RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – That “virtual strike” against IBM in the 3D world of Second Life has helped lead to settlement of the labor dispute, says the union that organized the event.

“The agreement signed by IBM Italy and the trade union Rappresentanze Sindacali Unitarie (R.S.U.) not only includes the performance bonuses from 2007 up until 2010 but also payments by IBM into a national health insurance fund and also states that negotiations will continue with respect to IBM industrial and business strategies in Italy and the improvement of internal communication policies,” the union said on its Web site.

IBM’s attempt to drop the performance bonuses triggered the September job action in which an unknown number of Big Blue workers protested IBM real estate in Second Life. Avatars carried signs and banners in a one-day event that drew global media attention.

Andrea Pontremoli, the top executive for IBM Italia resigned a few weeks later. However, IBM denied there was any connection between the departure and the virtual strike.

Meanwhile, Lee Conrad of the fledgling Alliance@IBM union seeking to represent Big Blue workers in the U.S. told The Skinny that the Italy demonstration and settlement is encouraging.

“What I read into this is that if IBM employees stick together, organize and actively challenge IBM they can change some of IBM’s bad behavior and anti-employee practices,” he wrote.

“No immediate plans on doing this elsewhere,” he added in reference to a Second Life action, “but it is an option.”

IBM has said very little about the virtual strike, but RSU and its parent UNI Global Union believe the Sept. 27 event made an impact on negotiations.

“The situation abruptly improved and negotiation resumed after the former country manager left IBM in the mid of October, who had signed responsible for the pay cuts in the first place,” UNI proclaimed. “His departure cleared the air and facilitated constructive negotiations between social partners as this could be expected from a professional management of a high-tech company.

“The virtual demonstration organized on 27 September for a whole day has certainly had an impact on the positive development,” UNI added. “Almost 2,000 virtual protestors from 30 countries populating IBM premises in Second Life solicited an unprecedented media echo from all over the world, including TV and radio stations, daily news papers, computer and business magazines. The virtual protest had been supported by global unions such as the International and European Metalworkers Federations (IMF and EMF) and UNI Global Union.

“The threat of strike action in the ‘real world’ by the Italian unions after the virtual protest has certainly also helped to break the deadlock. Yet, the impact of this historical action in Second Life must not be underestimated.”