|/* Written 10:35 AM Mar 9, 1999 by firstname.lastname@example.org in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "NY Labor On Line Conf Hits Home" ---------- */
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 99 00:08:00 -0000
From: Steve Zeltzer
NY Labor On Line Hits A Chord
by Steve Zeltzer
February 15, 1999
The first labor telecommunication conference on the East Coast
that brought together labor computer, video and radio activists was an
The conference (www.laboronline.org) which was held on Jan 15 &
16 at the Brooklyn College Graduate Center For Workers was sponsored by
not only a large number of New York area unions but by the Union
Producers and Programmers Network(UPPNET), LaborNet-IGC and the
Brooklyn College Center for Workers.
Many unionists who do similar work came together for the first
time.There was a recognition for not only for most of the participants
but speakers from the NY Central Labor Council that labor has to get on
board the technology movement.
One of the first panels was on the use of web pages by various
Internationals in the AFL-CIO. Web masters from UNITE, CWA, UAW, SEIU
and AFSCME discussed how they put material on their pages and the
It was clear from their structure that these are tightly
controlled either by lawyers having to approve everything that is put on
the pages or a very bureaucratic structure that limits the liveliness of
There was also a question from the Korean representative of
Labor News Production and Korean LaborNet about the interactive use of
their web pages for communication and democracy. All the participants
said that this either would not be allowed or that th ere was no plans
to make the sites interactive for the entire membership.
Some unions did report that they are developing mailing lists
but these were limited to only some officials.
One participant from England, Chris Bailey also raised the
question of the lack of material on the general strike against the
privatization of the telephone company in Puerto Rico. He questioned why
there was no information on the home page of the CWA de spite the fact
that this strike was also aimed at the non-union telecom company Sprint.
Again the explanation was that it was somewhere else on the site.
Another issue was the use of these web sites for all workers
including Spanish speaking workers. The UNITE web master said that the
pages were mostly used for clothing champaigns and all the pages were in
English. This obviously limited the web pages for
all those Spanish speaking members of UNITE.
Many of the most popular workshops were on the "How To Setup"
web sites, mailing lists and use the internet for research.
While the AFL-CIO National Communication Director Bill Mountjoy,
had been invited months earlier a day before the conference was to be
held he called and said he could not participate because the AFL-CIO was
not yet ready to announce their "new" inter net strategy. This he said
was a business driven plan to sell union made products on the net
similar to E-Com.
Despite the failure of the AFL-CIO to "officially" participate,
Denise Mitchel did send a representative of the New York office of
Abernathy and Anderson to attend and take notes. Mitchel who is director
of Public Relations of the AFL-CIO uses the non-un ion Abernathy and
Anderson advertising firm to do a large amount of public relations and
"organizing" for the AFL-CIO.
Michael Paluszek of the New York office attend the labor cable
workshop as well as other sessions and took extensive notes for
Mitchell. His card of course had no union bug but this might have been
because of their other "corporate work".
The market driven direction of the national AFL-CIO in
relationship to the media and communications of the AFL-CIO has also led
to grievances at their national office. John Sweeney and Mitchel have
contracted out entire sections of the AFL-CIO work including much of
the computer work to Abernathy and Anderson as well as other firms. In
fact the Newspaper Guild which represents staffers has filed grievances
against this practice.
It led to the situation that at the last AFL-CIO convention,
resolutions and press statements were unavailable on their web page
because they had to be gotten through the Abernathy and Anderson public
relations firm. Roy Abernathy by the way is the husba nd of Denise
The funding of television commercials by the AFL-CIO is also in
most cases funnelled through this firm and a number of other
internationals including the SEIU have used Abernathy & Anderson
non-union staffers to do organizing and public relations work.
One contentious issue was the failure of the AFL-CIO to develop
an independent labor cable channel and to support local labor media on
community access and radio with proper funding.
While the AFL-CIO recently announced it will be spending $40
million on the upcoming election cycle, none of this money is scheduled
to be spent on local and regional labor media run by unions and other
The conference was also held at the same time as the lock-out of
the NABET-CWA technicians. A delegation of 4 came to the conference to
learn about how they could further development of this technology on
their struggle. They had developed web pages for their locals, but the
national CWA web page had not been updated on their struggle since
August according to one member of New York NABET Local 16.
Many CWA members around the country were not even aware that
their sister CWA-NABET-ABC workers were locked out of their jobs.
The media blockade by the corporate media machines was discussed
at the conference extensively. While the conference itself was covered
by the Village Voice, it was ignored by most of the rest of the
One of the most interesting panels was on the organizing of
workers in new communication technology. A discussion developed on
whether web workers and others could be organized and Michael Blain from
the CWA supported WashTech reported on the work to or ganize contract
workers. Also Ken Hamidi of www.faceintel.org reported on the struggle
to defend the right to communicate by workers at Intel corporation and
the importance for labor in defending democracy on the internet.
Ken Hamidi had been fired by Intel after becoming disabled and
began to fight back by forming a committee called Former and Current
Employees of Intel. He had also sent out thousands of email messages to
Intel workers through the internet and was being sued by Intel for
invasion of privacy. Hamidi reported on the contradiction of Intel and
the US government that call for freedom of the internet in China but
refuse to support it here.
It was clear that most of labor is totally unaware of how these
attack on free speech on the net will impinge on their own right to
organize. Jonathan Tasini, president of the the National Writers
Union-UAW supported the need for labor to become more involved in these
issues. There were also participants from the AFL-CIO research
department who were seeking to get more information to develop a public
policy for the AFL-CIO.
On Friday night, a well attended labor film and video festival
was held and videos from around the world were also presented. These
videos were from Mexico, Korea, Japan, Australia and an international
labor video made by UPPNET on the International Day of Action for the
Liverpool Dockers.One of the most powerful videos was "The Crisis Of
Capital, The Hope Of Labor" by Korean Labor News Production in Seoul
(www.lnp.org). This video which was shot by workers themselves was
edited on digital equipment and included not only fine editing but music
from labor rap singers and musicians.
The international labor communication panel on Saturday brought
together labor communication activists from the UK, Korea and India.Eric
Lee of Labourstart in London lamented that the trade union movement has
not moved as fast as he hoped to develop labor communication for
solidarity and democracy.
One controversy arose when he attacked the new leader of the
Teamsters Jimmy Hoffa Jr.. One participant complained that this was
uncalled for since Hoffa as well had used email lists to organize
support in the election campaign. She also said she wanted to see all
information from all viewpoints and make her own choice.
One of the most significant developments was the discussion
about the need for a Labor Technolgy Magazine on line. One of
participants from the American Airlines Allied Pilots union reported on
how the company was now seeking to control the pilots by get ting them
to use the AA email system rather than the union system. This was
crucial for dispatch and vacation requests. If the union system was used
it would defend worker's rights while if the pilots were locked into
management's system it could be used to victimize them.
The issue of spying on workers and retaliation of workers
because of the use of the internet was also raised by a participant from
the IAM. More and more workers according to her were being fired and
threatened by their use of company email by airline ma nagement. The
need for the entire labor movement to become aware of these developments
was obvious to all the participants and plans were discussed about
launching the on line journal that could address these many questions.
Discussions also took place about an international conference on
the right to communicate in London possibly in June 1999 that Chris
Bailey (email@example.com) and Labor/Labournets APC will be organizing
as well as a LaborMedia conference that will be h eld in early November
99 in Seoul, Korea.
The sentiment of the participants was that there is a pressing
need to support all these endeavors within the world labor movement and
to certainly push the AFL-CIO to play a pro-active role in developing
and using these technologies for all of labor.