'The world is our picket line' - Internet solidarity
By Jagdish Parikh and PK Murphy, People's Weekly World, 29 March 1997
Recent - and outlawed - general strikes by Korean workers reaffirm that they stand in the forefront of the Asian trade union movement. But beyond that, the strikers' breakthroughs in reaching supporters abroad opens up new possibilities for the labor movement in Asia, indeed, for labor worldwide.
These breakthroughs are thanks to computer communications put out by or on behalf of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, a body with no legal status. The KCTU is not alone in using the Web. The locked-out Liverpool dockers have for months been mobilizing support online. International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers (ICEM) successfully used the Internet for their campaign against Firestone, a multinational company.
What is distinct about the Korean situation, however, is that the strikes have become one of the best covered labor struggles in Asia, although English is not commonly used in Korea, even among trade unionists. The KCTU distributed its strike bulletins almost instantly in English to supporters abroad.
Beginning with electronic mail to hundreds of supporters thousands of miles away and culminating in pages on the World Wide Web, the KCTU called for and got solidarity from trade unionists and their allies far beyond Korea's borders. Some unions and individuals set up Web pages or links to Web pages that were covering events as they unfolded in Korea.
Korean strikers and their supporters formed a Telecommunication Taskgroup for the General Strike (TTGS) to mount a campaign on the electronic network. TTGS Web pages encouraged users to post solidarity messages online, let them read support messages to the KCTU and let them find out who else was reading the pages. Such Web page design illustrates how the medium can foster transparency and encourage participation by supporters, thereby bringing greater democracy to the ways we wage solidarity campaigns.
The KCTU's use of computer communications, however, did not spring up overnight. The more militant sectors of the union movement and of the student movement had begun to explore these means as far back as 10 years ago. Some within the Korean labor movement started to experiment with computer communications as far back as 1987.
As impressive as the KCTU's use of computer communications is, more could be done to make such communication more effective in the struggles that await us. This is all the more necessary if we wish to reach out to all those around the world who don't have full access to the Internet but whose support and solidarity is crucial.
It remains, however, that without computer communications, some - perhaps many - supporters outside of Korea likely wouldn't have known enough about the struggle in time to offer solidarity.
Those who have access to electronic mail may want to use the contacts noted here to publicize their struggles as well as to stay in touch with labor struggles worldwide.
Labr.Asia, an online conference hosted by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), offers extensive and regular coverage of the Korean struggle and of labor movement in Asia. For more information, send your e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Labor-L is a moderated mailing list run out of Toronto. Though labor issues in the U.S. and Canada predominate, the list also frequently posts news of labour and related struggles from around the world. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.
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