The Labour Movement and the Internet: Chapter 4 (Selection)
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The Labour Movement and the Internet

Chapter 4 (Selection)

Local and Regional Trade Union Networks

Until now, I've talked about national and international trade unions and their use of computer networking. I've mentioned Canada's SoliNet, Europe's Poptel/Geonet, WorkNet in South Africa, LaborNet@IGC in the USA, and others. In the chapters that follow, I'm going to explore those efforts in greater detail.

For now, however, I'll pause and take a look at the grassroots. This chapter will discuss the five ways local and regional trade unions use computer mediated communications:

Each of the five methods has its advantages and disadvantages. Each one serves a particular purpose at a particular moment.

Online daily strike newspapers seem to be the most powerful uses made so far of the new communications technology by trade unions. But they have not shown that they can survive the end of the strike, though many readers seem to want them to do so. They are, therefore, wonderful campaigning tools, but have not proven themselves useful for the ongoing work of the labour movement between strikes.

Trade union use of existing employers' networks is not well documented -- and for good reason. In some cases, workers are conducting trade union business on employers' email systems quietly, without the bosses ever knowing. Despite its advantages (the networks already exist, it's free of charge, and it works) it is insecure.

Independent local and regional trade union networks were an important development in the 1980s and early 1990s. We talked about the British Columbia Teachers' Federation in the previous chapter. But these networks appear to be disappearing today (or at least changing drastically) with the opening up of the wider Internet. In countries where access to the Internet is still expensive -- and that, unfortunately, is true of most of the world -- these independent networks might still be relevant examples.

Dial-up local trade union bulletin boards seem to be another tool whose time has come and gone, judging by the examples we have here. But like the independent networks, that is an illusion. Only in countries where Internet access is almost as cheap as a local telephone call -- and that really only describes North America for now -- is this the case. Everywhere else in the world, dial-up bulletin boards are still a viable option, and the experience of the pioneers in the US labour movement is worthy of some consideration.

Finally, we'll have a look at some of the local trade union World Wide Web sites. With the rising popularity of the Web, it was inevitable that local trade unions, at least in the advanced industrial countries, would join the national and international trade union centres and use the new medium. Trade union Web sites are being added daily; we'll look at just a few examples here.

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Copyright 1996 by Eric Lee.