From 16 Propositions to 6 Proposals – Waterman

From Sixteen Propositions on Inter/national/ist Labour Net/working to Six Policy-Relevant Proposals

Peter Waterman



The point here is to confront the international mouvement social of the epoch of national/ industrial/colonial capitalism with the ‘relational principle’ proper to the epoch of a globalized, informatised, finance and services capitalism. The labour movement has long taken organizational/institutional form, with the consequent loss of most movement characteristics, these notably including its early internationalism. The newest international mouvement social, the ‘anti-globalisation’, ‘anti-corporate’ or ‘anti-capitalist’ movement has (like the radical-democratic women’s, ecological and related movements) been marked by the network form. The propositions are clearly intended to challenge the traditional union form, and to suggest that the relational principle of networking is the one appropriate to social movements today, particularly in so far as they are concerned with an international/ist challenge and alternative to capitalist globalisation. In so far, however, as it is here suggested that labour has to learn from the newest social movements (and critical/emancipatory theories), the paper also inevitably addresses other international/ist movements as well. In order to stimulate reflection and challenge, this paper takes unconventional form. It has its introduction and argument in endnotes, the main text consisting of the 16 propositions and supporting or challenging quotations, drawn from as many different sources and world areas as possible.

16 provocative propositions (and sometimes conflicting quotes)

  1. Notions of networking and internationalism, understood as necessary for modernisation and/or human emancipation, can be traced back to at least the time of the French and Industrial Revolutions. Since that time they have been a matter of political dispute between capitalists/technocrats/authoritarians and socialists/democrats/ libertarians.

‘The earth, thought Saint-Simon [1760-1825], must be “administered” by industrialists as a “great industrial corporation” rather than “governed” by a tutelary state. This axiom was the basis of “positive knowledge” about the management of human beings. In this project of planetary restructuring, the network, as a model of rationality, became the emblematic figure of the new organisation of society […] In the context of thinking focused on the social network, the notion of “internationality” appeared in the writings of a feminist pioneer, Flora Tristan (1803-1844), in 1843. The basis of her project for a Workers’ Union was the new principle of internationalism…In the table of contents of the Workers’ Union weekly, the first title mentioned was “General interests, that is, international European and worldwide interests”. “Democratic cosmopolitanism” became the rallying cry of numerous movements that, matching action and words, created their own press, often had their own singers and poets, and travelled the roads to spread their ideas of “fraternity and solidarity between nations and individuals”’. (Armand Mattelart 2000: 15-18)

  1. The development of a globalised and informatised capitalism permits us to understand that communication is the nervous system of internationalism and solidarity.

‘Internationalism exists as an ideal because it is the new reality, the nascent reality. It is not an arbitrary ideal, it is not the absurd ideal of a few dreamers or utopians…Capitalism, under the reign of the bourgeoisie, does not produce for the national market; it produces for the international market…Its product, its merchandise, recognises no frontiers; it struggles to surpass and subjugate political restrictions…In this century everything tends to link, everything tends to connect, peoples and individuals…The progress of communications has to an incredible extent bound the activity and history of nations…Communications are the nervous system of this internationalism and human solidarity. One of the characteristics of our epoch is the rapidity, the velocity, with which ideas spread, with which currents of thought and culture are transmitted. A new idea that blossoms in Britain is not a British idea except for the time that it takes for it to be printed. Once launched into space by the press, this idea, if it expresses some universal truth, can also be instantaneously transformed into an internationalist idea.’ (Jose Carlos Mariategui 1986 (1923): 7).

  1. Those who consider that the future of the labour movement lies in networking are going to have to meet the widespread feeling, within and around the movement, that – unlike other social movements – labour needs its institutions and that this need is justified.

‘[T]here is a logic to the reticence of trade unions to put valuable information and intelligence on collective bargaining issues into a common pot (apart from the obvious fear of access by employers). The reality is that in the UK, at least, the unions are fighting a battle for their very survival…The quality of assistance given to members’ collective bargaining efforts by their national union is one crucial factor that could determine whether memberships rise or fall. Also, unions’ support and attractiveness to other unions becomes an issue when they negotiate mergers, inevitably invoking interunion competition. The strength and reputation of the union’s industrial research and intelligence capabilities – its knowledge base – is, therefore, a powerful asset in these matters, thus, the understandable reluctance to ‘give away’ high-grade information. (Dave Spooner 1998).

‘[T]he labour movement is fundamentally different from social movements based predominantly on information networks. It has to have some kind of command structure to function. The whole power of organised labour, particularly through its ultimate weapons, the strike and the picket line, is dependent on this. Union members are often required to act against their own individual interests in favour of a general interest. A degree of compulsion, with sanctions against those who refuse to take such actions, is essential. […] The present trade union command structures have become highly bureaucratized …Building a networked labour movement means taking on and ultimately eliminating these bureaucratic aspects of trade union organisation. […] But this cannot be done by simply building an information and communications network. Such a network remains peripheral to the functioning of the trade union movement and the needs of the mass of its membership unless it also contains an alternative command structure.’ (Chris Bailey 1999)

‘[“V]ertical” models of organization and rule are more and more often failing to yield results. But it does not by any means follow that the need for parties and trade unions is disappearing. They simply need to undergo changes. From being hierarchical organizations aiming at a “monolithic” character, they need to transform themselves into flexible structures, linking and coordinating different struggles and actions. The key task of a party is to ensure hegemony. A party brings elements of consciousness to a movement, it brings purposefulness and coordination, and transforms casual, spontaneous actions into a united offensive […] The heart of the problem evidently lies in the fact that the epoch of globalisation requires far more concentrated and intensive collaboration on the level of concrete actions, while at the same time the new cultural heterogeneity of the left and its natural aversion to the centralised bureaucracy of the past are preventing the creation of unified leadership structures. The world has changed, and the old forms of the left movement are turning out to be unsuited to solving the new problems…The time has come for a change of organizational forms. (Boris Kagarlitsky 2000:146-7)

