Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Labour's Global Photo Album

LabourStart's Union group on the photosharing site (that's right, no 'e') just hit the 400 members mark. That means there are 400 trade unionists around the world with photography as a hobby who are posting their work to our group.

At almost the same time we saw (literally) the 3,701st photo posted to the group, the latest being a shot of Kamal Abu Eita announcing the formation of the Independent General Union of the Real Estate Tax Collectors in Egypt. I’m mentioning this because this photo illustrates (pardon the play on words) the geographical diversity of the subjects of the photos in the group. Unlike much of what’s on Flickr, our group isn’t quite so focussed on the global north.

If you haven’t already visited the group, do so at:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Size Matters - Really

We often use the internet to move large files around. Many of us use mail servers that are limited in their ability to handle those files. Or we just don’t want to have to deal with sending the same large file out, over and over again.

I wouldn’t use it for anything confidential or time-sensitive (just in case), but File Flyer is a free service that allows you to post a file out there in cyberspace. You then give File Flyer a list of e-mail addresses and those folks are told where to go in order to download your file. As far as I can tell there’s no inappropriate use of the provided e-mail addresses.

Monday, December 15, 2008

CAW Campaign to Save 400,000 Jobs

The CAW has asked LabourStart to run an e-campaign as part of their effort to save 400,000 auto industry related jobs in Canada. 30 seconds (or less if you have participated in one of our past campaigns) is all it takes to send a message to the Prime Minister.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Online Ed Tool

We don’t see enough union education and training online. It should be a natural for us as online education leaps with a single bound many of the obstacles (cost, distance, schedules) traditional union education methods face.

With web-comfort and access rising in the past few years the remaining major obstacles are organizational inertia (ahem!) and clunky yet wildly software.

Moodle intends to change that. It is, of course, open source software. It’s been around since 2002 but is really taking off. There’s a large base of users who are continuously fine-tuning it. Check out Moodle’s blog for an impressive list of organizations using it for online education.

Online Bargaining and Other Surveys

I keep returning to the theme that if members deal with their curling club online, they expect the same accessibility from their union. A key point of contact/communication for most local unions is the setting of bargaining demands and priorities.

Meetings, phone trees and all that remain crucial, in large part because we need to be as interactive and as personal as possible if we’re going to organize in the process, not just get answers to questions. But paper surveys never really offered that opportunity, so they’re easily replaced.

I know of some large local unions that have had their own online survey systems in place for a while. This option is slowing percolating down to smaller and small unions as reasonably-priced commercial services become available. By far the most popular of the commercial services is Survey Monkey:

Better yet, some national unions are starting to offer a service like this. Use it.

And think about other ways in which you can use surveys to organize inside your union.

Free Membership Records Management Software is a website recommended here in the past for a bunch of reasons. Here’s another: a free open source membership records management system for unions with less than 5,000 members.

The system is being developed by two members. Discussions on the site had identified the need for local unions with smallish memberships to have access to an expensive way to manage member records.

MemBrain should be ready for release by the end of the year. The developers are looking for volunteers to test the software before then. If your union has about 5,000 members or less, how'd you like to become a guinea pig in helping them develop the system? In return, you get a fully-registered copy of the membership system and the code access necessary to developing it further. For more information on the MemBrain project, and how it might help you in your work, contact

And if you’re not ready to become a beta tester, look for the first wide release of MemBrain in early 2009 at

Union Bloggers Starter Kit

A while ago I mentioned the TIGMOO British union blog aggregator. Canadian labour blogs cover a lot of ground and deserve an aggregator like TIGMOO. Examples are so numerous and the quality of the postings so impressive I thought seriously about not providing any examples, just because I didn’t want to leave anything or anyone out.

But, at the risk of p*&&ing some of you off, here are few URLs that will take you to interesting examples of what unions and workers are doing with this mostly free online tool. I’ve used as examples blogs I’ve watched develop almost from when they were created, so apologies for the CUPE/LabourStart focus..

Larry Hubich is a LabourStart correspondent. In his spare time he’s the President of the SFL and a blogger whose postings get a lot of attention from the mainstream media in Saskatchewan, particularly as the SFL led the fight to turn back the Saskatchewan Party’s legislative agenda against workers:

A Vancouver CUPE local (“the brave and beautiful Vancouver Public Library workers “) involved in long and eventually successful struggle used a blog to keep members updated on bargaining and strike issues/procedures and such:

Note the resources listing along the right side of the page. Videos, photos on Flickr, documents, links to other local blogs (a convention blog among them) and shortcuts to blog entries by subject are all listed.

CUPE 1356 represents service and security workers at York University in Toronto. Content on the local’s blog is pretty eclectic. Everything from news of other university sector settlements through notices from the employer, to health news and tips for the local’s older members.

And, once again, check out the shortcuts listed on the right side of the page. Members with internet access will find answers to a lot of the ‘usual’ questions here. And, better yet, they can do things like support other workers.

Note too that the CUPE 1356 blog lets a number of ‘authors’ add content. So it’s updated more frequently and reflects a broader range of interests.

The apparent sophistication of these blogs can be discouraging: can anyone really get on the web and start blogging about bargaining? About health and safety issues? About your cousin’s wedding? Can any of us have a sharp-looking a blog as these? As resource-rich?


With minimal computer skills you can go to the site below and have a reasonable blog up and running in 20 minutes. Or your money back (no risk in that on my part, the service is free).

You even get help with formatting and designing your blog. You’ll have a choice of designs, you pick the one you like, including colours.

Want to change the design after you’ve gone to all the trouble of adding content? No problem. A few clicks and it’s done.

In fact it’s so simple that the only real problem you’ll likely run into is a shortage of content. If you’ve created a union blog and told people it’s there and launched it with a bit of a splash, not updating it regularly afterwards is gonna cost you most of your readers.

Some content you are just going to have to generate your self. But if you’re thinking about a blog, then you likely have some in mind, almost ready to go. In fact it’s likely material you would be putting out anyway in the form of updates, newsletters and the text of media releases and such.

