WEBWORK: Online Activist Resources

WEBWORK: Online Activist Resources

Blackadder, Derek

AS WITH MOST THINGS, YOUR own union is often the place to start looking for ideas and help.

Several major unions offer free or low-cost web-hosting and webmail services to members and locals. With these services your website comes designed, set-up and ready for you to pour content into. No coding or designing is necessary: you get a website ready to go, though you can normally fiddle with things like colours and other basic features.

If your national office is hosting your local’s website, they’ll know what you’re talking about when you call with problems or want advice about what you’re trying to do with the site. So service-wise, they’re your best bet. Plus you may find (or can ask for and get) things like union-specific newswires and free graphics – everything you need to make your website what you and your members want.

There are limits to the size and complexity of websites that a service like this can support. But think long and hard before going elsewhere. All the advantages listed above aside, a website hosted by your own union will survive retirements, elections, political meltdowns and resignations, whereas a site set up and run by one person just might not.


Webmail (an e-mail account you access by visiting a website) is something you may need to seriously consider. If your employer provides your members with e-mail access, they have likely come to rely on that address for all their e-mail communications, including with the union. While free and convenient, that e-mail address is owned by your employer, who can pull the plug at any time. Do you really want to lose touch with your members when bargaining goes south and the employer gets nasty?

Even commercial webmail services like Hotmail and Gmail are potentially problematic since they can, technically and legally, pull the plug on an account any time, or filter content going to or coming from any account. The chances of it happening may be slim, but do you really want to be the first union to be banned from Hotmail? Talk to the Service Employees International Union folks at the Halifax Casino about what it was like to be the first organizing drive kicked-off Facebook. Sometimes you just wish you had come in last.

If your union offers webmail, use it. Create an account for each of your members and hand it to them.


Funny how when you search for something union-wise using Google, you get adverts on the right side of your screen from companies promising to keep you union-free, or which will happily recruit, train and deliver scabs into your workplace. Yum. Just what a local union activist wants to see first thing in the morning.

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

If SoliComm does for web searches what SOLINET did for online union communications, at your retirement lunch you’ll be able say you were there when the ball first started rolling. Give it a whirl at http://www.solicomm.net/. And then make it the search site your members can access through your local’s website.


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.

Activism.ca 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 Wikipedia.org) 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 unions struggles on your site.

This Is the first column in the new Our Times series “Webwork: Online Activist Resources.” It is intended for activists (mostly newbies) who want to use the Internet to more effectively do their union work. In each issue we’ll look at resources, tips and tricks. Every now and then we’ll take a look at some of the bigger issues affecting the labour movement’s use of the web. Contact the author if you have any resources, opinions, ideas or tips you’d like to share: Derek.Blackadder@sympatico.ca.

Derek Blackadder is a national representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the senior Canadian correspondent for LabourStart.org.

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