Research Output
Technology assisted organising: Getting the vote out during a pandemic
  In 2017, the Trade Union Act 2016 (the Act) became law in the UK, an Act extending several decades of anti-union measures, but notable for the setting of a 50% threshold in statutory ballots. Further, as there is little prospect of the Act being repealed until at least 2024, unions wanting to build bargaining capacity through being in a position to undertake industrial action must engage with the Act. In the wake of the Act a range of research has emerged arguing that the Act ‘kettles’ unions (Tuckman, 2018), breaches international human rights law (Ewing and Hendy, 2016), reinforces record low levels of strike activity (Gall and Kirk, 2018) and constrains workers and unions’ bargaining activities (Ford and Novitz, 2016). Whilst, a limited amount of literature is more bullish, pointing towards opportunities for union renewal and revitalisation under the Act (e.g., Porter et al., 2017). Although not yet addressed within academic or union literature, the present COVID pandemic creates further organisational difficulties for unions seeking to meet the Act’s ballot turnout requirements. Having memberships and officials disparately working from home the challenge of ‘getting the vote out’ is magnified.
This proposed paper seeks to demonstrate how using readily available technologies such as email, text messaging and spreadsheets it is possible to beat the Act even in the most inhospitable of circumstances such as a global pandemic, forcing organisers to ‘organise from home’. The paper evaluates the approach of a branch of the Universities and Colleges Union to organising during the pandemic in the face of large-scale redundancies within a Scottish University. In doing so, the paper assesses the role of these commonly used technologies in underpinning a successful organising campaign that saw off the threat of redundancies.
The paper seeks to make a number of contributions not least addressing a clear gap in empirical and best practice evidence related to beating the Act. The paper ends with a reflection of the limitations of the organising, mobilising and communication activities associated with the case, but in doing so suggests pathways to developing organising, mobilising and communication activities for different contexts, not least larger and more diverse bargaining units than explored in the paper.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    06 May 2021

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Heriot Watt University


Richards, J., & Ellis, V. (2021, May). Technology assisted organising: Getting the vote out during a pandemic. Paper presented at Challenging Tech, Cardiff University


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