But do be forewarned on one point: at the audience’s end there will be an appetite for regular updates and you’ll have to think hard and mebbe consult even harder to determine what frequency that is, exactly. Weekly? Quite possibly. Daily: probably not, but when things are poppin’, for sure. Monthly? At least, and that’s likely too infrequent.

You can ‘borrow’ content from other sources. Photos on Flickr can be made to automatically appear on your blog (see for info). You can link to You Tube videos. You can add newswires like LabourStart’s or the ones many national unions now produce.

You can link to other sites and to other blogs. Add a few bits of text about why you think your audience would want to read something located elsewhere and you’ve just added new content to your site.

One small cautionary note: remember there are legal implications to your content. Not just the questions of libel and all that (don’t say anything on your blog you wouldn’t say in a newsletter and you’re fine), but also those of copyright. If you’re using someone else’s work either just link to it or ask permission.

Better yet, look for material that isn’t copyrighted but instead is available under a Creative Commons licence. Credit the creator and you can pretty much use CC licensed material anywhere, so long as you’re not making a profit from it.

For more info on the Creative Commons concept see the, you guessed it, CC blog:

The last warning about blogging is the best bit. It’s addictive. So if you’ve budgeted an hour a week for updating your local’s or caucus’ blog, instead set aside about five. You’ll use them. All.

Me and Facebook: An Update

Since the review of FB appeared in Our Times, I snuck back on to keep in touch with a grandkid who had moved to the UK for work. It wasn’t long before the bug got me though, and I got booted-off for the third, and last (I swear!) time.

This time it was support for the striking eggheads at York U. I posted info about a the CUPE e-campaign on the walls of as many union-related groups as I could find.

Facebook figures that was me spamming, even though the groups on whose walls I posted the info were all union-focused and they received no complaints. So gone I was.

Speaking of the Bad Book, we’ve been reminded that Facebook is as good an organizing tool for the anti-union folks (in this case business students at York U) as it is for us. Aside from the groups themselves, there have been several (thankfully small) anti-strike rallies organized using FB. As well as a couple of technically impressive blogs.

SoliComm for Searches!

Funny how when you search for something union-wise using Google, you get adverts on the right side of your screen from companies promising to keep you union-free, or which will
happily recruit, train and deliver scabs into your workplace.

Yum. Just what a local union activist wants to see first thing in the morning.

There is a union-friendly search engine alternative called SoliComm, which has a bunch of cool features like discussion forums and support for multiple languages. Brought to us by the good folks at ACTRAV, the Worker Activities Programme section of the ILO (International Labour
Organization), the project is headed by Marc Bélanger. When a Canadian Union of Public Employees staffer, Marc was responsible for SOLINET, the first real international union presence on the Internet.

If SoliComm does for web searches what SOLINET did for online union communications, at your retirement lunch you’ll be able say you were there when the ball first started rolling.

Give it a whirl at

And then make it the search site your members can access through your local’s website.

2009 Labour Website of the Year Contest

The “Labour Website of the Year” contest, which LabourStart runs each year, draws everyone’s attention to particularly interesting uses of the web by unions. Global, national and local unions participate. Even some individual members and caucuses.

The number of votes each site receives determines the winner. This encourages unions to collect their members’ addresses and mobilize them in support of their website.

I almost hate to admit it, but it’s amazing what a little competition can do! I swear, some unions get into the online campaigning line only because of this contest.

Our hope is that the experience of organizing their members for our contest will encourage unions to think more about running online campaigns of their own. And the contest can also draw your attention to fine examples of union sites – imitation being the most productive form of flattery.

To nominate a site for this year's edition of the contest go to:

E-Recording Our History

The labour movement is more often making history than celebrating it. Making our history accessible is one thing, making that historical record something we can all contribute to is something the web (in it’s 2.0 version) has made possible. is the online place to record the history of your union’s struggles (or anyone else’s for that matter).

The site is a Wiki, meaning (like the online encyclopedia it is a collaborative effort amongst everyone who signs up. You can not only enter information about, say, your local’s recent strike, but you can contribute to articles on broader topics. So, for example, if your union has recently had an organizing or health and safety victory, you can enter the story of those victories in topic areas covering union organizing or workplace health and safety. Link the stories of your union’s struggles on your site.

Net Neutrality - Why We Should Care

Net neutrality. You may have heard the term, but if you’re like most of us, you shut down as it sounds a tad techie. But really, the concept is both simple and scary: Internet service providers (ISPs) want to (if they aren’t already) give priority to different kinds of data traffic. That’s the simple bit. The scary? Right now when you request a web page or send or receive an e-mail, your request is treated in the same way as all others. That may change and we may see certain kinds of data get extra speed because somebody is paying a little extra to the ISP.

Several unions, with the National Union of Public and General Employees leading the way, are pressing the labour movement’s interest in this issue. “There is a generation of young workers who have grown up surfing the web,” says Len Bush, a NUPGE national representative. “Non-discriminatory access to broadband services is an important issue to people who use the Internet for almost every aspect of their economic, social and cultural life. Using the Internet is already a necessity for the union when communicating with these young workers. Net neutrality is an issue that is important to these workers, and will be necessary for the union to reach out to them."

It’s not just important, it’s now. Britain’s BBC has been threatened with having its extensive (and free) news resources relegated to the “bus lane” if it doesn’t pay a premium to Virgin Media.

If we can’t preserve net neutrality then we’ll one day be using an Internet where those who can pay will get their information out there, while those who can’t (unions, workers and our allies) won’t. In other words, the Internet will be as union-unfriendly as today’s newspapers are. It’s as simple as that.

The Coalition is where to go to join the fight for equal access. Get your union onboard before it’s too late.

Podcasting Intro for Trade Unionists

[Appeared first in print in Our Times]

Podcasting is probably the online tool we’re least likely to use in our union work. But that also means that when we do use it, we get a lot of attention. Here’s a podcast starter’s kit for you.


