from Vol. 31 | Issue 4/5 | 2012

WEBWORK: Labour Wikipedia Initiative?

By Derek Blackadder

I have been listening to Corey Doctorow's Craphound podcast for a long while and his closing Creative Commons licensing notice (which quotes Woody Guthrie) finally made me think it was time to say a few words about Creative Commons (CC).

CREATIVE COMMONS
CC is just a way of claiming control over intellectual property, much as copyright licensing does, only better. It's better for the creator/owner because, by being far more flexible than copyright, CC makes it far easier for your work and its message to spread to a larger audience. It's also better for the user/consumer of such work, because it's far more likely that you can find material you can use at a cost you can afford (mostly free). A great example of the effects of CC can be seen in the Unions group on Flickr. Most of the photos posted there are CC-licensed, with restrictions that don't apply to non-profit organizations like unions. This means that the thousands of photos there are free for us to use. And, if our photos were there, with the same licensing, people and unions elsewhere would be thinking about using them, thereby extending the reach of our message.

LABOUR WIKIPEDIA INITIATIVE?
At least a couple of national unions and more than a few local unions have been the victims of attacks on their online reputations by way of their entries on Wikipedia. Crowd-sourcing of the entries on the world's biggest and best general encyclopedia works wonderfully most of the time. But, now and then, it seems that unions are the victims of organized attempts to damage them. Those efforts rely on the fact that workers (members or not) who want to know something about a union, or the movement in general, will wind up getting their info from Wikipedia.

I've watched a couple of these battles go on for, literally, years, with the union involved not wanting to spread the word about what is happening for fear of drawing attention to the content of the attacks on their online reputations. This means, perhaps, that they lose some of the advantages to having a substantial and rich entry on Wikipedia.

Thinking about this, I played on Wikipedia for a half hour and discovered that we have bigger problems than attacks on individual unions. The portrayal of workers and unions scattered all over Wikipedia is more than occasionally problematic. Sometimes it may be clear, at least to someone in the know, that an entry, or part of an entry, is ideologically anti-union. Sometimes it's not so clear. Sometimes the "analyses" look to be genuine; sometime they look very much like something that is part of an organized effort.

Companies/employers employ or contract people to manage their online reputations. This we know. They troll social media and other websites and respond to attacks on corps and their brands and products and services. We also know that, on sites like Trip Advisor, they go to war with each other, undermining the competition. We further know that union "brands" (how I hate using that term in this context) online are under attack, subject to hostile commentaries - some of which are clearly organized. In many cases, it is clear that the attacks are ideologically motivated. But is it much of a stretch to assume that some are employer-organized?

We know that employers, historically, have been in the habit of putting out fake organizing materials and creating company unions and all that. So, why not also add "corrections" to a union's Wikipedia entry, or insert comments from an unhappy "member" in a discussion forum?

Informally or formally, a Labour Wikipedia Initiative might be worth thinking about. "Wikipedia Initiatives" have been mounted by a number of professional associations. (What gave me the idea was a speech by the president of the American Sociological Association. The goal: to ensure that what appears on Wikipedia about a profession or discipline is accurate. The means: a large committee of volunteers. If sociologists can organize themselves to protect their reputations and that of their discipline, surely we can manage it.

VACATION BROWSING
Frontline SMS v.2 was recently released. If you're already using texting to reach members, upgrade now. If not, take a gander and ask yourself why you aren't using this wonderful, free piece of software. Speaking of smart phones and such, Elaine Bernard, executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, wrote to pass along some examples of union phone apps (software applications). ETFO CB 2012 is the bargaining updates app from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and is very cool. Elaine also recommends a few U.S. union apps: the Steelworkers' health and safety app, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' (AFSCME) convention app, and the SEIU international's political action app. Globally, there's the IUF app (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations). And soon there will be LabourStart apps for a few platforms (BB, Android and iPhone).

My fave is the UFCW "shop union" app (United Food and Commercial Workers), which allows you to find a UFCW-organized store near you, wherever you happen to be. My least fave app idea is the "Bosses: want to know who'll join the union? There's an app for that!"Reading it will make you laugh, then cry, and will probably cost you some sleep.

Also in my WebWork mailbag was an e-mail from Donald Courchesne, a member of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3906, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He sent along some URLs for sites he thought might be useful. The first is an analysis of web viewing habits, and documents the trend towards greater and greater use of smart phones by internet users. Have a look and ask yourself: how phone-friendly are your union's communications?

The research paper done for Microsoft called "Tweeting is believing?" is a bit towards the academic end of the readability spectrum, but it has some great tips for strategies that will increase your union Twitterfeeds's on-line cred.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is something that's often confusing, when it isn't overwhelming. SEO is explained and strategies suggested in a nice, simple (well, simpler than usual) graphic format at Search Engine Land.

For a guide to the effective use of Google Analytics, Donald suggests this article by Justin Cutroni, currently Google's analytics advocate.

But of all the sites Donald referred me to, the most fun, and richest, is Fever Bee. Read "The 11 Fundamental Laws of Building Online Communities". It's pretty much a checklist for anyone looking to set up or grow an online community. Give it a gander; it might just become your work plan for this fall.

BITS AND BYTES
"Get Internet Access When Your Government Shuts It Down" is the title of an article on PCWorld Magazine's site. Who knows, this stuff might come in handy one day. Perhaps one day soon.

Does your union have a site or blog designed specifically to, on a daily basis, provide rank-and-filers with the info and arguments they need to spread the word? Probably not. Here's a great model for one.

I find it hard to describe the following site without going on and on, mining my vocabulary for new superlatives, so I'll just say this: Witness is a goldmine of social justice videos. I have similar things to say about cyberunions.org. It's been a while since I recommended it. Time to remind everyone of it. If you're still on vacation, its podcasts are perfect for the beach or for late-night listening in bed.

TIE-Netherlands is a union-friendly NGO and Orsan Senalp is an ambitious trade unionist, judging by his argument for a worker-to-worker, shopfloor level mapping of the production/distribution process on a global scale. If this is the future of trade unionism, I will never, ever retire, because I want to see this and be a part of it.

Alex White's work gets referred to here a lot, and for good reason. Here's his take on three of the best union campaign websites around.

It's always good to close on a sober note, if not a downer. Jill York is director of the International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, folks who do a lot of good work trying to ensure that the internet remains accessible and useful to us all. Her piece "Manipulating Social Networks," for Al Jazeera, nicely points out some of the downsides to using social media in a crisis situation. It might seem extreme to compare a strike with what is happening (as I write this) in Syria, but, on a smaller scale, much of what she describes is doable by many employers. Doable? "Been done" would be a better way of putting it. It is being done as we speak, perhaps. It's only that such things don't get a lot of attention in the media. But talk to the RMT Union in Britain about their experience with strikers being given misleading directions to picket locations and you’ll soon get the idea.


Derek Blackadder's WebWork column about online resources for union activists appears in every issue of Our Times and is archived online in Our Times' "Talking About Organizing" series. Send your feedback about this column, including ideas for future WebWork topics, to derek.blackadder@sympatico.ca.

Blackadder is senior Canadian correspondent for LabourStart.org, and a national representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. His WebWork column, written for Our Times, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Follow Our Times on Twitter @ourtimesmag, and like Our Times' Facebook page at facebook.com/ourtimesmagazine.


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