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IBM faces Second Life strike

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Ever wanted to go on strike, be part of that feeling of solidarity on the picket line, but felt too cowardly to take the risk? September should see just the opportunity for you.

That is when Rappresentanza Sindacale Unitaria IBM Vimercate (RSU), the official trade union representing IBM's 9,000 workers in Italy, is planning a most novel form of industrial action – a strike on Second Life – and it wants as many avatars as possible manning the picket lines.

Details of what form the industrial action will take in this virtual world are scant at the moment, except that a Union spokesman has hinted that they are hoping Second Life avatars from around the world will participate.

A statement sent to The Register by the RSU sets out the reasons for the industrial action as follows:

It seems that the reasons for this first virtual strike are related to the renew of the internal agreement. While IBM is one of the company with major profits, its employees are receiving very few fruits of this big mountain of money.

The internal climate is below all the IT industries (taking advantages for the famous IBM's competitor: HP), and the drop that overflowed the glass is the long and inconclusive negotiation for the internal agreement. While the works council, supported by the majority of IBM Italy employees, was asking for a small salary increase, IBM responded with the complete suppression of the "productive results benefit", with a loss for a single employee of €1000 per year. For a company that wants to lead the corporate social responsibility, this is really too much.

IBM has a widely reported presence on Second Life which is now set to face, at the very least, a picket line of characters that come straight out of the darker recesses of wild imaginings.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out should the strike take place. The RSU is obviously hopeful that IBM's local management will see things its way, and the action does raise some interesting considerations. Second Life is already being seen by many corporations as a good marketing and merchandising tool, but the union is seeing its potential slightly differently.

"The high offices of the company are worried, because this action will turn on the lights on the project of creation of a global union alliance, that is engaging the unions from over 16 countries worldwide, including the new IT boundary: India," the statement said.

What can be used to motivate people to buy products or services can, just as easily, be used to inform and motivate workers in a global economy that they can take global collective action. They could even test out industrial action tactics in relative safety. It could be a tantalising prospect for a committed union activist. It will be interesting to see what actual impact the virtual industrial action has in the real world, and how IBM handles it.

UK Second Lifers with long memories may also be keeping a wary eye open for an appearance by the ultimate avatar for such situations – The Iron Lady of Orgreave. ®

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