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Chapter 14

Trade Unions, Computer Communications
and the New World Order

Eric Lee

The idea that trade unions could use computers as a means of communications was first suggested by Charles "Chip" Levinson in his 1972 book, International Trade Unionism. Levinson, who was the head of the chemical workers' international trade secretariat, wrote about linking up databases of corporate information in Europe and North America, and relaying the computerized data (using telex machines) to the various affiliate unions around the world. He also speculated on possible uses of computer networks for trade union education.

Levinson was way ahead of his time. The Internet was launched experimentally only in the very late 1960s and its existence was revealed to the world in 1972 - after Levinson had written his book. For that reason, I have called Levinson the "Jules Verne of Labour Telematics" in my own book, The Labour Movement and the Internet: The New Internationalism (Lee, 1997).

From the early 1980s until today, trade union experimentation with computer mediated communciations (CMC) has continued - at first slowly, and in recent years, at light speed. That experimentation has included local electronic bulletin boards (BBS), regional trade union networks, email-based discussion groups, global online conferences, and - most recently - extensive labour use of the World Wide Web (WWW). By the end of 1996, there were several million trade union members connected to the Internet (most of these in North America), and several hundred trade union Web sites in existence.

With the exception of a handful of national and international conferences held to discuss these developments (Manchester, 1992, 1993), and the articles of Peter Waterman (Waterman, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1995), there has been very little serious discussion of what is going on here, and where the trade union movement is headed. In this paper, I would like to address three issues:

1. The obstacles to the creation of a global labournet - and how they are being overcome.

2. Concrete proposals made by trade unionists today for expanding the use of computer communications for labour education and for solidarity campaigns.

3. Going beyond a global labournet - and moving toward the creation of a new International.

The obstacles to the creation of a global labournet - and how they are being overcome

Everyone who has written about or spoken about labour use of computer networks has come up with his or her own list of the obstacles to expanding and intensifying that use. Those obstacles are very real, and a global labournet is not yet a reality. But it will become one - because for every problem we are able to define, a solution is already in sight. Even as I write these words, some of the "classic" obstacles to an international online labour network are crumbling.

Reaching critical mass. For the Internet to have any relevance at all for working people and their institutions, it must reach them by their thousands in their homes and workplaces. The international trade secretariats, though pioneers of computer networking in the labour movement, have not successfully brought all (or even most) of their national union affiliates on line. We're not talking about the average worker, or unionist, or shop steward. Even most national trade union organisations are not yet online. And if the Internet connects fifty million people (and that's the highest estimate current), that's still less than one percent of the world's population. One result is that some of the international discussion groups concerning the labour movement are infinitesimally small. So long as the Internet is used by only a tiny percentage of trade unionists, we cannot have any illusions about its impact.

Time will solve most of these problems by itself. The Internet is more-or-less doubling in size every year. The estimates vary of when one hundred million people will be online, but almost no one doubts that the number will be reached. Even the most serious researchers toss around various dates - including as early as the year 2010 - when one billion people will be online. So the natural growth of the net will sweep in tens of millions of working people and trade unionists, at least in the advanced industrial countries. But the developing countries are another story.

Reaching the South. The precondition for getting online is, of course, a line. But if you live in a part of the world where there is no telecommunications infrastructure - and this is the case in many developing countries - cheap little computers and modems are not going to be very useful to you. Of course trade unionists in the developing countries need computers, modems, and training. But without inexpensive telecommunications, all that will be worthless.

The changes in the global economy, with the shifts of capital away from the developed countries, are also shifting the centre of gravity of the labour movement away from Western Europe and North America, and towards the world's South. If trade unions want to take on some giant transnational, they are going to have to do this together with workers in the South - or they will fail. It is not merely a question of solidarity, but of survival.

The free market is obviously not racing into Africa to set up Internet connections, though some companies like AT&T have kindly offered to do all kinds of nice things (including a fibre optic undersea cable around the African coast) if only someone would pay. Some labour movement activists think that one approach is to lobby and pressure the venerable International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Maybe.

Another approach would be to lobby and pressure national governments in the rich countries to include a computer communications infrastructure (satellite and ground-based fibre optic and microwave communications networks) as a top priority in aid to developing countries. This must be high on the list of labour movement priorities, right up there with protection of trade union rights in those countries. Because if we can get those young labour movements online, we can protect them better.

