2, Level 1 B42

Is homelessness the fault of the individual or society?

Official figures indicate that homelessness and rough sleeping have been rising over the last 7 years. Why are the numbers of people living and dying on the streets continuing to rise? Are those individuals responsible for their own misfortune? Or is society to blame? This lecture will unpack what we know about micro and macro factors It will formulate rough sleeping as an interaction between the individual and environmental, exploring how policy and economic variables interact with mental health and individual coping to cause and maintain homelessness.

 

Southampton UCU General Meeting – 29 March

Members are invited to attend the next UCU General Meeting which is being held on Wednesday 29 March at 12.15pm in room 85/2207.  The topics of the meeting are:

Experiences with appraisal, two years in; and

A forward look at REF and TEF

We are now into the second year of the new appraisal process and have received a variety of concerns from members, both appraisees and appraisers, on the new system, particularly in relation to moderation at Faculty and University level, and the requirement within Faculties for final scores to conform to the “bell curve” of expectations.  The meeting will provide a forum at which you can raise your concerns, which we can then take forward with management.

With both REF and TEF on the horizon we will be discussing the impact of these processes on your current roles: in particular, possible changes in pathways (from balanced to teaching only) and how this fits with your career plans. We welcome your ideas and contributions, especially if you have concerns you would like to raise.

As we will be providing a light sandwich lunch could you please email Amanda (ucu@soton.ac.uk) if you will be attending, and any special dietary requirements, by Thursday 23 March.  Lunch will be available from 12.15pm with the meeting commencing at 12.30pm prompt. 

Universities are International – Open meeting 1 March

UCU is holding an open meeting for staff to discuss Brexit and international issues.  We are concerned by the impact of recent political decisions on our staff and students and would like to engage with colleagues to understand more about the issues that are important to you.

At the meeting we will discuss how we are campaigning on your behalf, including details of our policy charter, and how we will be engaging with management at University of Southampton to take your concerns forward. 

The meeting is being held on Wednesday 1 March at 12.30pm in room 6/1083.  It is open to UCU and non-members alike so please encourage your colleagues to attend.

If you are unable to make the meeting but have questions/queries that you would like raised, please email ucu@soton.ac.uk

 

1 Day Without Us – 20/2/17

Southampton UCU is proud to support 1 Day Without Us, a National Day of Action on 20th Feb 2017 to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK, to coincide with UN World Day of Social Justice.

 

We have an infostand as part of the University’s Diversity Showcase Day on 20th February in Garden Court.  Come and chat to us, join in a bit of fun, and share your stories with us.

We would also ask all supporters to take photos and post them on social media using the hashtag #1DayWithoutUs. We also invite you to take selfies individually and  post them with your personal messages of support using the hashtag.

More details here: http://www.1daywithoutus.org/

Find out more about UCU’s campaign to defend the rights of EU nationals and how you can become involved. https://www.ucu.org.uk/we-are-international

Southampton UCU is holding an open meeting at 12.30pm on Wednesday 1 March in room 6/1083 (Nuffield) to discuss the impact of Brexit on our international staff and students.  We would be interested to hear your views and concerns so please do come and join us – ALL WELCOME.

UCU Elections – PLEASE USE YOUR VOTE

You should by now have received papers for the current UCU elections for the post of General Secretary and members of the National Executive Committee.   Your local UCU executive committee think it is important that you vote in these elections.  UCU is active on your behalf right through the year not only in representing individual members with problems of one sort or another, but also in the formulation of the policy of the university in its role as an employer. So we are a participatory organisation, not a contracting organisation acting on your behalf for a fee. Part of that participation will be in voting in UCU elections, for posts which contribute to the setting of policy at a national level.

We have had a number of enquiries at Union House from members as to how to vote in these elections. There is a long list of candidates and it is always difficult to know which candidates to support.

1) Southampton UCU President, Dr Denis Nicole, is a candidate as Southern HE representative on the National Executive Committee, and is the only Southern HE candidate supported by resolution of a quorate branch general meeting (rather than the signatures of ten UCU members). He is fully supported by the branch as a result. For those who don’t know him personally, Denis is a Reader in Computer Science with a special interest in cybersecurity. Denis has worked hard as local president over the last year, and before that as vice-president. He will continue to represent us all at NEC if elected, and will put members first before partisan politics. (Indeed, those of you know Denis will know that it would be impossible to bind him!)

