Monday, September 17, 2007

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Avatar-based workers unite? Labor union protest against IBM to enter Second Life (Updated)

Uni Global spokesman on IBM campus-- interview with Global in update below

Update, 9/27: On-the-scene report of strike here. 

News that IBM has a corporate campus in Second Life is so last year ago.  Launching a union protest against IBM in Second Life is where it's at now.  At least according to John Wood of Tigmoo, a blog network for UK labor unions, with a site in SL.

"An Italian labor union RSU is in dispute with IBM-- pay negotiations there look like there will be an effective pay cut for very many Italian IBM staffers," he e-mails me. "The union is expecting hundreds of avatars of Italian IBM workers, as well as IBM staff from around the world, and other trades unionists, to converge flash-mob style later this month, to demonstrate and spread the word about the dispute."


There's more resources at the site of Uni Global, a Swiss union federation involved with the protest, in preparation for its September 25th launch, including links for getting a "Strike Kit" at their SL headquarters.  More from the AFL-CIO's blog here, which reports that the dispute is over a 1,000 Euro paycut-- about $1,377 a year. 

At this point, it's too early to determine how effective such a mobilization will be, and whether it'll involve any of the IBM staff who work at the Second Life campus.  I'm checking with IBM and the protest leaders and will update accordingly.

Update, 6:40PM:  Just had a quick interview with Uni Global SL spokesperson, aptly named UNIglobalunion Oh.


Are you planning to protest on the IBM campus? 

UO:  Yes we are planning to be present on the IBM sim. But if they throw us out we have other alternatives for our virtual strike!

How many actual IBM employees are expected at the protest, and how many who already work at their SL campus?

UO: It's hard to predict how many IBM employees will join as most of them have given us their private email addresses to join the strike.  A few of them have given IBM addresses, which has just allowed us to confirm the participation of IBM workers in a number of different countries.  Indeed, we are expecting 18 countries to participate in the strike-- at least.  I'm not sure any of them work on the IBM [Second Life] campus! It seems for now we are fighting issues in real life for IBM Italy workers... I'm not sure IBM would appreciate SL workers joining the strike. Yet, they are more than welcome to go on strike with us!

Why is protesting in SL the most effective means of pushing this issue forward?

UO: Protesting in SL is ONE of the means of pushing the issue forward. We need dialog with IBM and a better deal for the thousands of employees in Italy.  One of the ways of getting there might be to catch their attention - and the media's attention - with our planned SL actions.

Update 2, September 18th:  Second Life-based IBM staffer Jaymin Carthage, while declining to comment on the specifics of the protest, offers general thoughts on his company-hosted blog.  Excerpt:

In the specific case of the Italian labor union, if it was my choice, I would treat it like a real world protest. I would meet with the leaders (to discuss their protest, not their grievance, that is presumably being taken care of elsewhere). If they were willing to have a non-harassing protest of a set duration I would cooperate with them in having it done. Perhaps providing a company spokesperson in a set location that people witnessing the demonstration could converse with to get the company view on things. Once over it would be business as usual. Not leaflets left by either the company or the protesters giving their views.

Read it all here.


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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Avatar-based workers unite? Labor union protest against IBM to enter Second Life (Updated):

» Strikers picket IBM in Second Life from Boing Boing
James sez, "Italian workers with IBM are protesting a $1,377 paycut, and they're organizing a September 25th protest in Second Life, where IBM has a large corporate campus and marketing site. (The company's UK division has been using SL as a '3D web' ... [Read More]

» Vom Goldrausch zur Protest-Plattform from vm-people blog
(Foto-Quelle: SL)Einige bezeichnen es als Spiel, andere sprechen von einem etwas anderen Chat-System. Fragt man wieder andere, so erhält man vielleicht die Beschreibung Second Life ist eine Goldgrube als Antwort.Viele haben seither versucht [Read More]

» Its a strike Jim, but not as we know it from johninnit
Italian union members at IBM are taking a novel form of action, to highlight their current dispute over pay cuts. Later this month, theyre planning on mounting the worlds first virtual reality union demo, in trendy 3D world Second Life. ... [Read More]

» IBM workers picket Second Life from gary's blog
Its a fundamental right of workers to protest at mistreatment, and staff at IBM Italy have had to take a €1000 pay cut that theyre not happy about. Pickets normally take place either at the factory gates or somewhere more public. The RS... [Read More]

» Blurring the Boundaries from Signals company blog
[Read More]

» More on the Second Life Strike atIBM from The Grid Live
We posted earlier how the Italian workers for IBM were planning a strike in Second Life to protest the fact that they asked for more wages and IBM said no and actually took away more money, 1,000 euros or about $1300 dollars. New World Notes has an art... [Read More]


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Jaymin Carthage

I used this as a topic discussing how companies should consider handling protesters in my own blog.

Hamlet Au

Thanks Jaymin, I added a link in an update.