Breaking the language barrier. The World Wide Web, even more than the Internet itself, is English-language dominated. With other Internet tools, like email, language is increasingly a non-problem. One software company is offering free "decoders" for dozens of languages for use in Internet email. Write a letter using that program, make sure your recipient has a decoder program, and you can correspond in Korean or Urdu, if you want. An earlier, but still effective solution, is to send text files which are not written in English as encoded binary files, via email.

The World Wide Web, however, is an entirely different problem. Despite all the talk about interactivity, the Web is a lot more like printed matter. A Web page which has been written in English stays in English, and no decent software currently existing can, with a simple click of the mouse, translate such a page into Danish, Swahili, or Arabic.

What some sites offer are different versions of the text in two or three languages. Each additional language means additional translation costs - and those costs can become substantial. This is not a problem for giant, US-based transnational corporations. Their sites are maintained in English, period. But matters are not so simple for the labour movement, which is supposed to respect cultural differences. Publications of international trade union organisations usually appear in several languages. (The International Transport Workers Federation even has a newsletter in eleven languages.)

To produce a printed publication in a second or third language today requires not only that the material be translated, but also typeset, printed and mailed. Once publications go online, all those other costs drop to zero. Money can be diverted to translation costs. An international organisation that wanted to stop publishing its newsletter on paper and go for an online edition might find that instead of publishing the information in just one language, it can now afford to publish it in ten.

Automatic translation software is in its infancy - but it exists. One can go into a store today and buy a program which will translate text, for example, from English to Spanish. Professional translators need not panic; their jobs are in no danger. Such programs provide only a rudimentary translation. It will be years before really first-rate programs are available. But there is a huge potential market for such software, particularly as the global system of production expands. In my opinion, it is only a matter of time until automatic translation software becomes both effective and inexpensive. And when this happens, it will represent the solution to the biggest obstacle to the creation of a true global labournet, which is the barrier of language.

Combatting corporate dominance of the networks. The World Wide Web may have started as a project at a physics labouratory, and its pioneering software may have been written by a student, but behind the image of informality lies a growing corporate presence. This has ramifications for the labour movement.

One example: it is becoming harder to find one's way around the Web without help. The "Yahoo" index includes hundreds of thousands of sites. Digital's "Alta Vista" search program indexes tens of millions of Web pages. Ordinary people without a lot of time on their hands are looking for ways to find information on the Web quickly and easily. Corporations - not non-governmental organisations and certainly not trade unions -- are arriving on the scene with their ready-made answers. One of these is preparing "hot lists" for information consumers. For example, the Netscape Corporation, whose home page is accessed by millions of Web surfers, has generously prepared lists of "What's New" and "What's Cool" - but none of these are labour sites. That's why trade unions are increasingly creating their own "hot lists" and publicizing them on the Web, through their own sites.

Another example: As the number of people accessing the Web grows from year to year, sites which are based on small budgets and small computers will increasingly answer incoming calls with busy signals - while giant corporate sites will always be open for business. The idea that all Web sites are somehow equal is an illusion, and labour Web sites are going to have to fight for survival just as the labour press today fights for survival in a corporate-dominated culture. Nevertheless, the playing field has been levelled somewhat; it's easier and cheaper to produce a quality online publication than it is to produce the same publication on paper.

Defeating censorship. A couple of years ago, writers like Howard Rheingold [Rheingold, 1993] were positively giddy about how the Internet was going to blow apart the corporate monopoly on information. Everybody could be her own publisher on the Internet. "You can't control it, it's uncontrollable," said MIT's Nicholas Negroponte (Negroponte, 1995).

Well, that was before the US Congress passed the Communications Deceny Act and CompuServe decided to shut down some two hundred newsgroups because of the threat of prosecution in Germany. That was before Time magazine did its panicked cover story on "cyber porn" and before certain authoritarian governments, including China's, began making menacing noises toward the free flow of ideas on the net. (New Chinese regulations forbid users "to produce, retrieve, duplicate or spread information that may hinder public order." That presumably includes trade union publications.)

