The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

WikiProject: Organized Labour

Back in 2003, I wrote a short article for this magazine about a new online encyclopedia called the Wikipedia ( At the time, the Wikipedia had 180,000 articles in English alone, which at the time seemed pretty impressive. Today it has grown to 1.4 million articles in English, and nearly four million more in 228 other languages. It is a truly massive project, entirely run by volunteers.

To illustrate how it worked, I created a short entry about the Labour Research Department. The good news in that in the last three years, about a half dozen individuals have come in an fixed up the article, adding more content and links. The bad news is that it's still not nearly good enough.

And what's true about the Wikipedia's listing for the LRD is even more true about unions as a whole.

You have to understand how this encyclopedia works. It's not like the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the Wikipedia, every article you can read you can also edit. Theoretically, this means that everyone who works for a union, or is a member of a union, or knows anything at all about a union, can ensure that the Wikipedia has a complete and accurate entry about that union. But this is rarely the case when it comes to trade unions.

Looking at British unions, there are decent entries now for Amicus, UNISON and the GMB -- but there are least 75 entries which are considered to be "stubs". Stubs are defined as "entries that have not yet received substantial attention from the editors of Wikipedia, and do not yet contain sufficient information on their subject matter". These stubs include such unions as ASLEF, BECTU, CWU, Community, Connect, FBU, GFTU, Napo, Prospect, PCS, RMT, UCATT and USDAW.

Fortunately, a number of trade unionists in different countries have realized the extent of the problem, which is far worse outside of Britain. They have organized a "WikiProject" called "Organized Labour" which has set itself three tasks: To expand and globalise articles related to organized labour; to create and expand articles for individual labour organisations; and to establish fair and consistent representation of labour in business, government, and organisational articles.

There are 33 members of this group today, doing their bit to achieve those goals. Some of their work is quite imaginative -- for example, putting a standard box on the Wikipedia pages of companies, telling visitors to the site which union does (or should) represent them. This would turn an encyclopedia into an organising tool - a great idea.

The Wikipedia is one of the twenty most popular sites on the web, used by millions of students and others every day. Unions which do not ensure that they are properly covered are ignoring a major audience.

To learn more about the work of this WikiProject on Organized Labour, and to help out, go here:


eric, you are quite right. TU's employ staff to organise the membership. they employ staff to administrate. they dont employ staff to surf the web all day trying to deal with the next 'big' thing. this may be rss, web2 projects or indeed entries in wikipedia.
your alerts generally fall on deaf ears. by now many tu's (especially in the UK) have farmed out any projects that seem whimsical to them and short lived. look at the web for instance. my tu farmed it's web development out to an australian company who dont know their web2's from their 4x's.
any initiatives that may have been developed on the back of an in-house development doesnt get done at all. but then you would know all this already wouldnt you?

[Note from Eric Lee: I have deleted the last 4 sentences of this comment which I considered peronsally offensive (I do not consider myself to be a prostitute, thank you), but left the rest of his comment intact. The author of this comment did not provide his email address. If he does, I would be happy to enter into a correspondence with him.]

Wikipedia seems to have an immense amount of potential - far more, I suspect, that the OpenDirectory Project. The real trick is how to write an article which is informative but at the same time not just a propoganda sheet. After all, this is supposed to be an encylopedia. A real test of writing skills which can usefully be adapted for writing succinct flyers to mobile workers.