‘Ultimately CMC [computer-mediated communication] is a tool to be used in building effective organisations…[T]he labour movement must still build the capacity to service its members, to link workplace struggles to broader political and economic issues, and to develop an ideological commitment to democratic practice… A labour movement is far more than an effective communication system, particularly a labour movement committed to building a “new international”…Collective action grows out of mass mobilization, out of forging a programme of ideas and action, out of building an organizational culture, out of creating a myriad of powerful human relationships which bring people together and convince them that their organization is worth living for and even worth dying for. Many would regard the experience of being part of an organization engaged in mass struggle as the most important form of expressing their humanity.’ (John Pape 1999:8)

‘It seems clear that a network of labour activists is increasingly utilizing the Internet to spark debate, make connections and raise important issues. Although it may not be their intent, [certain] authors sometimes seem to view networks as being inherently positive and hierarchies as being inherently negative. It is more productive to carefully consider the relative merits of the two than to applaud one and dismiss the other. Hierarchical organizations serve useful functions. One of them is formal representation… Although networks have positive features, they have no claim to be representative and their legitimacy can be challenged on democratic grounds […] An exciting possibility generated by the growth of labour networks is that they can both influence the debate in traditional labour institutions and energise the base of trade unions […] It is this combination of hierarchy and network which makes the labour movement distinctive from the new social movements and potentially one of the most significant actors of civil society.’ (Robert O’Brien 2000)

‘Transnational networks comprised solely of labour activists may face fundamental problems. Apart from ‘elite’ actors who operate at transnational levels, most trade unionists remain located in diverse national contexts. Collective action among these nationally-situated actors requires the development of trust, reciprocity and a shared ‘cultural learning’. The circumstances in which these can develop may prove to be very limited…[It has been suggested that] it is not necessarily the case that networked organisation is the only possible mode of organisation in information-intensive conflict, but that mastery of its techniques are essential. The combination of hierarchical and decentralised organisation ultimately may prove to be effective in transnational labour organizing… Similar relationships between centralised hierarchies and decentralised networks can be seen in the apparently decentralised networks of ‘new’ social movements. For example human rights, issue-based networks may include decentralised organisations linked to local social movements typically concerned with struggling to establish or defend their own human rights, alongside organisations, such as international governmental organisations and private foundations concerned with the defence of others’ rights… The environmental movement similarly includes organisations such as Greenpeace which has a highly centralised organisation in combination with a decentralised global network of local groups and activists…’ (Steve Walker 2001)

