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  Issue No 29 Official Organ of LaborNet 03 September 1999  





Virtually Here - Eric Lee

From the Kibbutz to cyberspace, Andrew Casey profiles the work of an Internet class warrior.


Eric Lee

"The Internet is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the revival of labour internationalism in the twenty-first century and with it, the revival of socialism" Eric Lee, March 1999, in a speech to the Marxism on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century conference, Elgersburg,Germany.

Eric Lee normally lives on an Israeli Kibbutz, in the Galilee, a place where he became notorious as an early Internet class warrior. His most recent victory in the class war was to deliver to more than 700,000 British union member free Internet access.

From Kibbutz Ein Dor Eric Lee became famous in Israel, and around the world., as the editor for two years of the web-based BibiWatch which every Monday morning exposed the latest idiocies of the Benjamin ('Bibi') Netanyahu government.

The innovative use of the Net to promote BibiWatch attracted a lot of attention - especially in the 'old media' who regularly followed through, splashed new Bibi stories across their pages.

BibiWatch was also closely monitored by a nervous Israeli Prime Minister and his office. BibiWatch and other Israeli Left-peace movement oriented Web Sites played a small but important role in getting rid of Benjamin ( Bibi) Netanyahu's Government

Now in the UK Eric Lee has just helped to broker a deal between two British unions representing over 700,000 workers, and British Telecom, to provide free Internet access for union members. And he is well aware of the current controversy in Australia about the ACTU's internet strategy.

" The new communications technologies empower ordinary people by allowing everyone to do what once only giant corporations could do, such as publish daily newspapers, broadcast radio shows, participate in seminars with others from around the globe." Eric Lee told Workers On Line just before setting off to visit Australia for a lecture series.

In his paper to the Marxism in the 21st Century conference Lee notes that trade union bureaucrats were often slow to take up the opportunities of the 'Net. They are concerned that they cannot as easily intervene to suppress the unwanted debate that can occur in cyber-space - but would never be allowed to happen at a union conference.

Eric Lee arrives in Australia on Sunday to give talks on behalf of the Adult Learners Association to audiences in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle,.Canberra and Perth about the educating and organising potential of the 'Net.

Lee - along with a Canadian unionist Marc Belanger - are the Internet Gurus of the union movement. Lee wrote a seminal work The Labour Movement and the Internet: The New Internationalism ( Pluto Press, London, 1996).

Belanger was in Australia for the 1993 Sydney ACTU Congress.At that time most of what he said went over the heads of the leading lights of the ACTU, and his ideas were largely dismissed as eccentric and irrelevant. Eric Lee arrives in Australia six years later, in a completelty different climate.

The ACTU and many of its affiliates are now scrambling to be effective participants on the 'Net.

Lee has noted that just as the US defense establishment has expressed concern at the notion of 'netwar' to describe electronic warfare in the next century between rival powers it is possible to contemplate that 'netwar' will be an increasingly important part of class struggle in the next century.

Already in Britain, the USA and Canada there have been examples of union Web sites coming under what has been seemingly deliberate cyber-attack from opponents of unions who use this efficient communication tool.

On Wednesday September 8 the NSW Labor Council will host a talk called 'Organising in a virtual world'. And he will be at Gleebooks on Thursday September 9 talking about Educating and organising on the net. His other talks in Australia are entitled " Education online - the 'Net is about empowerment, not e-commerce."

Kibbutz Ein Dor, the Israeli Kibbutz where Lee normally lives, is loosely affiliated to Mapam - now Meretz - the major party to the Left of the Israeli Labour Party. As such Lee has done a lot of work for Mapam, working on its daily paper and serving on the party's Central Committee.

Eric Lee migrated to Israel in 1981, from the USA, where he had been an anti-war activist and worked for the American Textile Workers Union, Human Rights Watch and was politically active as a member of the American Socialist Party, promoting democratic socialist values in a society hostile to the "S" word.

After moving to Israel Lee, 44, worked out of the Israeli trade union movement's head office, Histradut, as the editor of the magazine for the International Federation of Workers Education Association. It is mainly as a result of his work for the International of the WEA movement that he is now in Australia for the Adult Learners Association.

The Israeli trade union movement - under the leadership of the Histradut - lags far behind most national trade union centres in its use of the Internet.To this day doesn't have its own website. This is even thoug Israel is the home of some of the most important Internet discoveries and new Internet communication tools like ICQ, Internet Phone, Gooey.

Eric Lee started in Israel his international web trade union information and communication service in the mid-1990s. But for the last two years Kibbutz, EinDor has lent Eric Lee's services to a ground-breaking London-based international union project - to see how the Internet can be made into an organising tool for unions, their members and working people around the world.

Labour Start, which is a project of Labour and Society International, funded by British unions is edited by Lee who now lives in the UK.

The LabourStart website ( is updated daily with an international round up of working people's news from Asia to South America and Africa, including news from Australia, the United States and Israel.

During last year's wave of strikes in South Korea it was Lee's LabourStart which coordinated much of the international support for this repressed and hunted union movement, by supplying appropriate, well-written and readable up to the minute details about the dispute to individuals and organisations around the world.

Lee's LabourStart also provided valuable international campaigning support during the MUA dispute in Australia

More importantly Lee's LabourStart provides a marvellous on-line labour forum for union webmasters to swap ideas about using the web as an organising tool.

His visit to Australia should help kick along the debate about what the best strategy for unions to empower their members, and all marginalised peoples, in the new information technology age.

In Melbourne next Friday Eric Lee will be available twice to union members and activists. During the day he will speak at TUTA on the topic - Organising on the Web-Best International Practice, A practical look at what unions are doing on the web, what works and why. In the evening the Fabian Forum is hosting an even at the New International Bookshop at Trades Hall.

Eric Lee will give a public lecture this Wednesday, Septmeber 8 in trades Hall, Goulburn Street from 6.00-7.30pm. Free and all welcome!


*    visit Labourstart

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 29 contents

In this issue
*  Activists: Virtually Here - Eric Lee
From the Kibbutz to cyberspace, Andrew Casey profiles the work of an Internet class warrior.
*  Interview: Net Benefits
Sean Kidney has been combining business savvy with social justice for more than a decade. He gives us his take on unions and the Net.
*  International: Dateline Dili
As the United Nations attempts to begin counting the votes from East Timor�s independence referendum, the capital Dili is rapidly spiralling out of control.
*  Unions: Secret Herbs and Spices
Read KFC worker Claire Hamilton's speech to last week's Second Wave Rally.
*  Politics: Loosening Labor�s Links?
Is Labor under Kim Beazley fundamentally changing its social appeal and turning itself into the Australian equivalent of Bill Clinton�s Democrats?
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
Our regular update on papers and articles for union officials and students.
*  History: Immigration, Racism and the Labour Movement
An upcoming conference asks some hard questions about the politics of immigration.
*  Satire: Crime Figures Down: NSW Elections Postponed
The release of statistics showing decreasing crime rates has threatened to delay the next NSW election.
*  Review: Trains of Treasure
A new CD of poems and songs pays tribute to our rich locomotive history.

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