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Year End 2002   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Taking Stock
Labor Council secretary John Robertson reflects on 2002 and outlines the challenges for the year to come.

Bad Boss: Pushing the Envelope
Ongoing and resolute commitment to principles advanced by Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott have seen Australia Post make history as the first recipient of the Tony Award, recognising Australia's worst employer.

Unions: The Year That Was
From Cole’s witch-hunt to funky union tunes, Peter Lewis reviews the biggest stories from the world of work in 2002.

Republic: Still Fighting
Three years since the constitutional referendum, and despite constant reports of its impending demise, the Australian Republican Movement is still around and active

International: Global Ties, Global Binds
Labourstart's Eric Lee files his annual wrap-up of the year from an international perspective.

Politics: Turning Green
Union support for the ALP is no longer a given, with trade unionists turning to the Greens, as Jim Marr reports.

Technology: Unions Online 2002
Social Change Online's Mark McGrath looks at what worked best for unions online in 2002.

Industrial: The Past Is Before Us
Neale Towart argues that 2003 will be a year where traditional industrial campaigns come back into fashion.

Economics: Market Insecurity
Sydney University’s Frank Stilwell looks back at 2002 from a political economist’s perspective.

Review: Shooting for Sanity
Michael Moore's new movie Bowling for Columbine looks at America's love affair with guns, writes Mark Hebblewhite

Poetry: The PM's Christmas Message
Workers Online has secretly obtained an advance copy of the text of the Address to the Nation that the Prime Minister plans to make. We reproduce the text below.

Culture: Zanger's Sounds of Summer
If 2001-02 was the summer of political and musical terror then this summer 2002-03 is where irreverent Aussie music runs rife.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Tread Carefully - Very Carefully
Nick Housten argues that structural weaknesses could keep federal Labor in Opposition for many years to come.

The Locker Room
A Year Of Two Halves
It was one of those years. It started with a lot of sport and it ended with a lot of sport. Noel Hester and Peter Moss check the runes and dish out the gongs in this year’s Workers Online Sports Awards.

Bosswatch
Footloose Capital
It was a year where the corporate world finally came close to consuming itself with bloated salaries, off the wall options and a string of mega-collapses

Predictions
Into the Beyond
Every year we ask our readers to gaze into the crystal ball. While history shows the view is mirky, we’ve don it again.

E D I T O R I A L

Terror Australis
When the historians get down to chronicling 2002 their analysis will read simply: the Bali bombing brought the new era of terror home to Australians and heightened our feelings of insecurity and fear at our ill-defined place in the world.

N E W S

 Abbott Gears For Grocon Stoush

 Delo Brushes Taubmans Pay Off

 Restaurateur Takes Knife to Wages Protection

 Legal Double Whammy to End Year

 We’re Dreaming of a Sweat-Free Christmas

 Star Organiser Takes Off

 Abbott's Xmas Message: Go To Jail

 Nurses Perform Wage Surgery

 Woolies Discount Spirit of Christmas

 New Collapses Prove Entitlements Farce

 Suncorp Ballot Draws Fire

 Unions On Big Day Out

 UN Migrant Worker Charter Welcomed

L E T T E R S
 Refugee Review
 Representative Representatives
 Men Only?
 Dry Argument
 Vale: Phil Berrigan
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Technology

Unions Online 2002


Social Change Online's Mark McGrath looks at what worked best for unions online in 2002.
 

Simplicity, focussing on what works and doing that well is what sums up 2002 for unions online in Australia.

This year saw online campaigning emerge as a very doable action, a relatively old technology in email as the most effective tool for increasing online audiences, some smart new technology to help people easily find what they want, a design rethink and an exception to the rule of web advertising.

Online Campaigns

Most unions run multiple campaigns on an ongoing basis. Whilst most unions are well organised in running these campaigns on the ground, not many are organised to run them as effectively online. This can be largely put down to the fact that most unions do not have the content management tools within their site to easily publish campaign news and produce online resources that enable site users to take action in support of their campaigns.

