||Issue No. 123||21 December 2001|
The Unmaking of History
International: Global Year in Review
Unions: A Year at the Barricades
Technology: Unions Online 2001
Republic: Terror Australis
Economics: 2001: Annus Horribilis
Campaign Diary: Melanie and Me
Politics: Tony Moore's Final Word
Review: You Are the Weakest Program
Legal: The New McCarthyism
The Locker Room
The First Bastion
Tom Collins' Christmas Wish
Unions Online 2001
By Mark McGrath Social Change Online
Social Change Online's Mark McGrath looks at the advances unions made in web development in 2001.
The year 2001 saw some bold new plays made by unions online. If there was an emerging trend it was about narrowcasting to specific audiences based on particular issues or demographics relevant to these audiences. Online campaigning and online organising of the new economy workplaces by union organisations came of age this year.
Workers Comp Online Campaign [http://labor.net.au/compo/]
Probably the success story of online campaigning in Australia in 2001 was the Workers Comp campaign run by the NSW Labor Council from April 2001.
With a clear objective of attaining a maximum of support within the NSW ALP caucus and committing the resources to build a campaign website to target State MP's who weren't supporting the union position on workers compensation reforms, the seeds of success for this campaign were sown.
Over a couple of weeks, each day the NSW Labor Council targeted a State MP and coordinated campaign actions against the targeted MPs using the campaign website to organise both online and offline protest actions.
The success of this campaign was starkly demonstrated when it reached the stage that when the campaign website posted a MP target for the day, the MP's under the spotlight rolled over same day rather than endure the media coverage of a bunch of angry unionists picketing their office.
Another successful strand to this online campaign was an email protest strategy, which amounted to a virtual rally of NSW Parliament. An interactive form on the campaign site automatically generated a batch of individually addressed protest emails to each State MP.
Used in combination with LaborNET's network of email subscribers, this application became a powerful protest tool, and at one stage was deluging Parliament House with over 13,000 emails an hour. The Carr administration reacted angrily and hastily to this by blocking protest email from the LaborNET server, which became a story in itself (see The Crucifixion and Resurrection of Virtual Democracy
This strategy has since been successfully adopted by other union-based organisations, such as the CEPU Electrical Division's campaign against the NECA, and the Victorian Trades Hall Council's Industrial Manslaughter campaign.
Using the web and email lists enabled the campaign to respond quickly and move fast. The lessons learnt out of this campaign were that the narrower you keep campaign focus and the more you commit to building a network of activists online, the better your campaign outcomes will be.
IT Workers Alliance [http://itworkers-alliance.org/]
This is an innovative strategy attempted by the Labor Council of New South Wales and affiliated unions with an interest in IT. Rather than dictate a strategy to a targeted set of workers, the IT Workers Alliance (ITWA) provides a set of tools and resources to enable IT workers to organise themselves online via this website.
IT workers are typically individuals with no collective bargaining strength in the workplace. What is needed is an inclusive strategy that builds a network based on the common interest of all IT workers: better pay and working conditions.
The ITWA site provides this network building capacity by enabling IT Workers to share and develop collective strategies and draw upon the support of the union movement to mobilise campaigns for better working conditions.
Working within a medium that is predisposed to network building, IT workers are tailor-made for online organising. But the radical angle to this site is that the owners are letting go of the decision making and throwing it open to the IT workers themselves. The forums allow IT workers to openly and freely develop campaign strategies. A number of ITWA activists are now publishing their own stories to the web site via the content management system and the auto email subscribe function has created an online network of several hundred ITWA members, when a few months ago there was none.
Taken to it's full extent this amounts to a virtual online union for IT workers with increasing political clout.
Bosswatch is the website to watch in 2002. Developed in partnership with Social Change Online for LaborNET and launched earlier this month, this database enabled site is a free campaign resource for union activists.
Starting small with the latest financial records of the top 20 Australian companies in its database, it has the capacity to grow into a powerful online tracking tool for union activists who wish to quickly get the lowdown on employers.
This is the first online database of its kind developed for the union movement. Whilst all of the information within the database is publicly available elsewhere, nowhere else is this information aggregated, online and available for free in the one place. The real value-add to this information though is in the linkages built between employers.
Using the Bosswatch database you can easily "follow the money trail" and quickly determine what networks of influence are at work on the employer side of the fence.
The site has received wide international media coverage (CNN for example) and has already racked up over 10,000 page views and signed up over 100 subscribers who wish to receive the latest campaign news from BossWatch.
The Labor Council of NSW, with the support of affiliated unions, plan to expand coverage both in terms of breadth and depth of content. Major unions will be given training and access to add more companies, the companies their members are employed by and who they know intimately, to expand the database.
LCNSW will be holding discussions with key information stakeholders in the new year to enable the Bosswatch database with independent and objective employer ratings on their:
Given the intimate nature of the web to reach into every corner of the workplace and Bosswatch's charter to expose those employers who are not doing the right thing by it's workers, I can well imagine Bosswatch becoming the first and most trusted port of call for any corporate whistleblower wanting to tip the bucket on an unscrupulous employer.
Wobbly Radio [http://www.wobblyradio.com]
When 2JJJ went national and the pokies invaded the pubs like a malignant cancer, killing off live music venues, there was a gap left where independent Australian musicians could get a go and have their music heard by the rest of us whose musical tastes aren't necessarily catered for in one high-rotation playlist.
So in response, the Labor Council of NSW has developed Wobbly Radio to provide a platform to young, independent Australian musicians to broadcast their work using new technology of streaming media. It's online open-house where any Australian musicians can upload their MP3 files and have them made available for playing by Wobbly Radio listeners.
While there is no politically strident message underlying the Wobbly site, it's the "sticky" sort of web play that will draw young "eyeballs" across to Workers Online and other LaborNET union sites that are closely linked to Wobbly: the same young eyeballs the union movement needs to sign-up as members if they are to remain relevant in the political debate this century.
NSW Labor Council Online [http://council.labor.net.au/]
The Labor Council of NSW in the offline world is the information hub for all its affiliated unions. It coordinates campaigns, resolves issues and distributes critical info to its affiliates. The new Labor Council Online site replicates these offline processes and migrates them online.
Its extensive content management system (Social Change Online's AIMS web publishing engine) enables all of the LCNSW staff to easily feed the site content. The web publishing engine then intelligently structures this content into various index lists and content highlights based around specific areas of interest. The result is that the LCNSW Stage 2 site becomes an online clearing house of related documents of interest to all of Labor Council's affiliates.
Circulars, meeting and event notices, minutes, policy, research and discussion papers, review articles and media releases can now all go online to the site at virtually the same time they are created offlline. The end result is that the critical information that fuels the union movement can now be distributed faster and wider than old paper driven technology.
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