It was no accident that the Chinese government (probably the most anti-labour regime on earth) was the first in the world to hail CompuServe's decision to ban pornographic newsgroups. They certainly saw the potential in all this.

The labour movement today is fighting battles all over the world to protect and expand trade union and human rights. The flow of information to and from all countries, including many with repressive regimes, must continue uninterrupted if trade unions will be able to use the net to their greatest advantage.

There are organisations which are working day and night for a free and open Internet. The labour movement should be in the thick of this fight, building alliances with civil libertarian groups, understanding that no one has more to lose than working people if the fight is lost. But this is not the case. Even those trade unionists who use the Internet are barely heard from on the issue of censorship. Labour Web sites almost never mention it. Wouldn't it be tragic if the Internet grows to include a billion people, but its content is completely controlled by governments and corporations?

Other obstacles to labour use of CMC include: 

The lack of support and training. Everyone who has taught anyone how to use email or the Web understands just how big a problem this is. But two developments are solving the problem for us. One is that software is getting much easier to use all the time. The other development is the emphasis placed by trade unions and their allies on training. Perhaps the best example of a solution in practice is Britain's Labour Telematics Centre.

Another problem often pointed out in the past has been the general resistance to technological change in the labour movement. This problem too is sorting itself out as the mass media blitz about the Internet finally seeps down to the level of the local trade union official. Today, practically everyone has heard of the net and many want to connect, without necessarily understanding why.

Some concern was expressed a few years ago about the possible rise of a new class of trade union techno-experts who would become indispensable in the information age. I think that this danger has largely disappeared with the increasing popularity of tools like the World Wide Web.

The rivalry between groups working toward the creation of a global labournet, while not as vicious and crippling as most in-fighting on the left and labour movement, has taken its toll. Often the bickering seems petty to outsiders - and maybe to insiders as well. Though some veterans of the APC-Poptel wars may understand the point of all this, most trade unionists don't, and couldn't care less. Fortunately, far away from the battlefields, labour movement activists in places like South Africa and Canada have steered clear of the conflict, giving their members access to both networks. And the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web have largely settled the question of how to connect to and how to use computer networks.

One by one the obstacles to a global labournet are falling. Let us know discuss what comes next.

The next steps

Some of the trade unionists involved in networking have on occasion spelled out their visions of the next steps, pointing to a future in which working people in different countries can exchange views, share information and work together in ways which have not been possible before.

Online Company Councils. In 1992, Jim Catterson had just completed a decade working for the chemical workers' trade secretariat, now known as the ICEM (International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions). He was speaking to the first international conference on labour telematics, in Manchester. We must remember that Catterson was coming from Charles "Chip" Levinson's union - the same Levinson who first raised the possibility, back in 1972, of a global labournet.

Levinson was also a proponent of "company councils." As Catterson summarised the proposal, workers "must be organised at the same level as the company" if they are to negotiate successfully on an international level. This demands "the establishment of some form of world company council bringing together trade union representatives" (Manchester, 1992).

The idea was first broached in the 1950s, and the ICEF leadership, as well as other ITSs pushed hard for it in the 1970s. But the attempts failed. No parallel structure to the transnational corporation was ever successfully set up by the international labour movement. Why not?

According to Catterson, one problem was "lack of finance." In order to "realistically carry out a programme of world council meetings able to meet frequently enough to develop policies rather than simply share initial information would require resources well in [excess] of those realistically possible for the ITSs in the foreseeable future." But the Internet could change all that.

Catterson ended his 1992 presentation by suggesting that as soon as some kind of critical mass was reached, virtual online company councils could be created. Email, he said, "makes face-to-face meetings redundant if their only purpose is to share information." Such meetings - "with their enormous travel and interpretation costs" - would be held only when necessary to handle a particularly acute issue, or to develop policy.

At that time, the ICEF was considering setting up company-specific bulletin boards on the net. These would include brief reviews of company finances, investment and disinvestment decisions, and would be largely based on commercial databases already in use by the organisation. Today, the ICEM is using the World Wide Web for the same purpose.

The result of such activity would be "a fully functioning genuine permanent world council of trade unions" for each transnational corporation. 

