The Portuguese Unions in the Health Sector and Social Media - from Bureaucracy to Infocracy

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:05
Oral Presentation
Paulo ALVES, ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal
The trade union movement is facing “hard times” (Chaison, 1996) since the 70s. Trying to overcome the problem, they are implementing a set of actions towards their revitalization (Frege and Heery, 2003). The adoption of the ICTs, mainly the Internet, emerges as an important tool for supporting those actions.

The unions adopted the ICTs later than their counterparts (Pinnock, 2005), but the competitive advantages they offer and their flexibility encouraged them to adopt these tools more and more.

Some digital optimists state that the Internet gives a relevant contribution for a qualitative transformation of the unions’ structure. According to them, it makes possible to deepen union democracy by the possibility it offers to create new spaces that encourage participation and accountability. Hence, they conclude that we are witnessing the emergence of a new union form called “cyberunion” (Shostak, 2002), “e-union” (Darlington, 2000), “open-source unionism” (Freeman and Rogers, 2002) or “trade unionism 2.0“ (Gutiérrez-Rubi, 2009).

In this paper, we intend to answer the question whether the uses of the social media by the Portuguese unions in the health sector are deepening the organizational democracy and so, giving a contribution to the union renewal. Our main conclusion is that these organizations are very far from achieving this goal. Instead of giving a contribution to open the organization, the uses of the social media by these unions serves to perpetuate organizational closure. In this case, digital democracy is nothing more than a myth (Hindman, 2008) and what we assist is to the extension of the bureaucratic model of organization to the digital world, giving rise to an infocracy (Zuurmond 1994 quoted by van Dijk, 2000).

The main issue is that underlying the ways how the unions use Internet and social media, are social processes that the futuristic, speculative and techno-euphoric perspectives forgotten frequently.