Approaching Old Struggles in a New Medium
by Amelia DeLoach
Late one night a couple years ago when I was a graduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I sat in a UNIX lab and happened upon a site that explained, of all things, what to consider before buying your first computer. The irony of the site was obvious--how could a computerless user access this information? But I wish I had read that article when I was in the process of buying my computer. What came as a bigger surprise was the audience that this site was geared toward: organizers of local labor unions.
I imagine this site had limited effectiveness. But given how some unions are harnessing the power of the Internet, it's clear that organizers and leaders understand how they can benefit from the medium, even if they aren't certain exactly how to when they initially set up their sites. But then again, everyone else is learning about online communication in the process of using it as well.
This month, we will look at several first-hand accounts of union members experiences in dealing with the Internet and the World Wide Web. British stewards Chris Baily and Greg Dropkin recount their experiences in developing the Mersey Docker's site on LabourNet and the effects the Web site did and did not have on the ongoing strike in "Sending a Strike Message in a Bottle". Allen Schaaf, in his article in his article " "Unions, the Rank-and-File, and the Internet" (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Invasion of Privacy and Love the Information Age)" gives his account of dealing with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees' union politics on the Internet. He describes how the organization's leadership ultimately mistrusted the use of CMC.
These articles focus on what can go wrong with CMC, however Andrew Dunn in "Shaping a Web for Inclusion" provides us with the process the Austrailian police union, PASA, took in ensuring that their Web would benefit their organization without disenfranchising those without computers.
While union members look at the pros and cons of CMC for their purposes, Lisa Schmeiser explores the social issues of why overworked Web workers aren't likely to start unionizing any time soon.
Finally, I tie together this issue with an analysis of what being online can mean for labor.
Amelia DeLoach (firstname.lastname@example.org) earns a living as a technical writer while serving as a Contributing Editor for CMC Magazine. Her grandfather was fired from the Southern Railroad during the Depression because he took it upon himself to help organize a local union. Her father taught her to never to cross a picket line. Because she works in the computer industry, she probably will never have the opportunity.
Copyright © 1996 by Amelia DeLoach. All Rights Reserved.