An International Labour University. Marc Belanger, founder of Canada's Solinet (the first national trade union network) put a message out to the net in mid-1995. It was brief and to the point. "I dream of the day," he wrote, "when we can run courses from an international labour university." Such a university would "teach classes either via e-mail or Internet newsgroups" and would have to "recruit instructors from around the world." 

The proposal attracted attention immediately. Not only was it coming from the originator of the first, and still most important, national labournet, but Belanger had already organised transnational trade union courses online, involving Russian, Australian and Canadian unionists. The discussion focused on six issues: Cooperation with existing organisations; Accreditation; Curriculum; Language; Delivery Systems; Funding.

All participants in the discussion felt that it was essential to cooperate with existing trade union institutions, though not to wait for them to take the initiative. Belanger pushed strongly for the idea of university accreditation for the courses. A suggestion was even made that the ILU not teach courses itself, but rather act as an accrediting body for online trade union courses.

By late 1996, nothing concrete had come of the discussions - but Belanger took the initiative once again and launched a prototype of the ILU anyway. He got the new Web conferencing software up and running, and began lining up lecturers from Canada, the USA, Russia, Israel and elsewhere. Whether this initiative will lead to the creation of a full blown online labour university remains to be seen.

From a global labournet to a new International

Virtual company councils and an online international labour university are good, solid ideas. I have no doubt that they will be realised in the near future. But I want to conclude with three far-out ideas - ideas which, if implemented, will go far beyond a global labournet and toward the recreation of a vigorous and effective workers' International. 

1. An Online International Labour Press. In most countries the national labour press is dead. When I came to live in Israel back in 1981, there were two national daily newspapers of the labour movement. By 1996, both newspapers had closed.

The United States has never had a successful national labour daily, and the mass media's anti-union bias is felt intensely by the trade unions. Jo-Ann Mort, the Communications Director of the clothing and textile workers union (UNITE), recently proposed the launching of a national labour daily. She explained what such a paper could do, and the void it would fill. But no union or coalition of unions has taken up the idea so far, nor does it seem likely that any one will.

Even in Scandinavia, where the labour press thrived until recently, trade union-supported newspapers are in decline. In Denmark, the national labour daily is now defended by the Social Democrats with the very same arguments once used by Israeli leftists in defence of the now-defunct labour dailies. Though the newspaper has a small and declining circulation, they say, it has influence far beyond its readership.

The international labour press is in equally bad shape. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions publishes every month a small newspaper called Free Labour World. It comes out in a few languages, and is read by trade union officials in a number of countries. The International Trade Secretariats publish their newsletters according to their budgets. For example, the News Bulletin of the food worker's ITS, which is supposed to come out every month, has been appearing only about four times a year recently.

There is no way that the labour press can compete with the capitalist mass media under these conditions. But the Internet does offer a way out: the creation of an online labour news service on the World Wide Web. Articles published by such a service could easily be lifted for use in local publications without any need for retyping. 

The emphasis must be placed on the importance of multilingualism here. Such a news service should be available in all the major European languages as well as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and others. Because the cost of such an service is entirely the writing and translating, without paying for paper, printing, typesetting or mailing, it should not be much more expensive than what the ICFTU and the ITSs are paying today for their printed publications. And the potential circulation and impact will be much greater.

Such a service would help create a community of ideas and feelings among its readers. It would be the best organising tool ever in the hands of the international trade union movement, and should be launched without delay.

In fact, a text-based service on the Web is only the beginning of what might be done. The latest technological developments are truly stunning - "streaming multimedia" on the net. These applications basically turn the Internet into a full-blown, real-time global radio and television broadcast medium that also happens to be interactive.

Using a perfectly ordinary home computer, equipped with a not-very-fast modem, a couple of inexpensive speakers and a sound card, I've been able to listen in on some local radio broadcasts from around the world. Using a technology like RealAudio (the client program as well as the encoder are available free of charge), it would be fairly easy to launch what was once an impossible dream: a global labour radio network.

The labour movement wouldn't need expensive broadcasting equipment, nor government permission to "broadcast" using a technology of this kind. Such broadcasts could be picked up by trade unionists anywhere in the world, and could be copied and re-broadcast using conventional, local radio stations or on cassettes. Such broadcasts (actually "narrowcasts" is a better term) are much harder to censor or jam than ordinary radio.