Podcasts are audio files that are made available on a regular (daily, weekly, monthly) basis. You can register your podcast with a service like iTunes, and then each time you post a new edition to your website (or rented space elsewhere), the people who have subscribed to it through iTunes will automatically get a copy of it.

Think of podcasts as radio shows that come at you from your computer rather than your radio and you won’t go far wrong.

There are union pods out there, but they’re pretty few and far between. Podcasts require a lot of work and an ongoing commitment, so they have tended to come and go. They disappear either because they were created for a specific situation (the wonderfully creative lockout pods produced by Canadian Media Guild members at the CBC for example), or because the volunteer producers just ran out of steam.

A notable exception has been the audio pod produced by a member of the Electrical Trades Union in Australia called, inevitably, The Spark. But even The Spark is, after three years, being produced much less frequently now. (See Still racing along with as many as four video episodes a month is the Union Show, produced by Phil Cleary in Victoria Australia as a TV show and then podded via iTunes. (See

Less ambitious have been the pods that pop up for a specific purpose and which are intended from the get-go to disappear once the need for them does. Podcasts to do with bargaining, strikes/lockouts, campaign, conventions and elections (union and otherwise) are all doable. And they are easy and cheap as far as technology goes: all you need is content. Still, it’s best to have a team rather than relying on one person to do it all.

Is there anyone who doesn’t own an MP3 player these days? Nothing like taking a bargaining update to the gym or a picket line or listening to it on the bus on the way to work in the morning. Especially if it’s blended-in with some interviews with co-workers, maybe some music for the line, a cheering line or two from the national president, and a Q&A segment for members on what the new collective agreement means to them.

Think of it as a membership meeting members can turn on and turn off at their convenience over the course of a day. Just make sure you pay enough attention to the format and content that it doesn’t get turned off and left that way.

For more details on webcasting of various kinds check out the Webcast Academy at You’ll find free information, tutorials and discussion forums, lots of open source software reviews and links, and even live online tutorials.

Once you’ve browsed the academy and have an idea what your podcast will sound like (or even look like: a video podcast is an option for the ambitious), you’ll want the software needed to get started; something that allows you to manage the recording as it is taking place, and then to edit the results.

Audacity ( open source software, free and with a large community of users who can provide tips and tricks when you start to push the limits of what it’s capable of. The developers even provide free online tutorials for using Audacity at

Like much open source software these days, this isn’t a second-best option to a commercial product. Audacity has won awards for “best product” in its class in direct competition with commercial software.

Once you have the software, all you need is a decent microphone (average cost about $20), and a laptop (desktops are a little awkward for those “streeter” interviews) or an MP3 recorder.

One obvious use that podcasts haven’t been put to by unions is education and training. If you know of an experiment along these lines, please get in touch.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farzad May Hang Today

This morning we received news that jailed Iranian teacher union activist Farzad Kamangar may be hanged within the next few hours.

According to the Education International, he has been taken from his cell in Tehran's Evin prison in preparation for execution. The guards have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him, calling him a martyr.

LabourStart's urgent action is now live, here:

UPDATE: we (LabourStart) have been having some technical problems as a result of the hight volume of traffic to our site in response to this appeal.

You can also send a message via the EI (the global union federation for education workers) website at:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

CUPE 3903 Strike Site Sideswiped

Chris Lawson at CUPE sent the following along. Lesson: grab all the domains you can that might be used against you, while you can.

Please help CUPE 3903. They're in week two of a strike and they've been sideswiped by someone who registered and pointed it at the university web site.

While they pursue their complaint with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, they're looking to improve their ranking on Google, so that people searching for information about the York University strike find their information, not the university's, or the anti-strike student groups'.

>> Additionally, another way to boost search engine ranking is from
>> inbound links. The more websites that link to the
>> better... and even more than quantity of links are quality. If we
>> can get a couple of very popular sites to link to us the more google
>> will like our new page! So get the word out!

Please put a link to the real CUPE 3903 site ( on your website, using "York University strike information" as the link text. Not sure how to do that? Take the following code:

York University strike information and get your web worker to put it on your page.

Thanks for your help!

York Strike Updates

For updates on the CUPE 3902 strike see the union's strike site at:

York University strike information

If you're a blogger or websteward, add the York Uni Strike newswire to your site by following the simple instructions at:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say "Bah, Humbug" to Exploitive Presents

This is about as christmasie as I can get...originally published at Straight Goods in 2007.

Make sure that what you buy was fairly made and fairly traded.

Surveys consistently suggest that Canadians are willing to pay higher prices for goods they know are produced fairly — a fair price being paid for goods produced in a sustainable fashion by workers paid a living wage in safe conditions. Except, maybe, at this time of year.

The holidays are supposed to make us all feel warm and fuzzy... about moving lots of money from our pockets into retailers' cash registers. Advertisers, retailers and major manufacturers count on sentimentality and peer pressure to override concerns about ethics and the human and environmental effects of our purchasing decisions.

Between Fair Trade Organizations and the No Sweat campaigns, you can find a lot of trendy clothes and shoes online.

Blizzards of ads cajole us to find the best deals on the most stuff, on the theory that a good deal on some stuff will allow us to get more stuff overall. People who would normally never darken the doors of a Wal-Mart feel the pressure to buy and give lots (especially to children, teaching them to consume lots as early as possible) within a limited budget. Somehow even with some really good deals on all the stuff we buy, we wind up spending more than we expected to.

Recent alarms about toxic toys have highlighted questions about working conditions as well as product safety. Many parents, especially, are seeking safe and perhaps less commercial alternatives for gifts this year. In response, unions and non-profit agencies are suggesting several ways for consumers to enjoy a guilt-free holiday season.

OXFAM Canada and other international development NGOs have been slowly building the Fair Trade market in this country for decades. But it is Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit Fair Trade Organization (FTO) founded by American Mennonites in 1946, that has come closest to making fair trade an issue in North America for 'non-ideological' consumers. Ten Thousand Villages has grown to include 160 stores in North America. It is riding a wave. Well, perhaps 'ripple' is a better word, given the size of the capitalist ocean.