Campaigns can move fast and unless you've got a content management system to quickly organise and publish your content, you'll be soon overwhelmed by the amount of content required to be published on your site to keep users engaged with your campaigns. Moreover, there are always new campaigns arising and each new campaign requires a new batch of web development to create what should ideally be a campaign subsite.

Labourstart and LaborNET (with the Workers Compensation campaign) have led the way in online campaigning over the last couple of years, but the challenge remained to come up with a cost-effective solution that would enable unions to run their own campaigns on their own sites.

During the second half of this year, a number of LaborNET union sites (LaborNET with the Keep Our Railway Together campaign), ACTU, NZCTU and NSW Teachers Federation) had a campaign content management solution installed on their sites by Social Change Online to run their campaigns online. This solution allows these sites to effectively create a fully resourced campaign subsite for each new campaign on-demand.

The most advanced version of these solutions is being used by the New South Wales Teachers Federation to run at present a state election 2003 campaign and a campaign in support of Colombian teachers. By simply filling out a series of online content entry forms, the Federation has easily been able to construct campaign subsites that feature:

  • a dynamic campaign home page that automatically updated each time NSW Teachers publish a new campaign article
  • a campaign news archive
  • a collection of articles backgrounding the campaign
  • an online petition that users can sign
  • a protest form that users can submit to send a message to recipients targeted by the Federation

The result is not only a greater spread of a union's campaign message but some positive action undertaken by the users that can produce tangible effects on a campaign. Labourstart's online campaigns and here in Australia, the LHMU's Hilton Hotel campaign had strong evidence that their targeted, mass-email based protect actions played a significant role in winning their campaigns.

E-Newsletters

Sometimes people forget that the simple things often work best and get distracted by sophisticated and complex solutions. On the web this can be very much the case. In recent times there has been a sober recognition that email, a technology pre-dating the web by a decade, is the killer application of the internet.

Unlike the web, email is a single channel medium: each user has a single inbox where all emails sent to them arrive. Whereas with the web, there are millions of channels, ie individual websites, that the user may never see (if you build it they will probably not come )...unless they are told about it...and probably the best way to tell someone about what's worth checking out online is via a medium that enables users to instantly jump to where you're asking them to go to: email. Hence the success of the regular e-newsletter announcing new content to view on sites.

But having an e-newsletter strategy presupposes that you have a subscriber list to broadcast your e-news to, which for most unions, apart from an initial batch of active members' email addresses, this is not the case. So the initial problem to solve is how to build up a subscriber list. Getting your website to do this for you automatically is the best way via a subscription form.

Some LaborNET sites have significantly increased their audience share by employing this strategy. Leading the way here have been two LaborNET unions: the LHMU and ASU Services NSW. Both of these unions run a multiple email list strategy; a general news list to broadcast news across their whole membership and a narrowcasting to particular sections of their membership via lists dedicated to particular employment sectors.

Regular e-newsletters are automatically published to these lists via their site's content management system announcing the latest news from the union and inviting the users to visit their site to get more information. The results for both unions have been impressive. Since adopting this strategy the LHMU has increased it's site traffic by 50% and ASU Services NSW, who have only been running newsletters for the last 5 months, have lifted their site traffic by a still impressive 25%.

For Workers Online this is actually old news: Workers has been running this strategy since it first began in February 1999 to build a large and loyal audience.

Smart Directories

Probably the most ambitious technology project undertaken in the Australian labour movement in 2002 was the Labor Council of New South Wales' LDAP-based LaborNET union directory. LDAP stands for Lightweight Directory Application Protocol and is essentially a common standard that enables database driven directories to share information between each other and other network based applications.

A key feature of LDAP based directories is that all their content is network addressable. This means that potentially any network based application...a user's web browser or email client, or another website, can look up the contents of a directory and return the results back to the user's local environment.