More advanced Internet technologies available today, such as VDOLive, offer the promise of live television broadcasts (though these do not work with slow modems). Inexpensive color digital video cameras (which now cost about what a 28,800 bps modem costs) mean that online labour television broadcasts are only a matter of time.

The possibilities for the trade union movement are staggering indeed.

2. An Online Archive, Discussion Group and Journal. Back during the International's "golden age," before the First World War, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the flagship of the whole world movement. Debates which took place in that party -- for example, between Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg on the question of reform or revolution - were echoed around the world. The theoretical publication of that Party, Die Neue Zeit (The New Age), was edited by the SPD's chief theoretician himself, Karl Kautsky. It was read not only in Germany but by social democrats everywhere.

Since that time, there has been no single international publication which had that kind of impact. But as the labour movement enters the twentieth first century, the need for a deeper and more serious look at things is more closely felt than ever before.

The Internet allows the inexpensive publishing not only of new works which contribute to a democratic socialist view of the world, but also to the reprinting of texts which would otherwise be lost in the archives.

What the labour movement should be considering, then, is not only an ongoing journal, which would publish original articles and replies to them (some of this could be conducted in the form of discussion groups located within the Web site). It should also began the task of digitising the thousands of important books, journals and pamphlets published by the labour and social democratic movements over the last century, and making these texts available through the Web.

Now what practical use could this possibly have? I'll give an example. In 1993, we decided at the International Federation of Workers' Education Associations to devote a whole issue of Workers' Education to the subject of May Day.

There was a debate about this at the IFWEA's Executive Committee, with some voices being raised against the whole idea. But the majority felt that it was important to discuss the meaning of May Day, its origins, how it is celebrated, and its future. 

Using the Internet, we were able to construct a bibliography of books and pamphlets about the holiday, including some material which is long out of print. Unfortunately, archival material about May Day was not then available online.

The issue of Workers' Education was published and was used to some practical effect by trade unionists in a number of countries. In New Zealand, where the labour movement has been under brutal attack for several years now, the Council of Trade Unions reprinted portions of Workers' Education for its own packet of materials on the holiday. In New York City, a left wing magazine reprinted the editorial. Part of the issue was reprinted in the Philippines. There was - and is - a hunger for information about labour's past and its traditions.

What the labour movement needs, therefore, is not only a theoretical journal like Die Neue Zeit but a combined journal (where original articles could be published), archive (where older material could be presented in digital form) and discussion group (where readers could easily make comments and ask questions). Such a project could be realised using the World Wide Web.

Who should undertake this task? The answer is not so simple. Probably the library and archive of the Socialist International, the International Institute for Social History in the Netherlands, should play a key role. So should the International Federation of Workers' Education Associations. Institutions like the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Karl Renner Institut, which already print and reprint much material should be involved. But the labour movement's archives, libraries and research centres, the labour museums and academic journals, should all play a role.

A beginning has been made by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Germany. The online catalog to the FES's phenomenal library is available online. This the first major social democratic research centre, archive or library to make such a service available to all, free of charge, through the Internet. 

I can imagine a day when the first of May is approaching, and a local trade union, or branch of a social democratic party, or workers' education group, is looking for some material about the holiday. They can turn to such a Web site and find reams of material, including graphics and sound files, which will enrich their celebration of this key event on labour's calendar.

3. An Early Warning Network on Trade Union Rights. Trade union rights are under attack everywhere in the world. This is true in the remaining Communist countries (especially China); it is equally true in the traditional right-wing authoritarian regimes; it is surprisingly true even in some western democracies, like New Zealand, where several basic trade union rights are now denied.

Often international labour bodies hear about some violation of rights, and using faxes and telephone calls get the word out to their affiliates in different parts of the world. But as groups like Amnesty International have discovered, a more effective way, supplementing but not replacing traditional communications technologies, would be the use of computer mediated communications.

To a certain extent, the international labour movement has been doing this already, albeit not very systematically. In the early years of the global labournet, the GeoNet bulletin boards and the Association for Progessive Communications conferences were used to post notices of violations of trade union rights, calls for solidarity and the like. But it was never clear that these messages were read by anyone.