Some estimates put the growth sales rate for Fair Trade products at 60 percent per year. Next step, perhaps: a fair trade purchasing policy for Parliament (as there is for the EU Parliament).
Part of their success comes from steady expansion of their product lines. Fair trade has come a long way from when all right-thinking folk would feel the need to buy Nicaraguan coffee in support of the Sandinistas, even when their tastes secretly ran more to tea and hot chocolate.

Browse your local or online Fair Trade retailer. There's no longer a need to choose between your conscience and the look on the recipient's face when they open your present. The clothing segment of the market has grown beyond peasant skirts and hemp caftans, to include items that would look at home in corporate boardrooms (if they ever got there).

Even the lucrative toy market is seeing some penetration by Fair Trade manufacturers. And no, before you ask: we're not talking about 'rustic' wooden trains and rag dolls, but products that compete with the more commercial stuff.

Chinese-made toys hold about 85 percent of the Canadian toy market. With the recent concerns about cheap toys from China (even if most of the decisions about what to put in and on them was made at corporate HQs in the US), toys alone may be on the verge of making a break-through for the Fair Trade movement.

Given that the worldwide 'traditional' toy market (excluding electronic games and such) is valued at $65 billion a year, even a small dent in the market would be a huge boost for FTOs.
Most FTOs deal with suppliers who are essentially self-employed. They produce local crafts from local materials. That doesn't help you much if the grandkids are demanding the latest in trendy gear and you suspect that a nice hand-made pair of sandals won't substitute for the latest running shoes.

Fortunately, the No-Sweat movement (think of it as a subset of the FTOs) has had more than enough of an impact on clothing producers in particular that you can find the right gear.
There's still some debate about the effects of the agreements Global Union Federations have negotiated with companies like Nike, but you and your favourite search engine won't have any trouble finding clothing for young adults that is union-made (a pretty reliable indicator).

Admittedly, stores that sell entirely Fair Trade stock are still few and far between right now. If you live outside a major city (or just want to avoid the crowds), you can find Fair Trade outlets online. See some suggestions below.

Bear in mind that, online or in person, caveat emptor still applies. Canada has no regulations governing company claims to be selling Fair Trade goods. The industry remains largely self-regulating. Buy from a reputable retailer and look for the logos of Transfair Canada and the Fairtrade Labelling Organization International.

Don't be completely turned off if the potential gift you're looking at doesn't bear one of those endorsements. Getting certified as Fair Trade can be expensive for small producers and can take some time. If the retailer is reputable and can explain the lack of approval, go ahead and buy. The (fair) profits from the sale may help bring approval a little closer.

The Canadian Labour Congress produces a handy guide to seat-free shopping, available online. OXFAM can help too. And the Brits, long-time leaders in the Fair Trade movement internationally, have lots of info online.

Give yourself a present this year. Instead of exhaustion and credit card overload, celebrate the season with a bit of smug self-congratulation.

After all, you deserve a little something from yourself for the holidays.

Derek Blackadder is a National Representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Ontario, and Senior Correspondent for, the international trade union news and campaigns website. He gets very anxious even thinking about Christmas. This year his family are all getting donations to Horizons, an international development NGO he approves of, as holiday presents.

For more information please use the following links and the ones below.

Related addresses:

eMail 1:
URL 1:
URL 2:
URL 3:

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Union is a Right, Not a Luxury

From Eric Lee at LabourStart:

I doubt if many of you regularly buy leather goods sold by Prada, LouisVuitton, Mulberry and Nicole Farhi. These are luxury brands, priced toohigh for ordinary working people like us.
But the people who make those products are often low-paid, non-unionworkers. When those workers stand up and fight for their rights, it'sour responsibility to stand with them.

Earlier this year, hundreds of workers at the Turkish leathermanufacturer DESA -- which produces for all the luxury brands mentionedabove -- joined a union. The reaction of the company was fierce: 44union members were sacked, and 50 more compelled to quit the union.
Nevertheless, the workers have stood firm, holding daily protestsoutside the factory. Local police have been called in to arrest them,and bribes offered to union leaders to call off the demonstrations.Families have been threatened.

Workers at DESA need a union urgently. They complain of poverty wages,long hours and terrible health and safety conditions.

Please take a moment to send off a message to DESA's customers -- theluxury fashion brands -- telling them that you support the DESA workersin their struggle:

Tell them that a union is right, not a luxury.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Labour board rules against Wal-Mart

Very few things in life are more satisfying (and surprising) than an adventurous labour board:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Propellerheads Unite!

LabourTech 2008 (see is great fun. Some wonderful workshops judging by the comments I'm hearing, as well as my own experience. And, almost better, lots of networking. In the halls, over coffee, over (inevitably) beer, and of course dinner.

Personally, I was expecting something like 60-75 folks. Instead we have about twice that. Lots of new faces, lots of faces that can now be summoned up to go with the e-mail addresses, and lots of young faces.

There are geezers like me here, but the median age of the participants must be 15 years less than that of your average union convention.

If you aren't here, you should be. Start planning for next year.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Set a New, New Record

In their last strike at York University these workers set a record for determination by wearing their employer down over 11 weeks - the longest uni strike in English Canadian history.

Help make this one the shortest by sending a message to the York U admin:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Labour Photo of the Year Winners Announced

Robert Day, a branch secretary with the British public sector PCS in Birmingham, is the winner of the first-ever Labour Photo of the Year competition organized by LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement.

Day’s photo — entitled ‘Trade Unions are Fun!’ — shows trade unionists marching through Birmingham, led by banners and drummers, on 24 April 2008. See his photo and those of the other finalists below.

Almost 3,000 LabourStart readers from around the world voted in the competition. Five finalists were chosen from 101 entries by a panel of three labour photographers.