  1. If it is to become relevant to labour internationalism in the era of globalisation, the pyramidal international union organisation must be transformed into an information, advice and support service that stimulates multi-directional and multi-level contacts between workers, unions and the labour movement generally. (The same holds for non-labour internationals).
    ‘[T]he traditional pyramid organisation of unions with international contacts carefully controlled and monitored at the very peak runs counter to the most useful forms of international contacts, which are horizontal, between workers employed by the same company (or industry) in different countries. Fax, E-mail and cheap travel are also enabling horizontal network-building between workers in different countries, which contrast with traditionally hierarchically-organised trade-union activity. These new developments facilitating international labour contacts will pose a challenge to existing trade-union structures and internal communication links. At the same time, they open immense possibilities for labour to regain power and influence. Unions could ride the globalisation process by becoming repositories of information about international developments as they emerge from, or impact on, the workplace.’ (Denis MacShane 1992)
    ‘The utopian idea that all websites are created equal, that every netizen can individually challenge corporate power, has been refuted by the reality of a commercialized, corporate-dominated web. Our unions’ members come online by their millions, but they do not do so to visit our sites…[T]here are more than 1,500 labour websites, hundreds of mailing lists, chat rooms, web forums – and the labour movement still largely looks like and acts the same as it always did. And yet – everything we wrote and said from the first conferences at the beginning of this decade until today is true and valid. The new technology is empowering.
    • It does level the playing field between unions and corporations.
    • It does allow the creation of new, alternative international media.
    • In the end, the vision of a new International will emerge.
    So what is holding things up? In my view, consciousness lags behind reality. In our own heads, we have not caught up with the reality of a globalized, digitized capitalism… Because I am convinced that consciousness ultimately follows reality, and because I see the first buds of spring in the work being done…I believe that we are on the brink of a great transformation of the labour movement. The new labour movement will be global, democratic, militant – and it will be wired’. (Eric Lee 1999)
    ‘Many of the established [traditional international women’s organizations] retained a very bureaucratic and hierarchical organisational structure, with local chapters, national bodies and an international federation. The impetus for action at the international level came from international meetings every three, four or five years that gave policy direction… [W]hite, middle-class women from First World countries filled most of the executive positions…When combined with vague mandates, these organizations remained unable to provide the vitality and feminist direction that was needed at the international level […] The groups that emerged during the 1970s and 1980s made it their priority to mobilize women and co-ordinate local and national activities through networking…Of these groups well over half considered their work to be networking […]  In the 1970s a conscious attempt was made by many women’s organizations to develop a conceptual framework relating feminism to other structures or forces in the world. Initially, the attempts came through the link between women and development and dealt with the relationships between feminism and socialism…These discussions and follow-up work provided a conceptual basis for international women’s organizing. (Deborah Stienstra 2000:67-71)
  1. The challenge confronting international union organisations is not only a networked capitalism and the networked state: it is also the networked anti-capitalist, anti-statist, anti-globalisation movement.
    ‘[T]he concept of the network society [is] the specific social structure characteristic of our time…A network…is a set of interconnected nodes – and has no centre. The empirical proposition is that dominant activities in our societies are made of networks: global financial markets, production and consumption organised around the network enterprise, as a new form of economic organisation: global/local media connected in the electronic hypertext; science and technology; the internet as a universal, interactive communication network; the network state made of supranational, national, regional and local institutions linking up to exert joint influence on global flows of wealth and information, the global criminal economy, as an expanding network. I would also add that, increasingly, counter-domination operates through networks as well…Because networks are extremely efficient organisations, they eliminate, through competition, alternative structures, so their logic expands.’ (Manuel Castells 2000:110).
    ‘Networking is central to financial and economic globalisation and the social and cultural resistance to its negative impacts. However, it is useful to distinguish between dominant and opposition networks, even if they are more often than not inextricably interconnected (most resistance networks operate partially through, or engaging with, dominant ones). Oppositional networks are those that connect poor women and women’s groups with each other. These have been called… ‘meshworks’, the difference being that, as opposed to dominant networks, subaltern meshworks tend to be non-hierarchical and self-organising…[M]eshworks involve two parallel dynamics: strategies of localisation and of interweaving. (Wendy Harcourt 2001:7)
  1. If not informed by a broader vision or leadership, international labour networking can reinforce an enterprise or corporate identity and undermine broader solidarity.
    ‘[T]he informal and spontaneous networking issue cannot be kept separate from any analysis of…more formalised activities […W]hile a cooperative scenario between trade unionists may appear to be emerging (due to there being a network of some sort being established) the reality may be that the information is to be used to harness stronger plant-level alliances between management and worker representatives at the expense of other[s] in the same company […] Therefore, networking, when not ‘politically’ and organisationally conditioned by the trade unions, can actually facilitate enterprise unions and greater decentralisation. […] It will be the interaction of different circuits of power… – networks interacting with political movements, state bodies or company entities – which will eventually determine their behaviour […] Maybe others can take up the initiative. Who they are, and what their ideological profile is, will ultimately condition the nature of the organisational initiative and the eventual outcomes of contemporary capitalist developments.’ (Miguel Martinez Lucio and Syd Weston 1995:246-8).
  1. The new electronic media make possible and necessary a new kind of  fe/male labour activist, reaching out beyond the enterprise and the union office, listening to, linking waged-workers up with, and empowering, the increasing number of ‘foreign’, ‘marginal’ and other ‘a-typical’ workers.
    ‘[I]magine an educator who carries her wares with her. To visit [migrant] domestic workers…she goes to a local plaza (or laundromat) on Sunday afternoon…Instead of a crystal ball, she carries a small computer notebook and a cellular phone…She might have a recording Walkman and some music tapes. She is a kind of post-modern scribe, also a cultural worker, or maybe a travelling saleswoman…In possession of a large van…she can cover a wide territory. Parking near sex-trade zones, she lets workers know when she has arrived and offers them now a wider range of services, from bed, toilet, shower, food, condoms, blood tests to fax/telephone and Internet connections…The technology, the education, the services are mobile, like the workers. A fleet of such vans in different parts of Europe would form a true network…The concept of information needs to be reconceived to include not only ‘indigenous knowledge’ but ‘street smarts’…Let us go out out to those in the margins and listen to them. For, with all the rhetoric about the need to liberate ‘unheard voices’, we miss an essential point: those voices have been talking all along. The question is who is listening. (Laura Agustín 1999:155).
  1. The form taken by contemporary democratic international movements – networked, flexible, media-oriented and communication-sensitive – suggests the future model for an effective international labour movement in the age of globalisation.
    ‘[T]he women made Huariou [NGO Forum, 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995] a festival of networking. Experiences were exchanged, alliances were formed between women from different regions or continents, between single-issue groups…who were fighting against discrimination and to construct their own identity. One novelty was the forging of a large number of South-South alliances. Thus, the womens’ movements gathered at Huariou themselves reflected the process of globalisation. They have spread to the farthest corner of this patriarchal planet and succeeded in forging closer links with one another, but at the same time they have remained diverse and fragmented. The Women’s International moves between the poles of globalisation and localization, networking and splitting. Networks appear to be the organizational and political form most appropriate to globalisation’. (Christa Wichterich 1999: 147-8)
    ‘Despite…common ground, these [anti-globalisation] campaigns have not coalesced into a single movement. Rather, they are intricately and tightly linked to one another, much as “hotlinks” connect their websites on the Internet. This analogy is more than coincidental and is in fact key to understanding the changing nature of political organizing. Although many have observed that the recent mass protests would have been impossible without the Internet, what has been overlooked is how the communication technology that facilitates these campaigns is shaping the movement in its own image. Thanks to the Net, mobilizations are able to unfold with sparse bureaucracy and minimal hierarchy; forced consensus and laboured manifestos are fading into the background, replaced instead by a culture of constant, loosely structured and sometimes compulsive information-swapping. What emerged on the streets of Seattle and Washington was an activist model that mirrors the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet—the Internet come to life’. (Naomi Klein 2000)
  1. The notion that international electronic networking is the inevitable province of the rich and privileged, or has to be diffused from the rich, advanced, developed countries/unions/people, to the poor, marginal and powerless ones is questioned by certain Third World experiences, emancipatory movements and even technological developments.
