A virtual strike against IBM is drawing picketers to Big Blue sites in Second Life.

Organized by the union representing 9,000 IBM workers in Italy, avatars representing real people are carrying signs and instant messaging each other through the 3D world.

“Even in virtual worlds, we will ask for real rights,” read one sign.

“We are ready for virtual worlds. We are ready for justice, too,” stated another.

At one time, more than two dozen avatars were picketing at the IBM Italia “island,” or property in Second Life.

The workers’ union is Rappresentanze Sindicali Unitarie, a trade union widely known by its acronym, RSU.

RSU drew support from several international unions, including Union Network International, which offered IBM workers online “strike kits.” The kits include T-shirts for avatars and instructions on how to use Second Life as a protesting venue. People from 18 countries were expected to participate. Among advocates for the strike is Alliance@IBM, the union seeking to represent IBM workers based in the U.S.

Jody Smith, founder of a company in Apex that focuses entirely on Second Life, calls the strike a precedent-setting event.

“They are there because they are angry,” Smith said of the protesters. “Second Life is about building communities, and these people are sharing in an action that wouldn’t have been possible before."

An MBA graduate of Duke, Smith worked for three years as a financial analyst. He stressed that the people participating in the strike had to do much more than just click a mouse.

“Even in the virtual world, it takes effort,” Smith said.