The final five photos are being made available to union publications worldwide, and will also appear in the gallery on Union Island on Second Life and also as featured photographs on the LabourStart main page.

Runners up included Brooke Anderson, Organizing Director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) in Oakland, California (USA); Khaled Hasan from Bangladesh; Gerardo Raffa from UNIA, a union in Switzerland; and Hossam el-Hamalawy from Egypt.

The four runners-up will receive a one-year account, the winner a two-year account.

Visit the contest group on and see all the entries here.

And join the online labour photo pool on

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Service Workers on Strike

One of the finalists in this year's LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest. By Brooke Anderson.

Trade unions are fun!

Trade unions are fun!, originally uploaded by robertday154.

One of the finalists in this year's LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest. By Robert Day.

Swiss Railway Demonstration

One of the finalists in this year's LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest. By Integrierte Tomate.

Real Estate Tax Collectors' Strike إضراب موظفي الضرائب العقارية

One of the finalists in this year's LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest. Hossam el-Hamalawy.

Freedom of Labour

Freedom of a Labour, originally uploaded by khaled_chobi.

One of the finalists in this year's LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest. By Khaled Chobi.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wal-Mart Closes Second Unionized Shop


For full coverage in both languages, see LabourStart's Canada page:

Test of My Flickr-to-Blog Facility, But Also A Fond Memory

IMG_3721, originally uploaded by dblackadder.

While waiting for friend Eric to show up so we could amble through Highgate Cemetery in search of the original burial spot of Karl Marx and Family (they were moved to the memorial location years after Karl croaked). A very fine day, a nice beer and the prospect of a visit with a bunch of dead commies (for those who haven't been, the memorial is surrounded by the graves of comrades) of those silly but very pleasant memories.

Thanks to Mac Urata for the directions to the original burial site.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Solidarity: Supporting Migrant Workers Organizing

Conference in Ottawa that includes a short (ha!) bit by your humble blogger re. online tools.

Details here:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I Will Not Obsess, I Will Not Obsess, I Will Not Obsess...

Following John Wood's tip, I've done one motivational (or something) poster, am trying to limit myself to no more than 20 a on the image to enlarge it.

Australian Workers Union Website

Very impressive, features-rich:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I should Just Give Up and Leave the Field to John Wood

There are days when I think the only purpose my blog serves is to point people to other blogs.

This is one of those days.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Facebook Eat S^%t and D^e!

Less than 6 hours after re-joining the Bad Book, there I was, idly amusing myself collecting friends while on a conference call and it appeared: the dreaded 'stop being so friendly or we'll give you the boot' warning.

Minutes later, after I stopped friending, I received the same warning; only this time it's because I'm leaving too many messages on walls and such in regard to the upcoming LabourTech conference.


Ahhhh....just like old times. :-)

For more info on LabourTech 2008 see:

I Like My Crow Well-done

I'm back on Facebook. I needed an account to demonstrate how trolling there can be useful for union organizers (mostly in the North American sense).

Friend me, I can't friend you or I'll run out of pseudonyms.

World Day for Decent Work

If you missed it, shame on you, but then you were probably working too hard/fast/long or looking for an opportunity for any kind of work.

I found a few moments, whilst sitting at my desk, to join in with some of the leafletters and picketers and shouters and...well, you can get pretty creative when you can morph your body into a lean mean propaganda machine...on Second Life. The Union Island thereon to be specific.

I still lean towards thinking that SL is useful as a picket location for workers with an employer established there but that for the rest of us it's something of a circle-youknowwhat.

Still, it was fun and I had a chance to 'see' a couple of UNI and TUC folks I haven't 'seen' since the last SL demo. Mmmm...mebbe that means I'm going over the edge SL-wise. Over the top???
The day wasn't completely geeky: Meena Varma (Meena Turbo), Director of the Dalit Solidarity Network gave a talk on Union Island on the challenges facing casteless people in India in finding decent work. Meena's talk and a general report on the SL demo today are available on Second Life Unions at:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Me, Ashamed and Thinking About Permission

An example of how pegging your work with a Creative Commons license can lead to unexpected and perhaps at least potentially unpleasant uses down the road.

The photo was taken during a factory inspection in Nicaragua a few years ago.

Equally disturbing but more to my taste ego-wise, the folks at Pellegrino have asked to use some of my photos of an Italian trip a few years ago.

Sigh. Is that a bird? A plane? No, it's my principles flying out the window.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The New CAW Website

The CAW has recently (5 years or so) been a bit of a trend-setter in its use of the web. Website-based video for example.

So the new CAW website is worth pondering over:

A major shift in a number of ways. Take a gander.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

William Gibson Meets Ginger Goodwin

A little dated almost a year after it first appeared in print, but with the Second Life demo for decent work (part of the global campaign for the same) coming up in about a week...

I ran across a story on the other day that made me think some one had taken the brains of two Canadians, one well-known and read and alive, and the other not-so alive, but just as deserving and had thrown them both into a bender.

William Gibson the speculative fiction writer and inventor of cyberspace, and Ginger Goodwin, mine union organizer, shot in the back while viciously attacking the police.


I am getting old. I can tell: mostly because I keep finding more opportunities in life to say ‘I am getting old’. The biggest and best of those was when a granddaughter picked me up at the airport and drove me home.

The latest came when I stumbled across a story about 9000 Italian IBM workers, members of the RSU, taking job action against their employer – virtually.

As in online. Not real. Using little cartoon-like characters to represent real workers. This just a few years after I wrote an article saying such things would never happen, that organizing workers requires face-to-face contact.

Turns out that may be true of me my generation, but what’s coming up behind may have a different take on things. Note I resisted the temptation to make reference to ‘whippersnappers’.

There will be picket lines (though mebbe no oil drum heaters), leaflets for shoppers and other workers - everything you’d expect in a strike. Just no people. But lots and lots of avatars, because this is happening (if it can be said to be happening at all), in Second Life.

