The Labour Movement and the Internet: Chapter 3 (Selection)
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The Labour Movement and the Internet

Chapter 3 (Selection)

Rise of the Labournets

The Internet was launched in 1969 and its existence made public in 1972. The first trade union leader of any prominence to discuss how the new technology of computer communications might be of some use to the labour movement wrote about the subject already in 1972. Even though the very existence of the Internet remained hidden from most people until the early 1990s, trade unionists were using computer networks by the early 1980s. By 1990 they were already holding international meetings to discuss their experience.

In other words, this is not something that came up yesterday. The Internet has been around for a more than a quarter century, and trade unions have a decade and a half of experience with it.

Frankly, I was surprised that labour involvement in this field went back so far. It wasn't until 1993 that I first heard about trade union use of email and computer networking. But by then, there were already competing global networks, permanent institutions teaching the use of telematics to trade unionists, and several articles and pamphlets on the subject. And all that happened even before the great Internet explosion of the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web emerged as a global communications medium.

As I reviewed this history, I learned not only how far back labour use of computer communications goes, but also a little bit about how labour adopts new technologies. Some people will tell you that labour simply doesn't adopt new technologies. But that isn't true. There are always some crazy people hanging around the labour movement, sometimes in positions of power, who will push forward an idea whose time has come. In researching this chapter, I got to know some of those people. They fought an uphill battle against overwhelming odds, but they sometimes got what they wanted. Trade unions adopted new and untried technologies sometimes even before corporations and governments did.

This is not going to be a comprehensive history of trade union use of computer mediated communications. No doubt I've left out all kinds of important experiments. But in the pages that follow, I want to focus on some of the more interesting and, in my view, important efforts that were made to link working people together using the new technology. Among these were:

But in the beginning, before there was a global labournet, there was a prophet.

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Copyright 1996 by Eric Lee.