    ‘Access to and use of the Internet [in Trinidad] is vastly more widespread than might have been expected. Our house to house survey revealed that while around one in twenty households has an Internet account, around one-third of households include a regular Internet user. Even at very low income levels, people purchase top-of-the-range computers, including modems… This intense interest in the possibilities opened up by the Internet extends even to settlements of squatters; nonetheless, use of the Internet is strongly correlated to income. While class is expressed in inequalities of IT career prospects, people also attempt to use IT skills to bypass traditional educational qualifications… Domestic access to the Internet shows little distinction of gender or ethnicity, but gender and age are reflected in different patterns of use and in unequal institutional attitudes.’ (Daniel Miller and Don Slater 2000:23)
    ‘The rapidity and thoroughness with which almost every aspect of modern computer communications have been used by pro-Zapatista forces has been central to this particular movement becoming “a prototype”. From the use of mailing lists and conferences for the dissemination of information, the sharing of experience and the facilitation of discussion and organizing through the elaboration of multimedia web sites for the amplification and archiving of the developing history of the struggle to the use of electronic voting technology to make possible global participation in plebiscites on their political positions, the Zapatistas and their supporters have been on the cutting edge of the political use of computer communications. These analyses of this movement have also recognized how the content of these…networking forms of social mobilization has differed from traditional Leninist notions of revolution. Instead of a dedication to the seizure of power, the Zapatista rebellion, including its international dimensions, has involved a mobilization with the essentially political objectives of 1) pulling together grassroots movements against the current political and economic order in Mexico and the world and of 2) facilitating the elaboration and circulation of alternative approaches to social organization’. (Harry Cleaver 1999)
    ‘Researchers in Brazil have developed a no-frills PC that should retail for $300. Government officials hope that the low-cost computer, which consumers will be able to purchase in $15 monthly   installments, will help narrow Brazil’s digital divide. Although Brazil has 170 million people, including 3.9 million regular Internet users, and a gross domestic product of $580 billion, many of its people lack phone lines, not to mention computers, and the average minimum wage is only $75 per month. Sergio Vale Campos of the Federal University of Minas Gerais, who led the team that designed the computer, said it is “cheap, but is not trash.” The PC features the basic components: a monitor, a mouse, speakers, and a browser for the Internet. A printer or disk drive can be added as modular units. It has 64 MB of RAM, a 500 MHz processor, and a 56K modem. The researchers further reduced costs by relying on free Linux-based software. However, the government may have difficulty finding a company that will manufacture the new PC. Several firms have said the projected market price is too low, and critics have suggested the country’s lack of IT infrastructure may make using such a device problematic. (Associated Press, 5 March 2001)
  1. The desirability of the networked electronic union appears to be required by the nature of labour in the information industries but is today possible and even necessary for all working people, and for any effective international solidarity.
    ‘As in other industries, workers in the emerging digital economy also need to defend their common interests. However, most of the existing labour organisations are not responding quickly enough to the changes in people’s working lives. Although formed to fight the employers, industrial trade unions were also created in the image of the Fordist factory: bureaucratic, centralised and nationalist. For those working within the digital economy, such labour organisations seem anachronistic. Instead, new forms of unionism need to be developed which can represent the interests of digital workers. As well as reforming the structures of existing labour organisations, digital workers should start co-operating with each other using their own methods. As they’re already on-line, people could organise to advance their common interests through the Net. Formed within the digital economy, a virtual trade union should emphasise new principles of labour organisation: artisanal, networked and global’. (Richard Barbrook 1999)
    ‘We must conclude that although there is considerable potential for the emergence of a common class consciousness amongst information-processing workers, based in a common labour process, common employers and a common relation to capital, powerful counter-forces are present which seem likely to inhibit this development, the greatest of which, perhaps, is racism…There is considerable evidence of successful organizing by the new “e-workers” within countries […] However, examples of such organization across national boundaries are few and far between…In general…the evidence of resistance by these workers comes in more sporadic and anarchic forms, such as the writing of viruses or other forms of sabotage […] It is apparent that a new cybertariat is in the making. Whether it will perceive itself as such is another matter. (Ursula Huws 2000:19-20)
    ‘It is easy to recognise that an urgent current need is for new models of transnational solidarity and for enhanced capacity for transnational intervention…sustaining and enhancing the scope for initiative and mobilisation at the base, to develop both stronger centralised structures and the mechanisms for more vigorous grassroots participation […] To be effective at international level…trade unionism must…reconstitute unions as discursive organisations which foster interactive international relationships and serve more as networks than as hierarchies […M]odern information technologies offer the potential for labour movements to break out of the iron cage which for so long has trapped them in organisational structures which mimic those of capital…Forward to the “virtual trade union” of the future’. (Richard Hyman 1999:111-12)
    ‘[T]he use of ICTs [information and communication technologies] have the potential to challenge the inevitability of oligarchy within trade union organization. In other words, the need for organization need not necessarily lead to oligarchy, if that organization exists on a more distributed basis. The electronic realm provides possibilities of a more distributed form of trade union organization. Electronic proximity facilitates the wider dissemination of information and resources, offers increased possibilities of tracking and evaluating actions of the hierarchy acting in the name of members, and potentially can offer easier participation and training opportunities to a wider group of members…The era of new technologies and the possibilities of new e-forms within trade union activity, forces a re-conceptualisation of the meaning and domain of activism, along with who is defined as an activist. We have to recognize the power of the remote activist, and the abilities that such remote activism has, to include far more people than conventional mechanisms.’ (Anne-marie Greene, John Hogan and Margaret Grieco 2001)
  1. The potential of the electronic media is not so much their capacity to ‘mobilise’ working people within and for the old labour institutions, but to make them ‘more mobile’ under and against a globalised and networked capitalism more generally.
    ‘The open secret of the electronic media, the decisive political factor, which has been waiting, suppressed or crippled, for its moment to come, is their mobilising power. When I say mobilise I mean mobilise…namely to make [people] more mobile than they are. As free as dancers, as aware as football players, as surprising as guerrillas. Anyone who thinks of the masses only as the object of politics, cannot mobilize them. He wants to push them around. A parcel is not mobile; it can only be pushed to and fro. Marches, columns, parades, immobilize people […] The new media are egalitarian in structure. Anyone can take part in them by a simple switching process […] The new media are orientated towards action, not contemplation; towards the present, not tradition […] It is wrong to regard media equipment as mere means of consumption. It is always, in principle, also means of production […] In the socialist movements the dialectic of discipline and spontaneity, centralism and decentralization, authoritarian leadership and anti-authoritarian disintegration has long ago reached deadlock. Networklike communication models built on the principle of reversibility of circuits might give indications of how to overcome this situation […] “Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the Will” (Antonio Gramsci)’’’. (Hans Magnus Enzensberger 1976:21-53)
  1. There must be a dialectical interplay, in a new international labour movement, between the politics of cyberspace and the politics of place, inspired by a meaningful understanding of solidarity.
    ‘Cybercultural politics can be most effective if it fulfils two conditions: awareness of the dominant worlds that are being created by the same technologies on which the progressive networks rely (including awareness of how power works in the world of transnational networks and flows); and an ongoing tacking back and forth between cyberpolitics (political activism of the Internet) and what I call place politics, or political activism in the physical locations at which the networker sits and lives’. (Arturo Escobar 1999:32)
    ‘In practice, the concept of solidarity has often been distorted by the deeply unequal global distribution of wealth and power. The Zapatista view of solidarity is not a unilateral relationship that reflects and reinforces the paternalistic gaze from the “first world” to the “third world”. Nor is it about solidarity among a few insiders (national, organizational or ideological). Nor is it a distant solidarity among cosmopolitan “global” activists and professionals found at official “global meetings” like the UN-sponsored Rio and Beijing summits. In the Zapatista mirror, solidarity is the building of alternative resistance networks around the world through the practice of radical democracy, liberty and social justice with a related emphasis on localism, autonomy and horizontal relationships among all the participating groups and organizations. (Fiona Jeffries 2001:136)
    ‘At stake in the debate over international activism [in Socialist Register 2000, 2001] are not only questions of how much (and what kind) of information one needs or is obligated to ingest before taking a stand and acting of a particular issue, but also broad issues of what constitutes legitimate struggle and who one is fighting for in a movement of “solidarity” […] As the “global proletariat” shows an enduring but changing face in the twenty-first century, so the old leftist tropes of solidarity and internationalism take on new significance. The networks we have built are far from perfect, but they have nonetheless demonstrated – so far – a capacity to endure and evolve within the struggle. (Justin Paulson 2000:285-6)
  1. Globalisation, computerisation and informatisation make it possible and necessary for the international labour movement to rethink ‘work’ and the wage-labour relationship in terms, for example, of locally-relevant, ecologically-friendly, cooperatively-controlled but high-tech production.

