|Issue No 79||24 November 2000|
Eric Lee: The Problem with ICANN
Labourstart's editor rakes over the coals of the international union movement's failed bid toget their own domain name.
Back in July, when the international trade union movement began its campaign for a ".union" top level domain, I already had my doubts.
I expressed most of them in my book, "The Internet Belongs to Everyone", which you can read online -- http://www.labourstart.org/icann/ericleebook.shtml.
But one of those doubts has come back to haunt me in light of the decision last week by the ICANN Board to approve a number of new top level domains for the Internet, but not ".union".
ICANN is not a democratic organization. It was set up by the U.S. government as part of an effort to -- for want of a better word -- privatize the domain name system. And it is completely dominated by the same corporate elite which dominates the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Its elections a few months ago were a sham, a transparent attempt to provide a democratic cloak for a body which is anything but democratic.
When the ICANN Board met last week and voted to have new top level domains like ".biz" for businesses and ".pro" for professionals, it was acting entirely in character. And its decision to reject ".union" was also predictable, even though the unions had done everything strictly by the book and had paid their $50,000 US as demanded.
The very idea of a global trade union federation representing well over 100 million members having to ask permission of a totally non-democratic self-selected body like ICANN to use the term "union" is outrageous.
But let's say we get lucky, and ICANN changes its mind. It meets again next year and decides, okay, you union folks can have your own domain.
Unions would still be putting themselves at the mercy of ICANN because it remains the ultimate arbiter of the top level domains. To understand what this means, you have to understand the difference between top level domains and ordinary domain names.
When you buy an ordinary domain name -- say, www.labourstart.org -- it's yours. You do what you want with it. You can even subdivide it, attaching words to the left end of the domain. And of course no one can tell you what can go on your website or not.
But top level domains -- like .com, .edu, and now .biz -- belong to ICANN. Its Board decides who gets to manage them.
My nightmare scenario is this: some state-controlled labour fronts or company unions -- say, for example, the official state unions in China -- apply down the line for a ".union" domain name. Naturally the labour movement refuses. This is actually explicit in the internatioanl trade union movement's proposal. It says that "applicants [for a ".union" domain name] not affiliated directly or indirectly to one of the organisations in the sponsoring group would not be excluded from consideration if their organisation is known to be free and democratic."
In other words, "unions" which are neither free nor democratic will be told no, sorry, but you can't have a ".union" domain name. This is one of the most important features of the ".union" proposal -- it creates a global cyber union label, a way to distinguish real from fake unions on the web.
So when the body administering the ".union" domain says no to a non-democratic, non-independent state-controlled union, to whom can they appeal to for help? Ultimately, to ICANN.
Even though the international trade union movement proposes a structure for dispute resolution, in the final analysis, ICANN decides. The same ICANN Board which last week revealed how little it understood about unions and which by its very makeup is bound to be anti-union -- it will be the ultimate arbiter of which websites get the carry the ".union" domain name.
We had a taste last week of what life will be like for the unions if ICANN ever does come around to approving a ".union" top level domain. It should make us think twice about the whole idea.
Interview: Back on Track
After blowing the whistle on rail privatization, NSW Transport Minister Carl Scully is rebuilding bridges with the trade union movement.
Unions: The Problem with Organising
It may be the new mantra, but Brisbane Institute director Peter Botsman argues that organising may be the wrong to go for a movement attempting to attract a new breed of workers.
International: Burma: Workers Act on ILO Ruling
Energy workers' trade unions across the Asia-Pacific have urged Western oil and gas companies to "cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labour continues".
Economics: Rethinking Incomes Policy
While many have thrown incomes policy out with the Acoord bathwater, Graham White argues it still has a role to play.
History: What Goes Around Comes Around
Labor Council's Mark Lennon argues that while trade unions - and labour history - might be unfashionable, there's life left in both of them.
Education: Peas in a Pod
Both sides of politics must take blame for funding levels in our public schools, argues NSW Teachers Federation president Sue Simpson.
Satire: Hurley Rebukes Actors' Guild: I'm No Actor!
Liz Hurley has responded angrily to claims by actors that she crossed a picket line by filming an Estee Lauder ad.
Review: It's Only a Job
In a stunning new book, author Phil Thornton and photographer Paul Jones have combined to portray working life in all its diversity through the eyes of ordinary people like process worker Sharonak Shannon
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