Today the international trade union movement is using the networks sporadically and not systematically. Unlike Amnesty International, which centrally coordinates its campaigns across countries and sectors, trade unions have tended to use the Internet in the same limited, sectoral way they have always worked. The one trade union organisation which spans all countries and sectors, the ICFTU, has not conducted any solidarity actions through the network.

And because attacks on trade union rights anywhere are the concern of workers everywhere, information about them should not be confined to a particular sector or country. It is not enough that a union in developing country A phones up contacts in country B, whose labour movement then mobilises. Similarly, it is not enough when one international trade secretariat alone tries to handle repression of trade unions in "its" sector when this issue concerns all parts of the labour movement.

The trade unions should begin building a global early warning network, based on three elements:

Internet-connected computers and responsible individuals in countries where unions are under threat, whose job it is to notify one central address of incidents like kidnapping of unionists, attacks on demonstrators, and arrests and murders of trade union officials.

A central address, meaning a computer and operators whose job it is to receive the information and process it.

An "urgent action network" (that's what Amnesty International calls it) which uses the Internet to get the word out to those who can act quickly and effectively.

The first element requires that the international labour movement supply the computers and skills to maintain at least one workstation in each country where trade unions are under attack. It is true that in some countries, this could be an expensive proposition, requiring the placement of international phone calls to get Internet access. It is equally important that appropriate individuals in those countries be trained to receive information, process it, and send it on to the central address. Possibly the places to start are ICFTU-affiliated national trade union centres - but local human rights organisations may serve the role better.

The second element requires a host computer and staff on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, perhaps at the ICFTU headquarters, or at one of the international trade secretariats, or even at Amnesty International's International Secretariat in London. Within moments of receiving news of a violation of trade union rights, the information would be processed, checked, and passed on electronically to the appropriate individuals in trade unions around the world. In addition, groups allied to the labour movement, such as human rights organisations and labour parties, would be informed - also by email.

A global trade union "urgent action network" based on the Amnesty International model could be developed using a tool as simple as the LISTSERV email-based mailing list program. Mailing lists could be built up based on countries, sectors, languages, or other criteria.

Let me give an example of how this would work. A trade union activist employed by Coca Cola "disappears" one day in Brazil. His or her local union tells their national office, which in turn tells the national trade union centre in Rio de Janeiro. A photograph of the missing activist arrives in the office as well. Using a scanner, a computerised image is prepared. The person responsible in Rio sends on the information by Internet email; the photograph is sent as an attachment to the emailed letter.

A minute or two later, the information reaches the central address - say, the ICFTU headquarters in Brussels. After being read by the operator on duty there, the already digitised information, including the photo, is passed on to several mailing lists. One is for Coca Cola employees' unions around the world; another consists of Portuguese-speaking trade unionists on three continents; a third is a list of labour newspaper editors; a fourth is a list of social democratic and labour party members of parliaments.

Only minutes after the information has been sent out of Brazil, it is in the electronic mailboxes of trade unionists in dozens of countries. The digitised photograph and articles about the case begin appearing in trade union newspapers within hours. Telephones begin ringing in politicians' offices around the world. Email messages fill up Coca-Cola's electronic mail boxes. A picket line goes up at Coca Cola headquarters in Atlanta even before the corporate officers know what's happened. Within hours, someone at Coca Cola places a quiet telephone call to someone in Brazil, and the missing activist reappears, blindfolded and a bit battered, but basically safe and sound.

Such an early warning system would, I believe, do much to speed up response time, prevent duplication of effort, and yet ensure a maximum global trade union response to rights violations anywhere. This, in turn would make a major contribution to strengthening trade unions in the South, which is critical to a rebuilding of the International.

The International Has Been Reborn

From 1864, when Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen's Association, and until the outbreak of the First World War, the workers' International existed not only as an organisation, but as an idea, as something in the consciousness of millions of men and women. Those men and women a hundred years ago "belonged to the International." Sure, they were members of local and national trade unions and socialist parties. But they also belonged to something much larger.

Something of that consciousness has begun to return to our world.