‘The spread of computerisation gives a constant boost to the potential of co-operative networks. Computers can be used to make their management transparent and easy to monitor by all the members […] The cooperative circle may thus lead gradually to the collective appropriation of the new technologies, including…flexible computerised manufacturing systems which would be acquired…on a hire-purchase basis, of which its members would ‘put together’, in much the same way as computer and mechanical equipment is recovered in the shanty towns of Africa or South America and ‘cannibalised’ to meet local needs. There is now no longer any great gulf between the performance of the brand-marked production tools of industry and the tools a local community can use for self-producing… (Andre Gorz 1999:107)

  1. Development of a networked labour internationalism requires political action by the labour movement – in partnership with civil society – in/against the institutions/arenas in which control is exercised over the technology, access to and the content of electronic media and cyberspace.

‘Any hope that ICTs [information and communication technologies] will enhance and universalise the capacity for social reflexivity and political action by social movements depends on radically new modes of governance of the ICTs and on free access. New markets, and NGO players concerned to promote the decommodification of the relations of definition must emerge. Indigenous peoples’ movements and cosmopolitan social movements should be able to ally on this project. A limited first step, albeit using the liberal legal technology of rights, would be to enact a new International Bill of Rights to Access to Information and Communication. Rights would include free public access to information and public supranational control of the ICTs. The Philippine Greens provided the only electronic resouce…I could find at the time of writing, outlining such a normative scheme’. (Paul Havemann 2000:28)

‘This proposal calls for civil society and NGOs to form an international alliance to address concerns and to work jointly on matters around media and communication. We believe a new social movement in this field is needed, and is ready to act internationally. […] Uniting civil society organisations that today use media and communication networks in their work for social change is:

    • An awareness of the growing importance of the mass media and communication networks for the aims they are trying to achieve;
    • A concern about current trends in the field of information and communication toward concentration of ownership and control into fewer hands;
    • A concern that state censorship is giving way only to more subtle censorship, through subjection to commercial exigencies and maximising shareholder gain;
    • An awareness of the lack of public influence on these trends, in both developed and developing countries, in democracies and under dictatorships.

The central focus of the movement would be to tackle problems and find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time: To ensure that the voices and concerns of ordinary people around the world are no longer excluded! […] A two-fold approach is required. […] First, strategic level cooperation amongst NGOs must build common agendas, joint funding proposals and exchange and cooperation mechanisms. Gathering, analysing and dissemination of information will be a key aspect of this. Second, concrete cooperation could begin through joint activities of the people and organisations participating in the movement, under the following suggested themes: Access and accessibility; Right to communicate; Diversity of expression; Security and privacy; Cultural environment.’ (Voices 21: 2000)

  1. An understanding of the international labour movement in network terms can break down the traditional division of labour within the movement, between the categories of ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’.

‘As part of their struggle, AGSMs [anti-globalisation social movements] produce important flows of information and knowledge that often times amounts to a veritable theoretico-political framework for local and regional world making. The defence of local worlds/places, and the progressive transformation of DANs [dominant actor-networks) and other forms of globality… Some of these forms of knowledge concern matters of strategy, others the nature of domination, others the defense and re-constructing of local and regional worlds. In some cases, these [sic] knowledge is produced at the intersection of conversations in the disciplines (geography, anthropology, ecology, political economy, feminist theory) and conversations within/among social movements, but this production…is governed by considerations that are of course more pragmatic than scholastic. The “academic” argument about this form of knowledge, however, is that the knowledge produced by the meshworks [non-hierachical or centralizing networks – PW] should be an important part of our (academics’) own theorizing and research agendas. It is no longer the case that some produce knowledge (academics, intellectuals) that others apply (social movements); these boundaries are completely disrupted at present, as movements become knowledge producers and intellectuals are called upon to engage more and more in activism. (Arturo Escobar 2000)

  1. The question today is not whether a networked international labour movement is utopian; it is why it should be considered to be so, and how to bring it into existence.