Second Life, for those of you who don’t know, is a virtual world in which 9 million users adopt facsimiles of themselves called avatars. Avatars then live out their lives at the direction of the users, interacting in most if not all the same ways their users do (so far as I know actual reproduction isn’t possible). But anonymously.

To the point where you can now buy real estate on Second Life, undertake all kinds of financial transactions find romance and figure out if you really could have made it as a painter.

You can also, now get this, visit a real embassy. Several in fact, with more coming. Get a visa, plan a vacation. Or take a university course.

While technically a computer game, Second Life resembles the Pong of my day the way I resemble whatever it was that first climbed out of the primal ooze.

Except mebbe a bit around the eyes…

Second Life has become so popular that a wide spectrum of corporations have established themselves there, the better to advertise themselves and their cutting-edginess, and to sell stuff to the online-addicted.

IBM is one. A big one. It has reportedly been spending big time on the establishment of a variety of online presences. On Second Life IBM has it’s own virtual island.

Corporations on Second Life actually use the environment for what they consider to be meetings that are more productive than conference calls or video conferencing. They sell stuff. They test stuff (especially graphic-intensive applications). And they advertise stuff. Oh boy, do they advertise stuff.

So what is this? The shape of strikes to come? A publicity stunt? Just a way of avoiding taking real action? Or just one more reminder from the Universe that I am getting old?

It’s perhaps all those things, but mostly it’s a case of whiplash for IBM. If transnational corporations like IBM have invested heavily in a presence on Second Life, then the workers would be stupid to ignore the possibilities for getting their employer’s attention it presents.

IBM can run, but it can’t hide.

Transnational virtual corps spawn transnational virtual unions. IBM doesn’t play nice with its workers; their union organizes something embarrassing on Second Life. And for some corporations it may actually be possible to have an economic impact on their business. If they are well established on Second Life (or any other social networking site), dependent on it for a significant chunk of sales or advertising or meeting time, then a virtual strike like this could have an impact back here in the real world of profits and share prices.

A virtual job action also the potential to make building support for unions, especially unions representing professional workers, workers with a long tradition of workplace conflict.

Better yet, potential for organizing high-tech home workers and telecommuters. These are workers that unions have traditionally had a hard time reaching and organizing. It’s hard to convince workers like these that what they are doing by organizing and mobilizing is real when you have nothing real for them to do. . As unreal as second Life is, the action the RSU members are taking against IBM is very real. Not concrete mebbe, but real.

For workers in a sector not traditionally union, the RSU is organizing a kind of job action that allows workers (if they work at it just a bit) to stay anonymous. They don’t, unless they want to, have to make it easy to identify who is behind their avatar. As a way to build confidence amongst workers who need and want to take that first action against an unfair employer this may have some advantages. Start out slow and work your way to more direct actions.

In and of itself it’s unlikely a virtual job action will bring IBM to its knees. Ten years from now I’ll be even older, both granddaughters will have driver’s licences, and perhaps the odds will have shifted, but not yet.

But the confidence in themselves, their co-workers and their union, that an action like this could create might just make possible and successful more, dare I say it, traditional, forms of job action.

Workers are not stupid. They may be in the position of having to react to their employers’ actions, but when you react you go looking for new weak points. IBM’s Second Life image may be that point. We’ll see. But if it isn’t, who cares? The workers may be, as a result, just a little more ready to move on to actions out here in meatspace.

Look at their press releases and statements: nothing new in their goals, incremental pressure on IBM to meet some well-defined and limited goals. With the exception of the details of the action that’s planned, there’s nothing exceptional in what the workers want (respect), or in how IBM has behaved (badly). Just in how the union is reacting.

Like the Borg, unions are adapting.

Ginger Goodwin might not approve (though William Gibson sure would), if he understood, but if you work for a tech company that does business in non-places like Second Life, you gotta fight them on their ground.

Even if that ground doesn’t really exist.

But the really nice thing about a virtual strike is that even if a car on a picket line hits your avatar, even if the riot squad shows up, you don’t wake up in hospital or spend an evening trying to get the stinging to stop.

Stay tuned. We’re going to see more of this.

For what seems to be the first story on the virtual strike see

For info on Second Life, see The Sniffer Podcast at

The IBM Italia Union:

For more on Second Life:

Ginger Goodwin

William Gibson:

RSU Website:

RSU public statement on the upcoming strike:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The TUC Does It Again

ToUChstoneblog is where all the policy wonks at the Trades Union Congress of the UK are going to post their thoughts, findings, musings and comments on current affairs. One-stop shopping for the best in the UK labour movement's analysis of just about anything.

A free Blogspot account to anyone who starts something similar in Canada. :-) Gets a Makeover

A long-time hotbed of ideas for the online labour movement, Communicate or Die went, like all good sites, through the doldrums. It's now out the other side and cookin'.

Worth following their feed too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The European Social Forum 2008

A classic done justice.

Photo: M. Urata

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tourism For Peace and Cuban Hurricane Relief has a list of non-profits that can ensure donations for Cuban hurricane recovery reach those most in need and without any admin costs being deducted.

CBC Sees the Light

Thanks to a, you guessed it, online (mostly Facebook, but let's pretend we didn't hear that) campaign, CBC's Search Engine is back. Not, unfortunately, a radio show, but as a straight-to-pod production. Subscribe off iTunes or at:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Appeal for Assistance for Hurricane Gustav Relief for Cuba

From: Cuba Hurricane Fund Committee, Canadian Network on Cuba

As you already know, Cuba has once more suffered the fierce attack of a hurricane. This one, Gustav, is considered to be the most devastating in the last forty years. Having caused severe flooding in its early stages in eastern Cuba, it grew in strength and size in the warm Caribbean waters and, after demolishing the special municipality of the Isle of Youth with its awful force, invaded Pinar del Río, Cuba's most westerly province. By this time it had achieved a diameter of some 450 kilometers with the most destructive winds and rains packed into the eastern side of the monster. Although Pinar del Río bore the brunt of the damage, ravaged by sustained winds of 240 kph, with gusts as high as 350 kph, the area of damage extended to include the provinces of Havana, City of Havana and Matanzas.

