Euro-FIET IT Forum
La Colle-sur-Loup, 1- 3 October 1997

New Tools for a New International

by Eric Lee

The tools being made available today to trade unionists on the Internet are allowing cross-border trade union organising, improved services for union members, international labour education projects, and global co-ordination of solidarity campaigns in ways we could never have imagined as recently as five years ago.

These tools allow trade unions to meet the challenge of globalisation by helping us build a countervailing power to the transnational corporations (which already use these new tools).

The general trend we're seeing is an integration of all those tools into an open and standards-based world, with email and the World Wide Web at its core. The age of proprietary, closed systems is ending.

Previously, trade unions attempting to use computer-mediated communications (CMC) were often trapped into closed, proprietary systems. These included the AFL-CIO's use of Compuserve to provide its online forums, or the use by European unions of the Geonet conferencing system, which was inaccessible to unionists plugged into the APC conferences -- and vice versa.

Five categories of Internet tools we can use today

There are roughly five broad categories of Internet tools we trade unionists can use today:

1. Electronic mail, voice mail and fax delivery via the networks. These are familiar to many unionists, and represent a low-cost, very fast means of communication, both one-to-one and one-to-many. It is now possible and easy to include binary files (including multimedia) and HTML-encoded webpages (like Netscape's Inbox Direct) in email messages.

2. Conferencing (building online community) -- including web-based forums (which are now beginning to proliferate), email-based mailing lists (using LISTSERV and Majordomo software) -- still a productive and efficient tool, USENET newsgroups, closed proprietary conferences, and on-line chat (in its 3 current incarnations -- IRC, HTML and Java-based webchat, and personal chat tools like ICQ).

3. Publishing -- using the World Wide Web, both text and multimedia (images, sounds, video) and using the new "push" technology (also known as webcasting or netcasting).

4. Telephony -- using the Internet as an alternative, extremely low-cost, global telephone network.

5. Videoconferencing -- the availability of low-cost tools (like freeware programs such as CU-SeeMe, tiny digital video cameras costing less than 100 US dollars, etc.) Possibilities for holding inexpensive on-line international meetings as a supplement to (and not substitute for) costly face-to-face meetings.

What we can do with them

These new tools allow unions to do the following (a very partial list):

1. Promote international labour solidarity - conduct online protest campaigns

2. Vastly speed up and cheapen communication within unions and between unions

3. Hold more frequent meetings - particularly when geographic distance poses problems

4. Conduct distance education - courses and seminars - including interactivity

5. Publish timely information - including the use of colour, video, and sound

6. Conduct organizing campaigns - including online membership applications

7. Create bulletin boards and union calendars

8. Run question and answer sessions with experts - on legal issues, health & safety, etc.

9. Allow members to purchase union services online

New tools, new problems

These new tools raise many new problems, among them:

a. Bandwidth - the necessity for much faster connections to the networks. In order to use such tools as videoconferencing, you cannot work with 14,400 modems. Trade unions will have to upgrade their communications infrastructures to support broad bandwidth solutions -- such as ISDN, DSL and cable modems.

b. Encryption and website security - keeping email and Internet-based telephone calls secure and protecting our investment against hacker attacks, including corporate-sponsored hacker attacks.

c. Language - finding ways to overcome the American/English domination of the net. This means an increased investment in translations -- but a savings in printing and typesetting bills. The use of automatic translation software will grow, as will videoconferencing (which is an easier interface for people not speaking in their native tongues -- they don't need to read or write, just speak and listen).

d. Training -- and overcoming fear of computers. As computer-mediated communications become pervasive, not being able to read or write email will be the equivalent of not being able to read or write, period. Trade union staff will have to invest in learning how to use the new tools even though those tools are often quite user-friendly.

e. Learning to think globally. Because a website can be seen -- and will be seen -- by people from outside your country, as will postings to web forums, newsgroups and mailing lists, one learns to think and speak differently.

Some Useful Web Addresses

1. Encryption and security tools - The Pretty Good Privacy Home Page - International PGP home page - Eudora (version 3.0.3 of Eudora Light includes PGP)
Newsgroups include,,

2. Community-building tools - indexes 150,000 Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists and webforums (the last is a list, not an index) - indexes 15,000 Usenet newsgroups - includes archive, search, reader, and posting (replaces newsreader software) - search engine for 102,000 webforums; contains much information about these - including software available - directory (lists) of nearly 72,000 mailing lists

3. Some very new tools (you probably don't use these yet)

Personal Chat & Chat Rooms - ICQ ("I seek you") - one-on-one chat; instant chat rooms (can be integrated into websites) - PowWow - powerful chat tool - America Online's "Instant Messenger" software

Push Technology - the premiere "push" software and server - an alternative to PointCast - webcasting - netcasting

Videoconferencing - CU-SeeMe (freeware)

Internet Telephony - Internet Phone software

Automatic Translation Software are/Localization/ - a list of companies in the field

HTML 4.0 - including style sheets, dynamic HTML, etc. - the official source - pointers to articles, tutorials, etc.

4. At the Labour Movement and the Internet website (