‘What is striking about the “network utopians” of the late twentieth century…is the new nature of the link made between technological forms and social ones….Within networks control in a technical sense can be devolved in ways that were not possible in the past…Technical openness in a network is very different from true openness in communication and widespread access to the competences needed to communicate effectively. Just as the rifle could be used in the most tyrannical armies, so can liberating technologies and networks organisational forms be used within structures that remain deeply authoritarian. But the power of network utopias remains resistant to qualifications of this kind. Like any modern revolutionary ideology its attraction stems from its ability to combine the “is” of existing transformations and the “ought” of a better world.’ (Geoff Mulgan 1991:23).

‘[T]he new information-centred worker will have infinitely more ability to intercommunicate …Thus, common experience may lead to a unified and powerful class. But, just as the peasantry were usually split into innumerable geographic units, information-centred workers will be split into different communities of discourse…[Nonetheless] it would be possible to have “one big union” and still address, through intercommunication, the needs of workers in different industries and with different tastes…These workers need something very different from the existing union structure…Thus, while the present weaknesses of existing unions would only be compounded in an environment of evanescent capitalism, the new form of organization could do much to overcome all the problems…Existing union leadership could certainly facilitate the growth of such an alternative, and it could continue to play an important role as experienced advisers and consultants. But they would certainly have to relinquish, whether willingly or not, their current role as a filter of communication among rank-and-file members…In making their transition to an information culture, workers would lose their identity as a class: there would no longer have to be an underclass of any sort. But each worker could gain a rich new social identity. These thoughts are utopian, no doubt, but the new information technology holds forth, more than any technology or social arrangement in the past, the possibility of making utopian dreams come true. (Michael Goldhaber 1983:233-5, 242).

‘Radio should be converted from a distribution system to a communication system. Radio could be the most wonderful communication system imaginable, a gigantic system of channels – could be, that is, if it were capable not only of transmitting but of receiving, of making the listener not only hear but also speak, not of isolating him but of connecting him…If you consider this is utopian then I would ask you to consider why it is utopian. (Bertold Brecht 1983/1930).

‘The 1990s is the decade of the awakening of Mexican civil society. However, as they started to participate the citizens discovered the enemy was no longer national, it was international and difficult to grasp and the struggle demanded coordinated actions with other citizens of other countries in order to have some success. Globalization brought burdens but also possibilities, new ways of communication, new hopes of solidarity. And this was specially important for women who traditionally have less access to public and international organizations than men. […] As we have seen, many organized women took the chance, cooperation has advanced, networks have been formed, projects accomplished, solidarity established and many success stories regarding network performance can be accounted for. However not all experiences are positive, asymmetric relations remain and this creates also dependent relations: Mexican organizations that cannot survive without external support. That is perhaps why the relations that have succeeded best are those with the less asymmetric of the partners: Canada-Mexico […] Can we speak of a new regionalism from below? Of a trinational civil society? Of trinational advocacy networks? I think we can, this civil society is perhaps only starting to get organized, to acquire consciousness of its possibilities but the potential is there and it has many ways of development. The process is just starting but it is there and hopefully it will sooner or later impact the projects dictated from above. It is the response from below. (Dominguez 2000)

    6 Policy-relevant recognitions/proposals

  1. ‘Networking’ has fundamental but ambiguous implications for labour under a globalised capitalism.

The inter/national labour movement was formed within the struggle in and against the industrial and nation-state period of capitalist development, one now being increasingly challenged. ‘Networking’, in the sense of open, changing, flexible, interdependent relations between formally independent parties, is becoming the dominant ‘relational form’ under capitalism but is a highly contradictory one for labour and its traditional forms of inter/national organisation. It engenders new forms of work, workers, products and enterprises and of relations between such. Networking simultaneously broadens/ flexibilises/strengthens globalised capitalist domination and has anti- or even post-capitalist emancipatory potential. The development of a globalised and informatised capitalism requires labour to understand the increasing centrality of information/ communications/culture to society, and that this is the nervous system of internationalism and solidarity.

  1. The general understanding of networking within the inter/national labour movement is a limited one.

Despite dramatically growing experience, the common understanding of networking within the movement is probably in terms of one or more of the following: a) computer mediated communication (CMC), b) a tool to strengthen the inter/national union (or party) form but which can be misunderstood or misused to undermine such, c) to be used for traditional collective bargaining or labour rights purposes (possibly on regional/global scale), d) a means of propaganda, and the exchange of information (occasionally of mobilisation). Networking is rarely understood as alternatively/additionally: a) facilitating the presence of new voices, b) allowing the creation of newer and broader internationalist identities, c) advancing a continuing dialogue, within, between and beyond the unions or general labour movement, d) as a new way of both understanding  and re-inventing  the labour movement for/against the era of globalisation, e) allowing for the international discussion of realistic utopias on the other side of capitalism.

  1. The challenge that networking represents to the inter/national labour movement is suggested by the ‘anti-globalisation’ and other such radical-democratic movements.

The form taken by the international anti-corporate movement – networked, ideologically/strategically pluralist, flexible, fast-moving, media-oriented and communication-sensitive – suggests a future model for an effective international labour movement in the age of globalisation. Such networked movements are a means of information, ideas and dialogue, they support and stimulate horizontal and vertical contacts between (and beyond) their ‘followers’, for a new bottom-up internationalism. They articulate the local, national, regional, global and cyberspatial (rather than making one subordinate to the other). They allow for the continual reshaping of the form, content and activities of the movement (rather than its institutionalisation in hierarchical organisational form).

  1. To be effective under and against dominant networking, radical-democratic networking must be informed by a new sense of solidarity and internationalism, a new understanding of the organisation:network relation, and an idea of leadership less as a vanguard than as a supporting, stimulating and servicing ‘rearguard’.

If not informed by a broader vision or leadership, international labour networking can reinforce old (or new) enterprise and corporate/chauvinist identities. The meaning(s) of a contemporary solidarity and internationalism need to be worked out. The relationship between labour organisations and labour networks need to be understood as a dialectic in which organisations may well develop and become more effective in so far as they understand and support the logic of networking. To avoid oppositions between the local, global and cyberspatial, a constructive dialogue is necessary between the politics of cyberspace and the global, and the politics of the place and the local.

