One of the ironies of the twentieth century was that as capitalism globalised, the labour movement retreated from its internationalist tradition.
But the emergence of the Internet in the early 1990s seemed set to offer a second chance to trade unions – an opportunity to give new meaning to tired old slogans, and to begin to challenge global corporate power from a position of strength.
LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement, has been at the very centre of this process. Over more than a decade we have created a network of tens of thousands of trade unionists who can be mobilized instantly – and whose voices are increasingly heard.
LabourStart did not invent online campaigns. Union were campaigning using email even in the 1980s. But we were able to create new tools that have allowed unions to target employers and governments with powerful global campaigns.
Here’s how it works:
A union will come to LabourStart with a proposed campaign. A good example was the Irish union MANDATE a couple of years ago. A 22-year-old female member of the union, Joanne Delaney, had become a shop steward in an anti-union company and was sacked by the employer for wearing her union pin to work.
We launched an online campaign in a half dozen languages, and informed LabourStart’s tens of thousands of email subscribers. The campaign appeared not only on the front page of LabourStart in all its languages, but via syndication on a large number of union websites around the world.
Thousands of messages began to pour into the company headquarters. And there was real-world activity as well, stimulated by the online campaign. An early day motion was read in the House of Commons. MSPs raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament. It was debated in the Dublin City Council and discussed in the Dáil. Activists picketed the store.
Within days, the owners capitulated and gave Joanne her job back. She appeared that night on the television news, standing in front of the store where she worked, saying that she didn’t entirely understand what had happened, but that it seems an international campaign involving thousands of people had gotten her job back.
That campaign was proof of what happens when you combine the very latest communications technology with the traditional labour movement values of international solidarity.
Of course most LabourStart campaigns don’t end in victories. Sometimes you launch a campaign knowing you won’t win – not this time.
Today with over 60,000 people on our mailing lists, with a website in 23 languages and a network of nearly 650 volunteer correspondents who provide us with 90,000 news stories a year, LabourStart has realised its slogan which at first was really little more than a hope:
LabourStart. Where trade unionists start their day on the net.