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 BĂ©langer. 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