Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 11 Official Organ of LaborNet 30 April 1999  




Letters to the Editor

Computer Decision Can;t Be Taken Lightly

It is now apparent that unions in Australia need to develop a debate about their role in democratising access to the internet.

Your editorial point that this is one of the most critical decisions facing the union movement is probably correct although I wonder just how many people, including those in the ranks of the decision makers fully comprehend the enormity of what they are considering.

Arguably there are several approaches which could be taken. On the basis of the very limited information available the Vizard option appears to be rooted in private ownership and commercial gain.

However, the prospects of thousands of workers getting access to the hardware should not be dismissed lightly.

I am in favour of a model of democratic access which extends the role of the public library system.

Four objectives seem paramount to me:

(1) construct a democratic union approach to the discussions and decisions

(2) extend access to computers and the internet to working class suburbs (yes, it and they still exist)

(3) maintain a sense of physical community which gets people talking face to face while using the electronic medium

(4) focussing the use of the hardware and the internet on building power within and across physical and social 'boundaries'.

Our generation of union activists have a responsibility to develop the use of the net so that workers through their unions can use it to win their struggles for a better life, not just for personal recreational use.

Taking into account that it is highly unlikely that the current federal government would accept this model, a starting point could be the use of the surplus growing in union super funds.

Super funds could find a way to form partnerships with local, public libraries. The partnership would add to the hardware stock of the library and place it in currently empty shop fronts near to where people live, commute, "hang around" etc.

That is, I am proposing a socially owned and operated internet cafe network.

The staff would be expected to know how to use the technology and to teach its use to local learners, especially for organising purposes, and eventually hand over the operation to the local users.

Pricing must aim to be minimal - this can be achieved so that it beats the commercal predators - and any surplus returned to the partnership for further development.

One example of the direction I am suggesting is the Ngapartji Cafe in Rundle St, Adelaide - owned by the SA universities, I understand. But there it is sitting in 'yuppie world, Adelaide, not in Elizabeth, or Christies Beach or Enfield.

The internet is quite democratic once you have the hardware (well, at least at the moment it is), but there are obvious anti-democratic forces which shape access to the hardware and even the software.

I do not dismiss personal ownership in the private home but any serious user knows that in its current, dominant form of development it tends to disconnect people from face to face dialogue and communication also.

The model I have described above attempts to challenge the current private and privatised framework. It needs a lot more work and of course detail and there are probably lots of 'yeah buts...' that I haven't begun to think about.

Nevertheless the main point is there are other models of democratic development of access besides that which has so far been discussed.

In conclusion, I plea that decisions only be made after widespread participation at all levels of the union movement. The emerging generation of union activists should not have to contend with an albatross designed in an ivory tower.

In Solidarity,

Don Sutherland


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 11 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: The Young Republican
Jason Yat-Sen Li stole the show at the Constitutional Convention with his community consultation compromise. Now he faces a bigger challenge, convincing Australia to vote Yes.
*  Unions: ACTU Moves on the Republic
The ACTU Executive has endrosed the Australian Republic -- but it's given Howard's Preamble the short shrift it deserves.
*  History: And A Hundred Years Ago
Just as it was a hundred years ago, it is important that trade unions and their members are actively involved in the current republic debate.
*  Reader's Forum: John Passant
A Workers Online reader explains why he'll be voting "no".
*  Review: Mountain Men and Women Framed
Working Lives, a history of working people from the Blue Mountains, looks back to illuminate future challenges.
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
View the latest issue of Labour Review, Labor Council's fortnightly newsletter for unions.
*  International: Performers on the World Stage
Australian performers know better than most the importance of identity, self and place. That's why they are committed Republicans.

»  Unions Challenge: Reclaim the Republic
»  Freeloader Legislation on the Agenda
»  Unions� New Years Eve Plea
»  Skill Shortage Leads to Tiling Crisis
»  Apprentice Chefs Get Fairer Share of the Pie
»  Rail Workers Strike for Passenger Safety
»  Living Wage Sparks New Activity
»  ACTU Endorses East Timor Action
»  WorkCover Troubles Can�t Hit Injured Workers
»  NSW Young Labor Turns 50!

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Computer Decision Can;t Be Taken Lightly
»  Unionists Return From Timor
»  Latham Misses the Marx
»  Help Another Student

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