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Trade unions, digital transformations and power

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Since their birth, trade unions have used many methods to communicate with workers, and fought struggles over the ownership and use of the means of communication. Now the internet and mass self-communication networks like social media provide new challenges and opportunities.

On the one hand, corporate power dominates the digital age, whether through privately owned companies like Facebook or Twitter that prioritise advertising and consumption, or ‘sharing economy’ platforms that transform the traditional economy, cutting labour costs and developing new forms of exploitation. States and employers have also used digital data gathering to curtail protest. On the other hand, trade unions and worker organisations use the internet to create new forms of solidarity and to circumvent an often-hostile media to communicate with union members, workers, the unemployed and the wider public.

This seminar explores the challenges and opportunities for worker voice in the digital age, through three talks and a discussion:

Torsten Geelan (Sociology, Cambridge), ‘The Combustible Mix of Coalitional Power and Digital Media: The Case of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in the UK’

Lina Dencik (Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies), ‘Digital Activism and the Political Culture of Trade Unionism’

Alex J. Wood (Oxford Internet Institute), ‘The Digital Fragmentation of Work: Labour Solidarity and Action in a Gig Economy’

Torsten Geelan recently completed his PhD in Sociology at the University of Cambridge. His research focuses on the changing relationship between trade unions, the media and power in Denmark and the United Kingdom. He is currently a Guest Researcher at the Employment Relations Research Centre, University of Copenhagen, where he is developing an independent three-year project investigating the role of digital media in trade union revitalisation. See:

Lina Dencik is Senior Lecturer at Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Her research concerns the interplay between media developments and social and political change, with a particular focus on resistance and globalisation. Recently, she has moved into the areas of digital surveillance and the politics of data. See:

Alex J. Wood is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is a sociologist of work and employment, focusing on the changing nature of employment relations and labour market transformation. Alex is currently researching new forms of worker voice and collective action in the online gig economy as part of the iLabour project. See:

Part of Cambridge-Anglia Ruskin’s UCU Trade Union and Labour History series, co-sponsored by the journal Renewal ( Subscribe to our Youtube channel here:

This talk is part of the Cambridge UCU series.

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