When trade unionists in Ottawa and Moscow are discussing an international labour university online, where are they? One answer Internet users will usually give is "cyberspace." That's true, but that's not enough. Because the discussion took place not so much in cyberspace as in a particular part of it which I have been calling the emerging global labournet.

As such an online community grows, it will begin to create some of the institutions I have discussed. Online company councils will appear - there is no question about that. As for the international labour university, that too is only a matter of time.

My own proposals for an online global labour press, a combined archive/discussion group/journal, and an early warning network on trade union rights are, at worst, premature. Every one of them will be realised, in one form or another, sooner or later.

Peter Waterman writes of a new "global solidarity culture," which replaces old notions of internationalism, communications and the labour movement with new ones attuned to our changing world. He is enthusiastic about alternative international communications based on the new social movements. When labour's interests and those of such new social movements overlap, he notes, international labour computer communications "does seem to take off."

The global labournet is a long-awaited, long-expected development. Chip Levinson foresaw it in 1972. It is being created out of necessity, by the changing character of global capitalism, and though it can be slowed down, nothing can stop it.

It can also be speeded up.

For a decade and a half now, a few dozen men and women from Vancouver, Manchester, San Francisco, Geneva, Johannesburg, Moscow, Ottawa, Brussels, Chicago, London, and other places have been creating local trade union BBSs, regional labour networks, global email networks, and, most recently, Web sites by the hundreds. When they began in the 1980s, they were met with hostility or confusion by their brothers and sisters in the labour movement.

Today, we understand that they were, as one transnational corporation puts it, just slightly ahead of their time. Their time has come now.

The "new world order" is giving birth to a new internationalism. Participants in the international labour movement have begun to transcend their own local and national limitations and feel themselves to be part of a global community based not on language or skin colour, but social class - and a vision of a new society.

Thanks to the Internet, a century-long decline in internationalism has already been reversed. For thousands of trade unionists who log on every day, the International has already been reborn.


Magazines and newspapers

The Detroit Journal. 

Labour Telematics News. 

The San Francisco Free Press. 

Workers' Education. 

Uupublished papers

Belanger, Marc, untitled. An account on the origins of SoliNet. 1995.

Brenner, Joseph E., "Internationalist Labour Communication by Computer Network: The United States, Mexico and NAFTA". Paper prepared for a course, The American University, Washington DC, Spring 1994.

Waterman, Peter, "A New Communications Model for a New Working-Class Internationalism: Still Needed?", 1995.

Conference reports

Information Technology, Electronic Communications and the Labour Movement. 14-16 April 1992, GMB College, Manchester, UK.

Labourtel UK: Information Technology, Electronic Communications and the Labour Movement. 2-4 June 1993, GMB College, Manchester, UK.


Atkins, John, et. al., The Opportunity and Challenge of Telematics, Labour Telematics Centre, ILO and ICFTU, April 1994, 12 pp.

Atkins, John and Dave Spooner, "Harnessing the potential benefits of computer communications: Telematics for workers' organizations," Labour Education (ILO) 95-1994/2. 

Gallin, Dan, "Unions and Transnationals: The Beginnings of an International Response," The New International Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, Summer 1980.

Gallin, Dan, "Inside the New World Order: Drawing the Battle Lines," New Politics, Vol. V. No. 1, Summer 1994.

Illingworth, Montieth M., "Workers of the net, unite!", Information Week, 22 August 1994, 5 pp. 

Waterman, Peter, "Needed: A New Communications Model for a New Working Class Internationalism," in Peter Waterman (editor), For a New Labour Internationalism: A Set of Reprints and Working Papers. The Hague: International Labour, Education, Research and Information Foundation, pp. 233-255, 1984.

Waterman, Peter, "International Labour Communication by Computer: The Fifth International?," Working Paper Series, No. 129. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies, 1992.

Waterman, Peter, "From Moscow With Electronics: A Communication Internationalism for an Information Capitalism," The Democratic Communique, Vol. 12, No. 2-3, Summer, 1994. pp. 1, 11-16.


Lee, Eric, The Labour Movement and the Internet: The New Internationalism. London: Pluto Press, 1997.

Negroponte, Nicholas, Being Digital, London: Coronet Books, 1995. 

Rheingold, Howard, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1993.

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