An even bigger shock after the EU elections came from France’s snap elections. As the country prepares to head to the polls, seven motivated, young French unionists came to Budapest to build up their capacities in their ongoing efforts to counter the spread of the Far Right among workers. Together with fellow-unionists from the other countries, they learned to identify far-right ideas, to untangle the political economic context that has led to the rise of the Far Right (the austerity after the previous 2008-09 financial crisis), and to discover the strategies that these parties have been using to increase their popularity. 

Stiofán Ó Nualláin, Co-director of Trademark Belfast, explained how the recipe of success for all far-right parties is the extensive and strategic use of social media and, increasingly, also of artificial intelligence (AI). The Far Right won the internet because it has understood that for many, and, especially for young people, there is no separate offline and online world. Trade unions continue to lag in their social media presence and strategy. It is crucial that they also complement their organising strategies with an online strategy. It is not about replacing the work on the ground in factories, but about complementing it with an online organising strategy. 

Many trade unions are not online, but their members and future members are: 75% of the European population is using Facebook, 90% is using YouTube, 50% is using TikTok (especially young people), 40% is using Instagram (and this number is growing) and 5% is using X (including mainly influential people like politicians and journalists). 

In Budapest, our young members learned how to develop a social media strategy and adapt the use of different communication channels to the targeted audience. They also learned about techniques, like social monitoring and social listening, the latter being a very powerful tool widely used by the Far Right to spread misinformation and fake news. 

Like any tool, social listening can be used for good or bad purposes, and it is up to trade unions to understand how to use it to their advantage. British and German trade unions have started to experiment with these tools in two automotive companies and the results were a 30% increase in union membership and successful collective agreements with substantive pay rises. 

AI can be used to analyse huge amounts of data and to generate and spread content to a very wide audience. The key is who is using it and for what purpose. 

Lastly, the young participants experimented themselves with online programmes like Canva and with AI, like ChatGPT or Copilot, to develop trade union materials in a very fast and cost-free manner. 

 “There is no technological determinism – AI is not good or bad. AI tools are a new kind of infrastructure that the trade union movement also needs to use to its advantage and full potential. In the 21st century, technological literacy is simply literacy. It is our responsibility to work with our members, build up our digital capacities and to use AI to combat the risks for workers. We know the risks: surveillance, union busting, misinformation and the spread of far-right ideas. We now need to combat them through our trade union strategy, including an online strategy, and by using AI tools”, said Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe Deputy General Secretary. 

“It is not a coincidence that this training took place in Budapest one year ahead of our industriAll Europe Congress, which will also be held in this city. We aimed to send a clear signal against the Far Right in a country that represents the rulebook example of an authoritarian slip as a result of a far-right rule. Young unionists are not only the future, but they are also the present, and we stand committed to help them build up their capacity and be active members, despite the difficult anti-union context in many countries”, concluded Isabelle Barthès.