Mark Blei

It would probably be slightly more effective if Second Life allowed you to have more then then 70 avatars at any one place at any given time.

This is also why much hyped Second Life events like Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Virtual Second Life Town Hall meeting went bust. Even Second life's own hyped events when they had Anshe Chung, that avatar that was supposed to have earned more than $1 million on virtual real estate deals got assaulted by 70 griefers throwing flying penises at her.

I wonder if IBM is really going to be concerned about a "flash-mob" of 70 peeved IBM workers.

I wonder how worried IBM will be about a virtual event at all if only 70 people are present. I have sympathy for the folks who are striking on IBM. But surely they could find something more effective then being in a virtual room with 70 of their own cohorts. It's like the lazy man strike, don't leave your house and you can drink beer and be in your underwear AND stick it to the man

For virtual anything to have an effect they have to use their funding to move past the V1.0 of their platform and make it easier for mainstream people to use the product en mass. I've had a Second life account for a year , I'm an early adopter a techy and in media research and so this would be up my ally if there was anything to it ,I'm not interested in weird sex with anime characters or gambling and even if I was I'm not sure that I could find out how to access those things without doing an hour of research.

Frankly I've not spent more then an hour there in all that time and I have never communicated with another avatar. Worse when I have visited businesses with a second life presence they haven't even been staffed . Good Luck .

Hamlet Au

Actually, IBM's campus is huge, about 30 sims if not more, so in principle it can accommodate thousands of visitors at once.

Mark Blei

So at 30 sims would that be each sim holding 70 avatars? Bringing a total of 2100 possible avatars? Ok, that increases the chance of having a crowd. But again I stand by my words that even if they have room for 2100 people. How on earth are they going to even get 100 people outside of those already in the know to become aware. I mean a protest means nothing if no one sees the protest. From a press perspective your the only press I've seen covering this. I've been on Fark, Digg and Reddit today and maybe it's there but It didn't catch my eye until it was sent to me.

I still say that Second Life is flawed in that It's virtually impossible for people not significantly invested in the game to find stuff other then the main island where you begin your journey and if second life wants to be a force they have to make navigation easier and make it possible for not just large corporate entities to have the ability to have more then 70 people at one place at one time but for the average person attending the average event and that I don't think has happened


One way that SL is addressing Mark's issues is by having multiple ways of getting oriented to Second Life distributed among different interests and communities. Thus, the "L" Word orientation sim, the Brazilian orientation sim, and an upcoming non-profit orientation sim.

So that people who have a specific interest in mind can quickly get to the places and content and communities that they would likely care most about.

I've actually seen a good bit of real world press about the impending strike, so it's likely already getting more attention than normal. Because of the uniqueness of it, the strike is likely to garner lots of media attention even if there are only 70 avatars there.

Mark Blei

I have actually created a blog post of my own about this. Please feel free to leave comments there

Sorry I don't know how to use HTML in a type pad comment section and don't know how track back works on Type pad either.

Great Blog Wagner, I'm learning allot about SL.

Thanks James. One of the reasons I'm most interested in this one is the potential linkages between IBM workers in different countries. People working for multinationals have a lot of the same issues, but until now dealt with them somewhat in isolation.

Now, through initiatives of global union federations like the GM workers' blog ( and hopefully more happenings like this SL event, ordinary union activists can meet their colleagues in other countries. They can find out about others' issues, support them directly, and then see how the situations impact in their own countries and what they can do about it.

International unions could pose a good check to multinational companies, in a way that national governments can't, and that effectiveness will only be strengthened if the links exist at the bottom of the movement as well as at the top.

I take Mark's points that this kind of thing will be bl**dy hard to organise, given all the technical and social hurdles in the way for most unionists, but it's early days yet, and good to see unions open to learning new tricks - Let's hope they stick at it through the early attempts.


how does this achieve ANYTHING? Griefing a site would have more effect than avatars holding signs. If sabotage is unpalatable, then perhaps an actual strike with a real picket line with actual people would be much more useful. Signing on to second life and outfitting your avatar with strike paraphernalia is hardly comparable to actual picketing and striking. Those involved with this should close second life and organise in the real. As for getting attention via the media for this action because of its novelty, any attention you get will be negative for a couple reasons: second life has been quite widely recognised as overhyped in both membership and importance and ibm managers and executives will be brought out to assert (correctly) the meaningless and irrelevance of this action.

christine revkin UNI

Hi guys, please note the protest will take place between 25 and 30 - now between 26 and 30 September. A little hint? it won't be on a weekend ! :-) so be ready!

Nobody Fugazi

What was most interesting was the fact that this was an international strike. The efficacy is something which has yet to be determined, but - it was an international strike in a virtual world, and one where the lead up was interesting. In my own entries on the topic, I found it very interesting that the level of contingency planning.

I couldn't make it to the protest, but hey - I wouldn't have made BoingBoing if I did either. They only read certain people. :-)

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