Cyber warfare – a new communication tool for British Unions

As well as holding demonstrations at nine Marks & Spencer sites across Britain, Unite*, a private sector union, plans to use 'cyber-warfare' in its 'Look behind the Label' campaign. This campaign is against Marks & Spencer over workers' rights. From 27 February, anyone typing 'M&S' or 'Marks & Spencer' into Google should see a direct link to the campaign. (The Times, 27 February 2008)

Tony Woodley, the Unite general secretary said:”The power of the Internet gives unions the potential to go beyond its membership and reach out directly to millions of people and influence consumers. For companies like M&S, its brand is everything. A concerted campaign against a company's behaviour can be a very effective addition to industrial action”. (The Times, 27 February 2008)

Unite claims that M&S suppliers are using agency workers (often migrants) long-term, but refusing them the same working conditions as full-time staff. In addition, the union claims that M&S is using cheap imports from Brazil and Thailand, which are not clearly reflected in its labelling. M&S, which claims a leading position in labour standards, insists that it meets all national standards and denies the union's claims.

Rather than strikes, which are difficult to organise due to tougher union laws and the reluctance of workers to lose wages in long stoppages, unions are turning to the Internet in their campaigning.

Eric Lee, editor of – a website which campaigns for the international trade union movement – said:”The British trade unions have lagged behind the American ones in using the power of the Internet, but that seems to be changing now. It's just such a cost-effective way of reaching as many people as possible and competing with companies that have far bigger budgets”. (The Times, 27 February 2008)

Look at The Times 100 case study on UNISON to see how another union deals with internal and external communication. UNISON, whose members work in public sector services, makes use of its website as well as using print and new methods such as DVDs.

* On 1st May 2007 the union Amicus merged with the TGWU (Transport and General Workers Union) to form Unite. This is now the biggest trade union in the UK with over two million members.


The Times, 27 February 2008 (print edition)

The Times Online – Union swaps walkouts and pickets for a different kind of direct action, 27 February 2008

Unite the Union – Unite launches demonstrations across the UK to demand that M&S practices what it preaches, 27 Feburary 2008

The Times 100 Case Studies – Unison – Using effective communication

Potential Study Questions:

  • How does UNISON achieve effective communication within its own organisation?
  • What are some of the barriers a union might have to overcome in communicating with a wide membership?
  • For Economists studying Labour Economics: Why might the operation of trade unions be significant in industries dominated by large firms?