  1. The international labour movement needs to be politically and publicly active within the international movement for the democratisation of communication, culture and cyberspace.

Development of a networked labour internationalism requires public campaigning/ educational action by the labour movement – in partnership with civil society – in/against the institutions/arenas in which control is exercised over the technology, access to and the content of electronic media and cyberspace. Such interventions need to be explicitly opposed to or subversive of corporate, imperial and state domination, for the strengthening of an autonomous, open, diverse and democratic model of cyberspace. They also need to stimulate a 21st century equivalent of the international(ist) worker communication/cultural movements of the early-20th century, so as to build up popular skills and public demands for a de-commoditised culture and the overcoming of  growing information divides.

  1. The development of networking within the international labour movement would be stimulated by the production and circulation of a declaration or discussion document, expressed in language accessible to not only the computer savvy but also internationalist activists beyond.

    Relevant articles/chapters/papers

Further to references, this listing concentrates on shorter items, hypothetically suitable for a reader on the subject, printed and/or electronic.

    Agustin, Laura. 2000. ‘They Speak, But Who Listens?’, in Wendy Harcourt (ed.), Women@Internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace. Pp. 140-155.
    Athanasiou, Tom. 1985. ‘High-Tech Alternativism: The Case of the Community Memory Project’, Radical Science, No. 16 (Making Waves: The Politics of Communications), pp. 37-52.
    Bailey, Chris. 2000. ‘The Labour Movement and the Internet’, (Chris Bailey, Labournet UK, in the 2nd Seoul International Labormedia’99 Conference), Asia Labour Update (Hong Kong). Issue 34. pp. 1, 3-5.
    Brecht, Bertold. 1983/1930. ‘Radio as a Means of Commnication: A Talk on the Function of Radio’, in Armand Mattelart and Seth Siegelaub (eds), Communication and Class Struggle: Vol. 2: Liberation, Socialism. New York: International General. Pp. 169-71.
    Castells, Manuel. 2000. ‘Globalisation and Identity in the Network Society: A Rejoinder to Calhoun, Lyon and Touraine’, Prometheus, No. 4, pp. 109-23.
    Darlington, Roger. 2000. ‘The Creation of the E-Union: The Use of ICT by British Unions’. Text of presentation made to an Internet Economy Conference at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, London, November 27.
    Dominguez, Esmé. 2000. ‘Regionalism From the People’s Perspective: Mexican Women’s Views and Experiences of Integration and Transnational Networking’, International Studies Association, Los Angeles, CA, March 14-18, 2000.
    Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. 1976 (1970). ‘Constituents of a Theory of the Media’, in Raids and Reconstructions: Essays in Politics, Crime and Culture. London: Pluto. Pp. 20-53.
    Escobar, Arturo. 1999. `Gender, Place and Networks: A Political Ecology of Cyberculture’, in Wendy Harcourt (ed.), Women@Internet: Creating New Cultures in Cyberspace. Pp. 31-55.
    Escobar, Arturo. 2000a. ‘Culture Sits in Places: Anthropological Reflections on Globalism and Subaltern Strategies of Globalisation’. Political Geography. Vol. 20, 139-174.
    Escobar, Arturo. 2000b. ‘Notes on Networks and Anti-Globalisation Social Movements’, 2000 AAA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, November 15-19.
    Goldhaber, Michael. 1983.  ‘Microelectronic Networks: A New Workers’ Culture in Formation?, in Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasko (eds), Labour, the Working Class, and the Media. Norwood (NJ): Ablex. Pp. 211-44.
    Goldhaber, Michael. 1987. ‘Creating a Workers’Culture in the Third World’, in Media Development, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Electronic Networking in the Third World). Pp. 9-11.
    Gómez, Ricardo and Juliana Martínez. 2001. The Internet…Why? and What for? Thoughts on Information and Communication Technologies for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Costa Rica: Fundación Acceso/Canada: IDRC-CDRI. 33 pp.,
    Gorz, Andre. 1999. ‘Moving Beyond Wage-Based Society’, in Reclaiming Work: Beyond the Wage-Based Society. Cambridge: Polity. Pp. 72-111.
    Greene, Anne-marie, John Hogan and Margaret Grieco. 2001. ‘E-collectivism and Distributed Discourse: New Opportunities for Trade Union Democracy’, paper to TUC/LSE Conference on Unions and the Internet, May 12. 11 pp.
    Hamelink, Cees. 2000. ‘The Democratisation of Technology Choice’, in The Ethics of Cyberspace. London: Sage. Pp. 165-85.
    Harcourt, Wendy. 2001. ‘Globalisation, Women and the Politics of Place: Work in Progress’, Paper to EADI Gender Workshop: Gender and Globalisation: Processes of Social and Economic Restructuring, Noordwijk, Netherlands. April 20-21. 8 pp.
    Havemann, Paul. 2000. ‘Enmeshed in the Web? Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in the Network Society’, in Robin Cohen and Shirin Rai (eds), Global Social Movements. London: Athlone Press. Pp. 18-32.
    Hamman, Robin B. 2000. ‘Research Proposal: Networking the Digital Artisan Community’. ??
    Hellman, Judith Adler. 1999. ‘Real and Virtual Chiapas: Magic Realism and the Left’, in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2000: Necessary and Unnecessary Utopias. London: Merlin, New York: Monthly Review. Pp. 161-86.
    Hellman, Judith Adler. 2000. ‘Virtual Chiapas: A Reply to Paulson’, in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2001: Working Classes: Global Realities. London: Merlin, New York: Monthly Review. Pp. 289-292.
