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How can workers take power in a system that moves much faster than they can?

In the UK, workers are atomised and disorganised, with little control over the circumstances in which they earn wages. Where there are unions, generally they are focused on an advocacy model (putting their members dues towards hiring lawyers or lobbyists or funding political parties) or at best, a mobilising model (one-day strikes, marches, paid union officials making speeches on tv in front of workers who say nothing). We want to build unions that rely on the organising model, where workers lead the struggle themselves (indefinite strikes, transparent negotiations, building supermajorities of workers) because this is the approach that has the most potential for changing the situation.

We believe that a large part of the answer to this question is technological. And the technology is the software on a smartphone.

The purpose of the union app is to provide a structured interface for workers to build their power within the company, with the long-term goal of establishing democratic control over the production process.

Every user starts by joining or creating a local node. They do this by searching for their workplace when they first start using the app. The nodes are named after their workplace, and could be geotagged to assist searching.

The local node is the base unit of the system, used to represent workers who regularly meet face-to-face at least a little bit (or have the potential to be able to). An example would be all the workers at the McDonald’s on Princes Street. The size of the node is such that the current members should be able to independently verify that a prospective member is who they say they are, and should be a member of the node. Basically, in a local node the members should know each other (or be able to know each other) without the app.

In the node there is:

- An encrypted communication service that allows workers to talk to each other.

- A way to raise funds, either through an integrated service from another app, or instructions to follow for using something else.

- A way to communicate with other nodes.

A node will be able to communicate with other nodes. If McDonald’s Princes Street wants to talk to McDonald’s London Road, the Princes Street McDonald’s sends a communication request, McDonald’s London Road accepts, and then they have an open channel.

If nodes want to do things like pool funds, make shared resolutions, strike together, organise shared events, they can form a supernode. To take the previous example, the McDonald’s Princes Street node and the McDonald’s London Road node form a supernode called McDonald’s Edinburgh that the other branches of McDonald’s within Edinburgh can also join.

A new supernode exists when the members of two or more local nodes vote to form a supernode. More local nodes can then be added to the supernode through a similar process.

The supernode’s communication is a higher stakes version of the local node, there is a higher price to pay for something factually inaccurate entering the record, or something that doesn’t properly represent the ideas of the members of the local nodes.

This is why the supernodes will be based on a system of mandated recallable delegates from the local nodes. Each of the local nodes puts together a mandate for the delegates to draw from, and the delegates can be recalled if they deviate from this mandate.

To be a delegate means that you can write messages to the supernode, however all members of the constituting local nodes can read them to check how their delegate is following the mandate.

Multiple supernodes can come together to make supernodes of their own (an ultranode?). The relationship of a supernode to an ultranode is the same as the relationship between a local node and its supernode. It uses the same system of mandated recallable delegates, this time with the supernodes selecting delegates and putting together mandates.

To return to our example, McDonald’s Edinburgh and McDonald’s Glasgow could form an ultranode called McDonald’s Scotland. Because the delegates and mandates are ultimately derived from the local nodes, like McDonald’s Princes Street and McDonald’s London Road, the ultranode remains democratically controlled.

Current Status

I'm working with progcode to find developers to help me make a prototype of the application. I'm currently setting up an online forum to discuss how to make it. The way I want to develop it is using a convocation, so if you'd like to be part of it, please get in touch.