What this means for the LaborNET directory is that it has the potential in the future to offer users the ability to:

  • search the directory from their local email program (like Netscape or Eudora)
  • look up contact details in the directory from another union site
  • show selected content from the directory in other sites
  • show selected content that is based on a user's profile (eg if you log in as a construction worker you may be shown the CFMEU's contact details in the first instance)
  • look-up other information in other LDAP based directories anywhere in the world (eg awards from an LDAP based awards directory)

It's early days yet for all of the above functionality for the LaborNET directory but the point is that this application has the critical technological foundations to offer these services in the future.

Secure Payments Online

Many unions have wished to have websites where people could join their union online, paying for membership with their credit card in a secure environment. Whilst this has been technically possible for some time, it is only recently with the provision of secure credit card payment gateways that this has become both affordable and practical to do.

Earlier this year the NSW Teachers Federation launched a secure online payment service for new and existing members. To the best of my knowledge this is the first Australian union to offer a complete and secure membership payment service online. Using a set of smart forms that were integrated into the NAB's secure internet payments service by Social Change Online, users can select their desired type of membership and then securely pay their membership via credit card.

The response to this service has been very strong; over 250 new members have been picked up with this service and over $50,000 in membership fees have been collected from existing members, saving the Federation valuable administrative time in processing membership payments.

A Design Rethink

The last 12 months or so has seen a sea change take place in web design. Back in the late 90's when everyone was talking portals, content rich pages packed with information that gave users one-click access to everything within a site was all the rage. But since that time enough user feedback has filtered through to site owners and their designers to force a change of tack. The latest and most reliable usability research shows that users prefer more simple web interfaces with less content over sites saturated with content.

There are exceptions to this generalisation of course, and typically it's the case of news based sites where the user expects a maximum amount of content available up front on the home page.

At Social Change Online we've listened to the feedback about content heavy pages and of late developed some sites with a fresh new design approach that has an accent on simplicity and pulls back somewhat on content load. Here's a quick rundown of some new LaborNET sites that feature a different design approach:

  • LHMU: relaunched with a simple interface to enable users to get to all major content areas in one-click
  • Minesafe: dynamic splash page featuring some rich imagery
  • ACTU: clean and lightweight HTML-based interface to ensure fastloading of this portal style site
  • UNIONSAFE: clear and uncrowded interface to give key content areas high prominence

Web Advertising

The collective wisdom of the media experts is that web advertising does not work. Largely, this is right and proven by the manifest failure of web advertising as a revenue generator for even very popular sites. But there is one viable exception; advertising on the one of the world's most popular websites, Google.

Google offers a very clever and affordable service, "Adwords", where you can; tie the display of your ads to particular search terms used by visitors to the site, define your own search terms and set your own price for advertising (you pay more for higher ranked display of ads). Importantly, you only pay for the advertising when someone clicks on your ad: if no one clicks on your ad you don't pay.

The Evatt Foundation have dipped their toe in the water here and have scored some incredibly cheap advertising for their site. To see this in action try going to Google and keying in the search term; "ALP Policy", on the right hand side of the page at the top of the results list you'll find Evatt's text based ad. The trial has been going less than 2 weeks but in that time the Evatt Foundation's ad has been displayed over 11,300 times and delivered over 60 new users to the Evatt site for a cost of only $16.41 - incredibly cheap advertising.

Conclusion

Some sceptics might comment, "well improving the quality of websites is great - but what does it really get you?" Well apart from the intangible benefit of an increased public profile and getting your message out to a wider audience there are real and measurable benefits to increasing your web traffic.

So long as you've the right online tools to take advantage of increased visits to your site, improving the quality of your site can translate into increased membership and greater participation of that membership in your union. Two things that all unions need in these challenging times.

Mark McGrath is the Union Sector Manager for Social Change Online and manages the development of the LaborNET portal


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