2) The post of General Secretary is up for election, as are other Officer posts and Trustees. Whereas members of the National Executive are unpaid lay members, the General Secretary is the full-time leader and an employee of UCU.  The current General Secretary is Sally Hunt; she is a candidate for re-election, and has reiterated her Independent status. The other candidate is Jo McNeill of the University of Liverpool. Whilst a committed Trade Unionist, and known personally to some of the Committee, Jo is endorsed by “UCU Left”.  UCU Left has been described as a Union within a Union and had its formation within the Socialist Worker Party. UCU Left candidates by association are not independent candidates.  Most of your Executive Committee will be supporting the re-election of Sally Hunt, some very strongly so.

3) Given that independent polls suggest that university lecturers are in general somewhat centrist in outlook (if strongly anti-Brexit), it may be somewhat of a surprise to see two diametrically opposed slates of candidates, or the political affiliations associated with them. (Apparently, nobody in UCU is “right”, unless they be a “right idiot”). The consequence of “UCU Left” success in NEC and Officer Elections will be a UCU that will not be independent. It will still serve its members, but will also be steered by a political agenda and objectives tied to Socialist Worker Party aims. The consequence of Independent, or Independent Broad Left candidates in NEC, Officer or Trustee roles will be a union that will serve its members, without one political agenda dictating the course and objectives of that service.

All candidates are required to make clear their political affiliations, so read their statements and make an informed choice.

Above all participate, it’s your Union so use your vote. The ballot runs until 12pm on 1 March.

If you have not received a ballot paper, please contact Kay Metcalfe (kmetcalfe@ucu.org.uk.) at UCU HQ.

A link to the website containing the election statements is here. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/7228/UCU-elections-2017

Southampton UCU Committee

 

Festive drinks with officers from your local branch – 14 December

 

Local UCU officers would like to invite you for end of year drinks at The Bookshop Alehouse on Wednesday 14th December from 17.30, Christmas jumpers optional but welcomed.  It would be great to see you there. 

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g186299-d10202897-Reviews-The_Bookshop_Alehouse-Southampton_Hampshire_England.html

 

 

 

UCU caseworker training

Southampton UCU is currently looking for more members to become caseworkers to support fellow members when facing problems in the workplace.  This year so far our local group of volunteer caseworkers has supported over 70 members on matters ranging from formal procedures (such as disciplinary and capability) to providing advice on probation, contractual concerns and bullying.  This small group has done a fantastic job but we need more resources to be able to provide such support. 

We have arranged a one-day Introduction to Casework training course in Southampton on Tuesday 10 January.  This one-day course will give a basic understanding of the role of the caseworker including how to support a member, the UCU legal scheme and knowledge of policies and procedures. 

We really do need to expand our caseworker resource so if you are interested in supporting fellow members then please consider registering for the course.  Further details can be found here:  http://www.ucu.org.uk/caseworksouthampton.   If you would like to chat about what the role entails then please email UCU or call Amanda on Ext 22364. 

 

 

UCU Anti-casualisation Open meeting – 23 November 2016

Are you or your colleagues employed on a fixed term/hourly paid/zero hour contract? Do you feel treated less-favourably than permanent staff?  Do you face difficulties planning your future career development?  Or even face financial problems through insecure contracts?  If so, we would like to invite you to attend a meeting to discuss your concerns.

The campaign against casualisation is one of UCU’s national priorities and we are delighted that Jonathan White, UCU’s Bargaining Policy and Negotiations Official, will address the meeting to discuss the work UCU is doing to improve working conditions, and to help move staff onto contracts that give them stability and continuity of employment.

You do not need to be a member of UCU to attend this meeting.

Please join us at:

12:30 to 13:30

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Room 58/1007 L/T C (Murray Building)

Highfield Campus

Southampton UCU General meeting – 12pm 9 November

Colleagues

The coming year is going to be very busy for Southampton University UCU.

The new University Strategy puts many jobs at risk and we have to decide the Union’s approach to the proposed changes.  At a national level, we have the ongoing Industrial Dispute, along with extra pressures from EU exit and the Higher Education Bill.

We will be holding our General Meeting on Wednesday 9 November in room 58/1007 (Murray Building L/T C) from 12pm – 1.30pm.  Please join us for lunch and help guide the direction of Southampton University UCU over the coming months.  For catering purposes please email your attendance and any dietary requirements by Friday 4 November to Amanda at ucu@soton.ac.uk

We look forward to seeing you there.