Unions are gradually making fuller use of the Internet’s capacities to improve communication with their own staffs or members. But increasingly they are also using the web to recruit new members or to establish “virtual communities” of union supporters in arenas not yet amenable to the standard collective-bargaining model.

Alliance@IBM (www.allianceibm.org) is an example of an effective Net-supported minority union, operating without a demonstrated pro-union majority and without a collective-bargaining contract at a traditional nonunion company. The alliance provides information and advice to workers at IBM through the web. A similar effort at a partially organized employer is WAGE (“Workers at GE,” www.geworkersunited.org), which draws on contributions from fourteen cooperating international unions. The Microsoft-inflected WashTech (www.washtech.org) and the Australian IT Workers Alliance (www.itworkers-alliance.org) are open-source unions that are closer to craft unions or occupational associations. Both are responsive to the distinctive professional needs of these workers, such as access to a variety of job experiences and additional formal education, and the portability of high-level benefits when changing jobs.

The National Writers Union (www.nwu.org), a UAW affiliate, is another example of a union virtually created off the Net. It provides information and advice–including extensive job postings–to members, and it lobbies on their behalf, most spectacularly in the recent Supreme Court decision it won on freelance worker copyright rights. But most of its members work without a collectively bargained contract.

In Britain, UNISON (the largest union in the country) and the National Union of Students have a website that tells student workers their rights and gives them advice about how to deal with workplace problems (www.troubleatwork.org.uk). It is a particularly engaging and practical illustration of how concrete problems can be addressed through Net assistance.

Finally, for a more geographically defined labor community, take a look at the website of the King County AFL-CIO (www.kclc.org), the Seattle central labor council that uses the Net to coordinate its own business, bring community and labor groups together for discussion and common action, post messages and general information to the broader community, and otherwise create a “virtual” union hall with much of the spirit and dense activity that used to be common in actual union halls in major cities.