Early evening on Monday I had my first Board meeting as a new Trustee for Organise HQ. I’m excited to be involved with this brilliant organisation and team.
“Our mission is to give everyone the tools, network and confidence to make change happen at work.”
I first came across Organise through Bethnal Green Ventures. I’m a mentor in their community and Organise was in the first cohort of a new partnership programme between the Resolution Trust and Bethnal Green Ventures looking at WorkerTech. I especially had my eye on them because I could see overlap with the work of Jess Kutch and Coworker in the US who I’d interviewed at few years earlier for Tech For Good Global.
Alongside wanting to help the organisation grow and achieve their mission, I wanted to join the board for 3 reasons:
The power in the collective
It’s pretty well known and documented that I’m a big fan of collective approaches to change and especially the phrase “what can we do together that we can’t do alone?.” It was also something I explored whilst at Doteveryone — the opportunity in collective action — where a community’s data exposes inconsistencies and injustices in a way an individual’s never could.
Organise is all about how to create change through strength in numbers.
This feels important because I believe the amount of responsibility we place on individuals to have an understanding of their rights, to call things out or create change is having profound consequences — as Jennifer Cobbe says “People are busy, leading complicated lives and you’re adding a cognitive load.”
I saw this in my work at Doteveryone when trying to understand what didn’t work about “public engagement” (in this context in relation to ways the public could shape the impacts of technology on their lives) and was left unconvinced that putting the onus on individuals would be effective.
Making rights a collective issue and shared responsibility feels like something the Organise platform can facilitate and to use a phrase from Danah Boyd — “we need to re-knit the social fabric of society by strategically connecting people” — I believe there are other outcomes that can come from the successful campaigns on the Organise platform — people experience what can be done together.
Strengthening the activist muscle
“The market destroyed the plan; individualism replaced collectivism and solidarity.” — Paul Mason
It feels like collective action and organising is really making a comeback, and necessarily so! Over the last year there has been some big success stories. In the tech workers community Google saw 1000’s of their staff across the world staging a series of walkouts in protest at claims of sexual harassment, gender inequality and systemic racism. Last week Google had to cancel its ethics board, only in existence for a week, because employees signed a petition calling for the removal of one board member, Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James, over her comments about trans people and her organisation’s skepticism of climate change. Off the back of many tech worker protests over the past year, groups like the Tech Workers Coalition have been established.
Whilst membership in unions has been dwindling, scalable cheap digital technologies strengthen activism, provide new models of being able to do networked activism, and Organise has many of its own success stories — read some here. Some notable recent ones include “Over 10,000 Waterstones staff, customers and authors in the Organise community have been fighting to win the Real Living Wage for all Waterstones staff across the country” and Boots staff recently won a campaign for a much fairer holiday booking system.
Over 60,000 people are now members on Organise’s platform, with 11,000 taking action every single month.
The more we see and hear about these stories, and the feedback loop of taking collective action leading to change is made visible, the more I hope and believe others will join in. And of course people in the workplace, are also people that live in local communities and take part in other kinds of civic life. In the same way that self-regulation is a muscle, can we build our collective capability in collective action, like a muscle, getting stronger and more effective the more that we all do.
As Rachel Coldicutt shared in this excellent twitter thread, we do all need to be bolder in speaking out. In relation to the last point she makes, I think we can get a lot of moral courage just from one another.
So I’ve a hope that platforms like Organise will help networked activism become the new normal and an effective way to uphold worker (and human, civic and planetary) rights.
“Today it is the network — like the workshop 200 years ago — that they “cannot silence or disperse”. — Paul Mason
The changing nature of work and workers rights
Lastly, if there is an area that needs more thought and activism it is in the changing nature of work. The rise of the gig economy is a site of complex power shifts. Whilst there can be increased flexibility for workers the reality is the structures (or lack of them) for gig economy workers propagate insecurity — they are often left without basic safety nets and the freedoms afforded in traditional contracts.
Even though some moves have already been made to give gig economy workers better rights — in the UK, Hermes recently became the first group to offer gig economy workers union rights — there is still so much more to be done and understood.
And new kinds of workforce discrimination and injustices to look out for — from workers not having rights over their reputation data (like the project I started at Doteveryone) to the increase in surveillance and monitoring that employers subject employees to.