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October 2004   

Interview: The Last Bastian
AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian has been at the centre of the three year battle to bring James Hardie to account.

Unions: High and Dry
Jim Marr unpacks the recent High Court Electrolux decision to test whether the ruling matches the media hype.

Security: Liquid Borders
The Howard Government loves to trumpet its national security credentials but a close look at its record in shipping sinks the myth argues MUA’s Zoe Reynolds.

Industrial: No Bully For You
Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.

History: Radical Brisbane
Radical Brisbane extends the 'Radical City' series into the Red North. Two experienced activists, academics and writers turn South East Queensland history on its head.

International: No Vacancies
More than 1400 hotel union workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, are on strike at four major hotels in San Francisco, California, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Life After Capitalism
A situation that all anarchists dream of? Michael Albert has been more than dreaming., writes Neale Towart

Technology: Cyber Winners
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Teaser: Wondering why the polls are all over the place? Ask our resident bard and psephologist.

Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.


True Lies
Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues It’s Time – for an IR reality check.

The Westie Wing
Much work has been done in the past to ease the plight of clothing outworkers in New South Wales. It's time to step up the pressure, as sweatshops and clothing contract work are thriving stronger than ever, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Who Started the Class War?
Evan Jones looks across the Australian political landscape and asks who are the real class warriors?

The Locker Room
First Past The Post
Phil Doyle is coming up in class and is all the better for recent racing

Westie Wing
Our favourite state MP returns for his monthly Macquarie Street wrap.

Positive Action
Australian unionists are helping give hope to Filipino workers living with HIV/AIDS.


The Premiership Quarter
After spending the past month with a decidedly sinking feeling, there’s a whiff of hope and expectation that the Howard era could actually be coming to an end.


 Kev Cooks the Books

 Black Hole In Libs Kids Plan

 Xerox Copies Waterfront Tactics

 Hardies Asbestos Woes "Snowballs"

 Air Fleet Grounded By Job Cuts

 Musos Lung For Better

 Customs Officers Declare

 Dumbing Down The Trades

 Pacific National Sidetracks Hunter Jobs

 Witch Hunt For Whistleblower

 Black Diamond Deaths Spark Mining Inquiry

 Pensioners Strip Over Pension Strip

 Activists What's On!

 Donkey Vote
 Problem Solved
 How To Run Society
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Cyber Winners

Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

How to win an online campaign

A couple of days ago, I got some great news. Raffles Hotel workers in Cambodia who have been involved in a bitter dispute with their employers, had won a huge victory. Their union now recognized, and with the employer committed to an end to illegal union-busting, this was a clear victory.

An online campaign conducted on the websites of LabourStart and International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF), resulted in over 3,000 messages being sent to the employer in support of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF).

"Unions around the world showed their solidarity with the CTSWF by supporting the IUF's international campaign in many ways," wrote the IUF in a statement released in mid-September. "IUF members demonstrated at Raffles properties around the world. Unions and national centers requested their embassies and diplomatic missions in Cambodia to avoid Raffles as a venue for official events. Unions gave financial, moral and political support to the CTSWF. Our sister organization, the International Transport Workers' Federation, informed ITF flight crews of the conflict and communicated their unions' concerns to Raffles headquarters in Singapore. Thousands of IUF members and supporters of labour rights sent protest messages to Raffles."

The online campaign was just one part of a much broader effort, but an important part. Clear evidence of this was the reaction of the Raffles management to the campaign. They begin sending out email messages to some of those who sent off protests to them.

In early May, one employee of Raffles in Cambodia sent off a message to an Australian email protestor saying "It amazes me that a fellow Australian would send out a chain email without even checking the facts . . . The strike was neither peaceful or legal and if u want to check this give me a call. I had to evacuate my wife and 2 yr old from the country as the strikers would not allow the doctor in to see my very sick baby!!!! do u call that peaceful???? You should be ashamed of yourself."

Later messages from the hotel to those who sent off messages were somewhat less personal, were much longer, and had been proof-read. These began "Regrettably, some of the allegations circulated by the International Union Federation [sic] are not accurate, and we would like to provide you with the facts surrounding the current dispute between the unions of Raffles Hotel Le Royal and Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor and our company." This was followed by a half dozen "allegations" and rebuttals by the hotel management.

When managers start sending out long emails to protestors, it also sends out a loud and clear message that our campaigns are having an effect. Our email messages are being received, counted and read.

And this for me raises the whole question of why some email campaigns work so well.

On the face of it, why should a hotel manager in Phnom Penh care about a bunch of emails from trade union members in Australia or the USA? The likelihood of those individuals being customers of that particular hotel is nil. A cynical hotel manager might even believe that those protests are coming from the "usual suspects" -- left-wing activists who will sign any petition put before them.

And yet they react, and respond to emails, and in the end, relent and settle with the union.

The victory at the Raffles hotel chain in Cambodia came only 8 weeks after a similar email campaign run by LabourStart at the request of the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) in New Zealand secured the re-hiring of a sacked union delegate, Andrew Bolesworth, an employee of the Dunedin casino.

It appears that certain employers are more vulnerable to this kind of pressure than others. And certain types of campaigns work better than others. After several years of experience with online campaigning, here's a tentative list of seven ways unions can win online campaigns.

1. Image matters. Companies with a high public profile -- like hotels, or manufacturers of consumer products -- are particularly sensitive to their image and brand. They do not want to be seen as brutal violaters of human rights. Think Nike, which bends over backwards to at least create the impression that it doing good in the world.

2. Be reasonable. Demands have to be achievable. Asking Dunedin casino to re-hire one worker, or Raffles Hotel to recognize its union, are not unreasonable demands. Companies can easily meet these demands without having to spend millions.

3. Involve unions. The best campaigns are the ones run with the full support both of the local union (such as the SFWU and CTSWF), sister unions in the same sector in different countries, as well as the global union federation -- which in these cases was the IUF and Union Network International (UNI).

4. Issues matter. The subjects raised (non-recognition of a union, the sacking of a union activist) have to be ones which would win broad support among trade union members, if not the general public. Campaigns which focus on things like opposing privatization or pay disputes will not get the same level of support. Workers' rights are human rights, and this will always make a campaign more successful in building wide support.

5. Numbers count. The Raffles campaign ran for more than four months and in terms of the number of email messages sent out was one of the two or three largest online campaigns LabourStart ever waged. Campaigns that we have waged that got half that number of responses did not produce the desired result.

6. Reminders help. The Raffles campaign featured a constant stream of updates on a number of websites, including the regional website of the IUF (Asian Foodworker). A search on LabourStart would reveal dozens of articles about the struggle, with regular updates about court decisions, solidarity actions in other countries, and so on. Campaigns that are launched but feature no updates at all tend to languish and die.

7. Unplug yourself. The most successful online campaigns feature strong offline elements as well, including picket lines and other protests. They are not exclusively online.

There are probably many more lessons to be learned, but these are the ones that leap to mind.

When planning other online campaigns, it's important to look back on the success of the Raffles and Dunedin casino efforts both for inspiration -- and clues on how we can win.


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