RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The virtual strike in “Second Life” against IBM by the RSU union representing 9,000 workers in Italy is underway. And union officials see the avatar picks as setting a trend for the future.

However, what is believed to be the first virtual strike is more than workers’ avatars wearing strike T-shirts and carrying signs. The RSU and Union Network International have lined up support from other international unions, and IBM workers in 18 countries are expected to take part in today’s action.

This globalization of unions could help workers worldwide. In fact, a top UNI official in the United Kingdom sees unions working without borders is crucial.

“Globalization of unions is the only way for workers to deal with international companies and international issues such as offshoring, outsourcing, etc.,” Peter Skyte, the national officer for Unite in London, told The Skinny.

“Second Life is not the only way of doing this, but this initiative highlights the potential for similar actions and activities in the future,” he added.

After all, Skyte pointed out that the strike is drawing international attention.

“A journalist in North Carolina is writing about a pay issue affecting workers in Italy,” Skyte said.

Lee Conrad at Alliance@IBM in New York, also sees the Second Life action as a new frontier with many possibilities.

“Well this certainly is a new frontier for employee actions,” he wrote The Skinny. “And of course we will see tomorrow what the company reaction is. Remember, IBM has a huge presence on Second Life.”

Big Blue has been one of the largest embracers of the Second Life world, establishing several “islands” – the world’s equivalent of Web sites.

“We think it has already been effective in getting the word out on the situation of the IBM Italy workers. It might not have received as much attention with a real world strike. (although that will also coincide with the virtual strike),” he added.

Italian workers are upset about a $1,400 pay cut. In the U.S., such as IBM’s campus of 11,000 employees around the Triangle, offshoring and outsourcing have been major concerns.

Could we see Alliance@IBM in Second Life? Maybe.

“As far as future actions or one here in the US we will have to analyze this
one first and then go from there,” Conrad wrote.

“One thing is certain – it is an attention grabber. And to get the issues of
IBM employees out to the general public and to put pressure on IBM you need something like this.”