    Herod, Andrew. 1999. ‘Of Blocs, Flows and Networks: The End of the Cold War, Cyberspace and the Geo-economics of Organised Labour at the Fin de Millénaire’, in Andrew Herod, Gearoid O Tuathail and Susan Roberts (eds), An Unruly World? Globalisation, Governance and Geography. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 162-95.
    Huws, Ursula. 2000. ‘The Making of a Cybertariat? Virtual Work in a Real World’, in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2001: Working Classes: Global Realities. London: Merlin, New York: Monthly Review. Pp. 1-24.
    Hyman, Richard. 1999. ‘Imagined Solidarities: Can Trade Unions Resist Globalisation?’, in Peter Leisink (ed), Globalisation and Labour Relations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Pp. 94-115.
    ILA. 1997. ‘Internet’, (Special Issue), ILA: Zeitschrift der Informationsstelle Lateinamerika (Bonn, Germany), No. 204, April, pp. 4-29.
    Jeffries, Fiona. 2001. ‘Zapatismo in the Intergalactic Age’, in Roger Burbach, Globalisation and Postmodern Politics. London: Pluto. Pp. 129-44.
    Kagarlitsky, Boris. 2000. The Return of Radicalism: Reshaping the Left Institutions. London: Pluto. 187 pp.
    Klein, Naomi. 2000. ‘The Vision Thing: Were The DC And Seattle Protests Unfocused, Or Are Critics Missing The Point?’, The Nation (New York), June 23.
    Labour Telematics Centre. 1993. ‘Labourtel UK: Information Technology, Electronic Communications and the Labour Movement (Conference Report, 2-4 June 1993, GMB College, Manchester, UK). Manchester: Labour Telematics Centre. 64 pp.
    Lee, Eric. 1999. Notes for Speech to International Labour On-Line 99 Conference, New York, January 16.
    Luke, Time. 2000. ‘Dealing with the Digital Divide’, Telos, No. 118, pp. 3-24.
    MacShane, Denis. 1992. ‘Welcome to the Working Class! The Significance of the New East-European and Third World Unionism for the Labour Movement.’ Unpublished paper, Social Movement Studies Seminar, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. International Chemicalworkers Federation, Geneva.
    Mather, Celia and Ben Lowe. 1990. ‘Trade Unions On-Line: The International Labour Movement and Computer Communications’. Preston: Centre for Research on Employment and Work, Lanashire Polytechnic. 62 pp.
    Mariátegui, Jose Carlos. 1986/1923-4. ‘Internationalism and Nationalism’, Newsletter of International Labour Studies (The Hague). No. 30-31, pp. 3-8.
    Martinez Lucio, Miguel and Syd Weston. 1995. ‘Trade Unions and Networking in the Context of Change: Evaluating the Outcomes of Decentralisation in Industrial Relations’, Economic and Industrial Democracy, Vol. 16, 233-51.
    Miller, Daniel and Don Slater. 2000. The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach. Oxford: Berg.
    Mulgan, Geoff. 1991. ‘Networks and Post-industrial Societies’, in Communication and Control: Networkrs and the New Economies of Communication. London: Guildford. Pp. 10-31.
    Murray, Jill. 2000. ‘The ILO’s On-Line Conference on Organised Labour in the 21st Century’, Discussion Papers, No. DP/125/2000, Labour and Society Programme, International Institute of Labour Studies, International Labour Organisation, Geneva.
    O’Brien, Robert. 2000. ‘The Difficult Birth of a Global Labour Movement’, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 514-23.
    Pape, John. 1999. ‘Will the Workers of the World Unite in Cyber Space?: Critical Reflections on Information Technology and Labour Movements in the South’, Working Paper No. 2. Cape Town: International Labour Research and Information Group. 11 pp.
    Paulson, Justin. 2000. ‘Peasant Struggles and International Solidarity: The Case of Chiapas’, in in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2001: Working Classes: Global Realities. London: Merlin, New York: Monthly Review. Pp. 275-88.
    Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins. 1998. ‘Cybercultural Politics: Political Activism at a Distance in a Transnational World’, in Sonia Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino and Arturo Escobar (eds), Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview Press. Pp. 325-352.
    Paulson, Justin. 2001. ‘Peasant Struggles and International Solidarity: The Case of Chiapas’, in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (eds), Socialist Register 2000: Working Classes: Global Realities. London: Merlin Press.
    Reardon, Gerry. 1992. Information Technology, Electronic Communications and the Labour Movement, 14-16 April 1992, GMB College, Manchester, UK. Conference Report. Manchester: Labour Telematics Centre.
    Shostak, Arthur. 1999. ‘CyberUnions: The Future of Labour’, Working USA (New York), Vol. 3, No. 4.
    Spooner, Dave. 1998. ‘Trade Union Telematics for International Collective Bargaining’, in Gerald Sussman and John Lent (eds), Global Productions: Labour in the Making of the “Information Society”’. Creskill (NJ): Hampton Press. 277-88.
    Stienstra, Deborah. 2000. ‘Making Global Connections Among Women, 1970-99’, in Robin Cohen and Shirin Rai (eds), Global Social Movements. London: Athlone Press. Pp. 62-82.
    Unions21. 2000. The Use of ICT by Trade Unions: The Creation of the E-Union. London: ??. 4 pp.
    Voices 21. 1999. ‘A Global Movement for People’s Voices in Media and Communications in the 21st Century’.
    Waterman, Peter. 2000. ‘Nine Reflections on a Communications Internationalism in the Age of Seattle’, Paper for Conference, ‘Nuevos Escenarios y Tendencias de la Comunicación en el Umbral del Tercer Milenio’, Quito, Ecuador, Ferbuary 14-17.
    Wichterlich, Christa. 1999. The Globalised Woman: Reports from a Future of Inequality. London: Zed. 180 pp.
    Williamson, Hugh. 1993. ‘Letting People Know, it’s a Workers’ World: Report on the IRENE/ILR Seminar on Workers’ Information Internationally’, News From IRENE. No. 18-19, pp. 4-13.

Workers Education Association. 1999. ‘Responding to the Global Economy: International Study Circle Pilot Programme – Final Evaluation Report’. London: Workers Education Association. 21 pp.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: