Sunday, July 18, 2010

Of Women and Wikis

A wiki is an online document or collection of documents that can be edited or changed by a number of people. A collaborative project of some kind.

On more than one occasion I’ve encouraged a visit to a wiki of one sort or another. The Canadian Activism Archives is one and Wikipedia another. In both cases the idea behind visiting is not just to access what’s there, but to record working people’s own experiences and opinions.

For the webbish amongst us, wikis embody the Web 2.0 ideal: a founder may have at some point defined the project and started handing out the passwords, but, at some point, a successful wiki takes on a life of its own. It becomes an ever-changing, fluid document that is the result of co-operation and collaboration amongst a group of people with a common interest.

There are others besides the propellor beanie crowd watching the phenomenon with interest. Historians, present and future, sure are. It wasn’t too long ago that the history of us (workers) was written using materials produced by them (bosses and friends). So, if you wanted to write a history of a strike in Halifax in the 1890s, you pretty much had to use sources like hostile newspapers and contemporary accounts by people who had the time to sit down and write about what was happening (likely not the strikers) and whose family circumstances were such that their account of what had happened would be passed down a few generations (fairly well-off).

Imagine what the history of your union would look like if it was based entirely on what the National Post had to say about it. Even if a history is written by a sympathetic historian, what gets covered (if not the how) will be determined by the source of information to a large extent.

A few brave souls in the history biz have made imaginative use of odd sources and given us “history from below,” which is wonderful stuff. But it, too, is often dependent on materials that weren’t consciously generated by workers: things like tax and court records.

Wikis like the Canadian Activism Archives and the Wikipedia (or at least its entries about workers, their unions and their struggles) are potentially the start of us creating our own histories, or at least the sources for the histories to come. We can speak directly to the future and for the record.

So, go to these wikis and make some history (literally): and

Now that the preachy bit is done, here are links to wiki services you can use (for free) to create a simple wiki: and and These wikis can be really helpful if you’re working in a group on a common project (such as conference or campaign planning, or newsletter or website creation – just about anything a committee would be responsible for) and are having trouble meeting as much as is needed to get the work done. Give one a try.

Members don’t need to be in the same room at the same time to contribute to the project, so participation is easier for people on different shifts or in different geographical areas. And, unlike a series of e-mails, there’s no confusion about where the discussion is at. Even better, no long silences when someone asks, “Who’ll make the changes to the draft?” The discussion is the draft and, when the discussion is done, so is the agenda, minutes, article, plan, proposal or whatever else you might be working on together.


With IWD upon us it’s time to point out one of the richer and better thought-out bits of the Internet that relates to women and their work.

The Gender and Work Database consists of six modules or themes (health care, migration, precarious employment, technology, unions and unpaid work). You can search the database on any of those themes and access the research, a thesaurus (particularly useful for non-academics) and stats it contains or directs you to.

The GWD is (mostly) a York University project. Some of the names connected with it will ring bells and say something about the quality of the materials: Leah Vosko (Director), Pat Armstrong, Barb Cameron, Kate Laxer; Laurell Ritchie and many, many others.

I can’t recall ever seeing a resource as rich as this online. Or as accessible. Even if you don’t have a need or an interest, this is a site worth playing with. But, since you’re reading this, you have both, so go here ASAP:


The TUC (Trade Union Congress) in Britain recently held a conference on the future of unions (and of minor things like the shape of work and such). Great conference (hello Canadian Labour Congress), and, better yet, it has spawned a website that is not just a detailed report on the conference, but an ongoing and public conversation on the issues raised there. Check it out at:

No comments: