Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Women Organizing Online and the End of E-Mail?

The need for organizing across both national and organizational borders is something the women’s movement has always recognized. The internet presents new opportunities for gender/workplace solidarity to develop.

Hate to say it, but Facebook is a good place to start if you’re a woman looking to connect, or a group looking to establish an accessible online presence. I did a search on “women in the trades” on FB and got back a quick 15 groups with anywhere from over 1,000 members to just one.

Not all sex workers are women, but all the studies say they are a large majority. And sex workers face huge obstacles in organizing. The Global Network of Sex Work projects knit together NGOs around the world that advocate on behalf of, or that organize, sex workers. See

A networking service for women employed as domestic workers around the world is provided by the International Domestic Workers’ Network. See A similar solidarity network, for home workers, is being built by the good folks at HomeWorkers Worldwide: WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) brings together workers’ organizations (including unions), academics and NGOs. See

Remember the World March of Women? I certainly do. I and some male comrades were assigned the rather bizarre task of making sure the Canadian edition of the march stopped where it was supposed to when the marchers reached Parliament Hill. By standing in front of something like 100,000 women and waving our arms at them. Like they were in the mood to take direction from four brothers. The movement behind the march continues at:

Women Working Worldwide (WWW) is about just what it says, but focuses mostly on building solidarity networks of women trade unionists all along the global supply chains: from the producers in the global south to the consumers in the north. See

E-mail is still the killer-app for online organizing, but it is overdue for an upgrade. Aside from many improvements to the way messages are handled by programs like Outlook and Thunderbird (the latter an open-source free mailer from the same good people who bring us Firefox), the only major change in memory was the move from text-only to HTML message content.

A change of some kind is coming. A recent survey of e-mail users in the U.S. by comScore showed a drop-off in e-mail use, the younger the group being surveyed. Younger users prefer SMS (texting) and more interactive messaging services like Instant Messenger and even Facebook’s internal mail. The issue is time and responsiveness. Younger users want one-stop shopping and seem to be headed towards a single, online platform for all their communications – like Facebook, when they’re at their desks. A smartphone when mobile.

I’d be suggesting we all panic and starting beating the SMS drum again, but there’s one hole in the comScore study: it measures the amount of time people in each age group are spending sending and receiving e-mail, but not the number of messages being sent. The time invested may be dropping, but, if my granddaughters’ communication habits are any indication, just as many messages are being sent by em-mail, only the language of texting is being used (r u getting this?). Still, it’s something to watch. Something that, if it pans out as comScore seems to think it will, would make life a bit more difficult for union communicators trying to reach members online.

More immediately interesting is the drop in the number of people using webmail services like Hotmail. Gmail is still seeing an increase, but not enough to compensate for the overall drop. Those users are going somewhere. And unless they are younger folks who are starting to acquire their own accounts at home or work as they grow older, it’s likely that they are becoming more dependent on environments like Facebook.

Incidentally, comScore also reports that Canadians are online more than any other nationality they monitor, and that we are, on average, the biggest users of YouTube and Wikipedia. The latter might be something you will want to note. Chances are that your union has a page on Wikipedia. Better check it out. You may find it has been the victim of some wikivandalism.

For those who don’t know, Wikipedia is the world’s largest, most comprehensive and most-consulted encyclopedia. It’s a collaborative effort amongst hundreds of thousands of active users who compose and edit all of its entries. Over the past couple of years a few national unions have found their entries to have been “edited” by persons opposed to positions the union was taking. Short of hiring a “reputation manager” (they do exist), checking your union’s entry on Wikipedia on an occasional basis is probably a good idea.

Still no solution to offer, but here’s yet another warning about the perils of having to rely on commercial platforms we don’t own or control. In 2009 Apple banned the Wikileaks app from its iTunes site, making its distribution difficult if not impossible.

Alex White is an Australian trade unionist and webhead who publishes his thoughts on unions and the internet online. Now he has made available a quick guide for unions in their use of social media. More sophisticated communicators won’t find much new here, but for the rest of us this will be an invaluable intro to integrated online communications. Free to download as a PDF file at:

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