Soenke Zehle on Sun, 25 Nov 2001 17:08:28 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> unions need to start thinking about software

apologies if this has been posted already, older article but thought it's
still of interest...commission of software development seems easier than i


Beyond the website: unions need to start thinking about software

by Eric Lee

In the beginning, trade unions created websites.

At first unions were so proud of their achievement. And back in the
mid-1990s, it was often an achievement just to get that first page up on the
World Wide Web. It was a source of pride for unions to announce the
existence of websites even if those sites never changed and even if
practically none of the union's own members ever visited them.

Meanwhile, day after day, trade union members and other workers, not yet
organized into unions, come online by their tens of thousands and then
millions. They come online using tools -- software -- provided for them by
giant US-based corporations with little sympathy (to put it mildly) for the
goals, ethics and vision of the international labour movement.

When the average trade unionist begins to experience the web, they do so
within the confines of a software product -- their web browser -- which is
carefully designed to encourage them to behave as good consumers. Both the
products of Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and America Online/Netscape
(Navigator) make every effort to steer users toward 'preferred', 'selected'
or 'partner' sites, where it is hoped that they will buy something. This
process begins with the default home page which the vast majority of users
never bother to change -- and therefore visit every day.

Trade union members (and potential members) when they are online spend very
little of their time on our union websites. Indeed, we're lucky if they
visit our websites at all. But remember that they do spend all of their time
online within the framework of their web browsers. Therefore, in my view,
it's time for the labour movement to move into an area it has never touched
before: the design of the browser itself.

Wouldn't it be incredible if we could actually distribute a web browser
which was free of charge, worked as well (indeed, better) than the
mainstream products, and which instead of steering users toward commercial
'partners' with its bookmarks and default home page would instead point
working people toward online resources on issues like health and safety,
workers rights, globalization? That would be incredible. It would be
empowering. It would move labour's involvement in the new communications
technology to a new plane.

And it's a reality today.

In partnership with Opera Software, creators of the cutting edge Opera 5 web
browser, in February 2001 LabourStart announced the first-ever trade union
Internet software package, including a web browser, email and instant
messaging service (ICQ). The co-branded LabourStart/Opera browser features:

*    Dozens of trade union bookmarks - links to sources of information on
things that concern trade union members -- including a link to the Education
International's website.
*    Versions in three languages (for now) -- English, Dutch or Norwegian --
with dozens of additional bookmarks for local trade union links in each of
the languages.
*    LabourStart - the online daily global trade union new service - appears
as the default home page (in English, Norwegian or Dutch, depending on which
software one downloads).

The browser is being distributed by LabourStart but also through the
websites of the trade union movements in Norway, the Netherlands, South
Africa and other countries.

Full details may be found at

I encourage you all to download the browser, set it up and try it out.

And if you want a special Opera browser designed for your union, with your
own bookmarks and your own website as the default home page, let me know.

This article appeared in the magazine of the Education International, a
world-wide trade union organisation of education personnel, whose 24 million
members represent all sectors of education from pre-school to university 304
national trade unions and associations in 155 countries and territories.
This document was last modified: Thursday, 15-Mar-2001 09:25:13 GMT


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