Labor unions take to social media to advance their message

Posted on : 2018-04-05 18:26 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Instagram, BAND, and other platforms are being utilized to expand union membership and raise awareness
An Instagram post from the Paris Baguette chapter of the National Chemical
An Instagram post from the Paris Baguette chapter of the National Chemical

Labor union activity is about more than just shouting fight slogans and demonstrating with red headbands and flags. Now unions are ushering in changes from companies and society as they create more connections with workers using Instagram, BAND, and other forms of social media.

For the ten years after its 2005 launch, the child care council of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU, affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) faced difficulties growing its organization. It had problems finding common ground with some 300,000 child care instructors at 40,000 centers nationwide. Three years ago, it discovered a new secret when it opened up a “child care instructor BAND” on SNS. Around 1,000 participating instructors shared opinions from the ground, holding active discussions with the leadership and greatly increasing engagement in activities.

By Oct. 2016, things had developed enough for a first-ever “National Child Care Worker Gathering” event. The second such gathering last year had around 400 people taking part to share their hopes.

“We’ve used BAND to share issues with government child care policy and receive over 10,000 instructor signatures,” said child care council counseling center director Kim Ho-yeon, 43. “The number of inquiries about joining the union has roughly tripled since early last year,” Kim noted.

Founded last year amid a controversy over illegal dispatch labor, the Paris Baguette chapter of the National Chemical, Textile, and Food Industry Union (also KCTU) had around 30% of its 800 or so members join via Instagram. The approach was inspired by the frequency of baking technicians sharing pictures of bread and cakes on the site.

“Without SNS, we didn’t have any way of sharing issues about illegal dispatch work with baking technicians all across South Korea,” said chapter president Im Jong-rin, 34.

After facing past difficulties bringing labor conditions into public debate, workers have been trying to organize through social media. The group Nurse Band Together (NBT), which organized a memorial rally for Seoul Asan Hospital nurse Park Seon-wook last month, was first launched in an open chat room following an incident at a Sacred Heart Hospital nurses’ talent show last year in which several nurses were forced to dance wearing hot pants.

“There are virtually no unions at the smaller hospitals,” said NBT representative Im Ju-hyeon, 29. “Because of differences in hospitals, it had been hard for nurses to join forces, but now they’ve found a way to make their voices heard.”

Chung-Ang University sociology professor Lee Byoung-hoon predicted, “The ripple effects of these new attempts by the labor movement will grow when they move beyond simple online publicity to actually resolve concerns and issues for workers.”

By Seon Dahm-eun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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