The damage touched all sectors of the economic and social life of the region. In large parts of Pinar del Río and Isla de la Juventud, houses, schools, hospitals and other public buildings that weren't demolished, lost their roofs or suffered other kinds of damage. This means that warehouses that stored supplies and commodities such as rice, sugar, flour, tobacco, could not avoid exposing them to the elements. Cultural and recreational facilities were damaged or destroyed. Ferris wheels were turned into mangled metal, as were transmission towers used for electricity or communications. Damaged high-tension power lines, roads and bridges added to the toll. The agricultural sector has suffered severely. Hundreds of hectares of bananas fell early, as did citrus fruit. Sugar cane was massively affected, and sophisticated irrigation equipment was ruined. The part of the fishing industry based in the Isla de la Juventud was gravely hurt.

The good news is that -- thanks to the precautionary measures, in which Cuba leads the world and which involved moving a quarter of a million people to safe shelter -- not a single life was lost. Five lobster fishermen who were missing at sea for a time were found after an intensive air and sea search.

At this time of writing, two days after the disaster, the total cost of the damage has not yet been assessed, but it will surely be billions of dollars.

Even though Cuba has not requested aid from us, the friends of Cuba, led by the constituent members of the Canadian Network on Cuba, will want, as they usually do, to do everything possible to help. In view of the great expense, we should imaginatively seek out new additional sources of funds-from different levels of government, farmer's associations, trade unions, cultural groups-and in general widen the circle of the friends of Cuba.

We should work to include people who are indignant at injustice, those who understand, for example, that one of the main reasons why the Bush administration let some of its citizens die rather than accept Cuban medical help at the time of Katrina was because they wanted no easing of their brutal embargo, even when Cuba was faced with terrible natural disasters.

Let us approach Canadians with some of the information included in this piece and, as José Martí would do, believing in their goodness.

The need for funds to recover from hurricane Gustav is urgent. We aim to forward to Cuba an initial contribution of $100,000 as soon as possible. We hope that in this hour of Cuba's need, you will find it possible to respond in a spirit that reflects the generosity and determination of the Cuban people.

One hundred per cent of your donation will go to Cuba either directly or in shipping requested materials to help in the reconstruction.

There are two ways to send in donations. Either way, you will receive a charitable tax receipt:

1) Send your cheque made payable to the "Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund", clearly stating "For Cuba Hurricane Relief" on the memo line, together with your name, address and telephone number. Envelopes should be addressed to: Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund, Att: S. Skup,Treasurer, 56 Riverwood Terrace, Bolton, Ontario, L7E 1S4

2) Make out your cheque to your local Cuba solidarity committee with
your name, address and phone number, clearly stating "For Cuba Hurricane Relief". The local committee will send one cheque together with a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers and the amount of the donation of the individual donors to the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund (Registered
charitable organization # 88876 9197). Tax receipts will then be issued to individual donors.

Yours in solidarity,

Keith Ellis, Chair
Cuba Hurricane Fund Committee
Canadian Network on Cuba

Sunday Mornings My Mind Turns to Pods

There are any number of neat 'niche' podcasts out there. Most easily subscribed to off iTunes and free.

The Labour Show from Scott McWhinney (an electrician at the U of Guelph) and The State We're In from Radio Netherlands Worldwide are today's faves.

Scott uses (mostly) interviews to address issues of the day affecting workers, on the surface local, but there's something in each for anyone anywhere in Canada - and probably beyond. My only complaint is that it isn't a daily. But then since this is an indie production with mebbe 3 volunteers at work in a good week, it's not much of a complaint.

The RNW show focuses on human rights issues, broadly put, and usually includes a quirky almost humourous segment, or an odd take on a known issue.

It's nice to see the Corpse leading the podcast pack. It's getting hard to find a CBC Radio 1 show that doesn't appear as a pod for easy consumption at the Y or, if you're like me, on the long drive between repeaters. And the Radio 3 pods mean I can actually have conversations with the grandkids about music.

Filmspotting comes out of a laptop in Chicago, produced by two loonie (in the best sense) film nuts. More than just a pod, it's a cult (I'll drink their kool-aid any day) with it's own website at:

Interactive Leadership Is Rare

Why do so few union leaders blog?

Paul Moist, President of CUPE, is one of the few.

Me on Facebook

I'm not literally, merely analytically:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Internet Video of Ike Whacking Cuba

Ever notice how commercial media (and the CBC, BBC et al) give considerable coverage to hurricanes and such hitting the coast of Florida even if by the time they get there they have subsided into tropical storms, but little or no attention is paid to Cuba (with its extensive hurricane evacuation system) or Haiti (where the death toll will likely break 1,000 this season)?

Internet video sites and a little creative citizen journalism is making a difference:

Even If Just Propaganda, It Still Makes an Impression

In the aftermath of Katrina Cuba offered the USA tonnes of medical supplies and almost 2,000 doctors and who-knows-how-many other medical pros.

After Ike the US government offers up USD100,000. The Cuban government's repsonse?

Model Use of You Tube?

Accuse me of being inclined to give my own union a bit of extra credit if you must, but this is definitely one of the richer union channels on YT.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Union Propellerhead? LabourStart Could Use a Bit of Help

From Eric Lee at

LabourStart, the news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement, is a complex website.

It runs a very large number of scripts written primarily in Perl with newer ones in PHP. It now runs a number of MySQL databases but also several older, flat ASCII databases. It works in dozens of languages and has recently moved over to Unicode.

Nearly all the programming work until now has been done by only one person. This is slowing things down, and making the continued growth of the site impossible.

We’re going to use this blog to tell you about technical problems we’re having, and if you’re familiar with PHP, Perl, JavaScript, MySQL and Unicode, you should be able to help.
LabourStart is a volunteer project and we cannot pay you — but we will give credit here to those who provide us with technical support.

