Online syndication opens new possibilities for union rights campaigners

When we think of how we can use the Internet in the service of trade union rights, we’re usually thinking of three things:
1. Provision of information through websites
2. Online protest and solidarity tools such as email generators and petitions
3. Email lists for spreading the word
All of these are essential tools in any online campaign. They are used very effectively by campaigning organisations around the world. But here’s the problem: to know about these campaigns, you either have to visit the campaigning organisation’s website, or be on its mailing list.

What if you’re just an ordinary member of the labour movement, a trade unionist who cares about union rights issues, but you don’t regularly visit the websites of groups like ICTUR, or even LabourStart?
Wouldn’t it be far better to bring news of union rights campaigns to you — to your own union’s website, even your local or branch union site?
That’s the thinking behind LabourStart’s new ActNOW Wire, launched in January 2003.
LabourStart has been engaged in online campaigns since 1998, and systematised these in July 2002 with the launch of the ActNOW pages. These pages give people a simple, fast means to add their names to international trade union campaigns, and this has resulted in over 17,000 protest messages being sent to governments and employers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea, Indonesia, Argentina, the USA, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Norway, Australia, Thailand and Belarus.
In some cases, the campaign had an immediate ‘viral’ effect, meaning that news about it was transmitted rapidly by activists throughout the net. In the case of the Congo campaign, more than 3,000 messages protesting the arrests of sugar workers union officials were sent in only a few days — even though fewer than 3,000 people had been invited to send such messages. Obviously, news of the campaign was spreading far beyond the original constituency (the people on LabourStart’s mailing list).
The challenge was to expand visibility of such campaigns by ensuring that they would appear on other trade union sites, which is why the ActNOW Wire is so important.
To use the ActNOW wire, all webmasters need to do is copy and paste a single line of code into their websites. No technical skill is required.
Within days of its launch, several dozen websites were reporting that they had incorporated this feature in their home pages. Those sites included a local auto workers union in Canada, the trade union of Tartu University in Estonia, SIPTU (the largest trade union in Ireland), a left-wing party in Norway, and the Scotland region of UNISON.
As I write these words, the ActNOW Wire is displaying six appeals — in support of the Shangri-la hotel and Honda workers in Indonesia; opposing “anti-subversion” legislation in Hong Kong; protesting anti-union repression at the Doosan company in South Korea and supporting the release of trade union prisoners in that country; and in support of the striking workers at Azteca Foods in the USA.
As new campaigns are created on LabourStart, they are automatically and immediately included in the ActNOW Wire, thereby expanding the reach of the campaigns.
The technology we are using to create the ActNOW Wire is extremely simple and won’t be giving any trade secrets away by saying that all it involves is using JavaScript — just a few lines of code. Any campaigning organisation or trade union can take advantage of the same technology to created syndicated content for other websites, just as we have done.
By bringing the online campaigns to the workers themselves, to their own websites in Ireland and Estonia and Australia and a half-dozen other countries, we are expanding the potential audience for online campaigning. We are making those campaigns more effective, and educating trade union members — who may never have heard about LabourStart or ICTUR — about union rights.
To learn more about the ActNOW Wire, go to: