Archive for March, 2004

Wireless Wobblies, Proletarian Palmtops: Organizing and Campaigning on the Wireless Internet

Wednesday, March 10th, 2004

Unions are rarely, if ever, on the bleeding edge of technology. If you’re ever nostalgic to see what computers looked like several years ago, just wander into a trade union office. For many reasons (and not only budget) unions have been reluctant to invest in information technology on the same scale as corporations do.
A couple of years ago, a trade union official allowed me to use her PC to do a bit of work on the web and after a short while, I realized that I was using a very old version of Microsoft Internet Explorer. Just out of curiosity, I thought I’d check out the union’s own website. Because of the browser I was using, I couldn’t actually see the union’s site — nor could the person whose desk I was using.
A few weeks ago, I visited a trade union branch office in a large insurance company. There were computers everywhere, mobile phones, all the latest gadgets. But the union’s own connection to the Internet was through a modem that belonged in a museum, not an office. Connection speeds were so slow that we were unable to download the software we needed to continue our work. Eventually, a couple of us went outside to find a magazine store, and picked up a computer magazine with a CD on it, taking the software we needed from that.
Trade unionists often drag around the heaviest laptops you’ve ever seen, or work at desks with the smallest and lowest-resolution screens you’ll ever find in an office. Union staffers usually have to accept that IT is considered a luxury and that buying the latest gadgets is a waste of members’ money.
Which is often true. I’ve heard of union officers demanding to be given the latest palm-top computers, only to discover that they actually had no use for them. Of course unions should be extremely careful with how they spend their limited resources. Buying “toys for boys” should not top any union’s priority list.
But — sometimes a technology comes along that fits the needs of the trade union movement like a glove. I think that the wireless Internet experienced through hand-held computers is just such a technology.


Haiti: What we learned from the net

Tuesday, March 9th, 2004

Sometimes it really does just hit you. The Internet really does change the way we look at things. I was struck by this as I look back upon the recent tumultuous events in Haiti.
Watching television news here in Britain – which is how most of us get our news, especially foreign news – the story we saw played out was of a once-democratic leader (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) who had somehow gone bad and was tossed out of office by a popular rebellion. But only hours after the departure of Haiti’s elected president, we heard of dramatic developments taking place at a textile factory in the north east of the country. The news came via email.