Thanks very much for your help.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Free Web Hosting Service

From the good folks at New Unionism:

Free web pages for developing countries
... and by donation for everyone else. The New Unionism Network is offering free web pages for unions in the world's 50 poorest countries (see
list). This is an added feature in the global union directory: Unions from other countries can have pages too, however we ask for a donation to cover costs. The pages can include RSS feeds and streaming video, as well as all the usual stuff. To find out what's involved see:

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Ever LabourStart Photo Contest Underway

2008 marks the first (of many we hope) LabourStart Labour Photo of the Year Contest.

The worldwide popularity of the Trade Unions group on suggests that there are a lot of talented picket line and workplace photographers out there. LabourStart would like to both encourage and recognize those talents.

First prize is a two year Pro account on Runners-up shall receive a one year Pro account. The top three photos will be featured on LabourStart and announced to the 54,000 trade unionists on our mailing list. They will also be displayed in the art gallery on the union island in Second Life.

In addition, LabourStart will work to place the winning photos with labour publications (online and paper) worldwide. And of course it will be featured on LabourStart as our Photo of the Week.

This is a judged and voted competition.

First, photos entered in the contest will be posted on Flickr. Public comments on the photos will be welcomed. A panel of three distinguished trade union photogs will select the finalists.

The winners will then be selected by a vote open to anyone on the LabourStart mailing list. If you've participated in our Labour Website of the Year contest then you know how this works.

Panel: David Bacon, Gretchen Donart, Mac Urata.


1. You may only submit your own work.

2. Only one photograph per entrant.

3. Photos should be, very broadly, of union members in action. At work, in struggle...surprise us! They must have a caption explaining the image.

4. When posting your photo on Flickr you should understand that you are allowing LabourStart to use your photo for contest purposes and to publicize the contest.

5. Entrants may be required to disclose to LabourStart their contact information, including their real names, in order to be qualified. This information will be kept strictly confidential if requested.

6. Photos must be entered via Flickr. If you do not already have an account you can register at no cost at Once on Flickr you can upload your photos to your account. Then join the group you can find here: . Then, when you view the photo you want to enter in the contest click on the 'send to group' button along the top of your image. A list of the groups you are a member of while appear. Click on 'Labour Photo of the Year' and you will have entered!

It's simpler than it sounds, really. And we're not getting anything from Flickr for using them, we just think the contest, in addition to recognizing all that photographic talent out there, is a great way to build the Unions group already established there.

Photos must be in place on Flickr by midnight (CUT) on 22 September 2008 to be considered. Voting will start as soon as the judges have selected the finalists.

Contact meat with any questions, including help in setting-up a Flickr account or in uploading and entering photos

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shiva Kheirabadi - sentenced to 4 months imprisonment and 15 lashes for attending a Mayday rally.

Sousan Razani - sentenced to 9 months imprisonment and 70 lashes for attending a Mayday rally.

Here I Was Thinking It Couldn't Get Worse

Sousan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi were sentenced to 70 lashes and 9 months in prison and 15 lashes and four months in prison respectively.

For attending a Mayday rally.

I am not often this speechless.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Unionists Being Flogged and Executed in Iran

From LabourStart today:

Repression against labour activists in Iran is intensifying. In recent weeks, there have been numerous cases of arrests and jailings. Most shocking perhaps was the sentencing of two women labour activists (Sousan Razani and Shiva Kheirabadi) to 15 lashes and four months in prison -- for the "crime" of participating in a May Day celebration.

Additional cases which concern us include:
Mr. Abdullah Khani, 40 lashes and 91 days in prison
Mr. Seyed Qaleb Hosseini, 50 lashes and 6 months in prison
Mr. Khaled Hosseini, 30 lashes and suspended prison sentence
Mr. Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher, sentenced to death
Mr. Afshin Shams, arrested
Mr. Mansour Osanloo, leader of Tehran's bus workers, in prison since July 2007.

Go here to help:

It Doesn't Get Any More Blatent Than This

After attempting to behead the Korean labour movement, the government there just announced an amnesty for 74 'business criminals', people convicted of everything from tax evasion and fraud through to kidnapping (in the business competition sense...err...).

Why, we may well ask?

Well, because their expertise is needed, says President Lee Myung-bak, to help get the economy going and create jobs.

One such is Hyundai Motor's Chung Mong-Koo, convicted of embezzeling roughly $100 million CAD.

Oh, and there's another reason for the amnesty: to help celebrate the anniversary of Korea's independence from Japan.

Wait a Minute!

A one-minute strike?

Alitalia workers, all concerned about the Italian government's plans to sell-off the flag carrier, are planning a symbolic one-minute strike for September.

A sign of weakness or of some creative thinking? I think the latter. A warning shot and an apprently pretty effective way of attracting public attention to what the loons in the Berlusconi administration (not that the previous centre-left government was much better in this regard) have planned for the airline.

Read more about it here:

Dog Days of August? Apparently Not

While the rest of us, in the northern hemisphere anyway, are slacking-off, taking vacation or getting caught-up while those around us do, the Korean government seems committed to beheading the labour movement there.

The KCTU has asked for international assistance and LabourStart is running an e-mail campaign at its request at:

Turkey isn't far behind and seems to have singled out one woman trade union leader for special attention. Meryem Özsögüt has not only been arrested but is being kept in one of the country's more unpleasant jails. Join the solidarity campaign at:

Why am I here?

Well, what with Facebook giving me the boot for a second time, what else am I going to do with that fuzzy hour in the early morning before the coffee kicks in?

Here you'll find random thoughts on the Canadian and international labour movement(s) and, especially, on their use and misuse of the internet.

Some of the postings will have appeared elsewhere, but in all cases I 'own' the material. Feel free to use it elsewhere, so long as it isn't modified and as long as my authorship is attributed to it.

Look for more of my musings at

If you object to anything here, contact John Wood at the TUC in the UK as it was his idea that I do this and his encouragement that made me think it worthwhile.