LabourStart TV - a new era in union communications?

Eric Lee

The launch today of LabourStart TV ( http://www.labourstart.tv ) may mark the beginning of new era in union communications.

We have had the ability for more than a decade now to put videos on the net. But unions, as usual, have lagged behind.

Nevertheless, there have been examples of unions producing quality online video on a regular basis. The outstanding example is probably the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) with its regular video news. The machinists' union (IAM) has also been producing videos on a regular basis and making them available through their website.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) now uses a digital camcorder to give members a chance to tell their stories, using web-based video as a recruiting tool. And in Vancouver, Working TV has been making its regular television program since the 1990s available through the net. If you are a member of the CAW, IAM or RWDSU, you may have known this. But even then, you may not have known what other unions are doing. And if you're not a member of any of those unions, you probably did not know that unions can use, and have been using, this technology for some time now.

I'm reminded a bit of what the trade union movement was like a decade ago. If your union had a website back in the mid-1990s, you might have been able to find out what was happening -- in your union. If you wanted to know what was happening in the broader labour movement, there weren't a lot of ways to find out. To learn about union struggles overseas, you'd have to trawl through many different websites.

Today, with LabourStart offering up hundreds of union news stories from around the world every single day, everything has changed. Union members can keep up with union news, and can feel themselves part of a much broader international movement. This has clearly changed the consciousness of many trade union members who now regularly participate in online campaigns in support of fellow workers in other countries.

Websites that offer up international labour news have contributed a lot to that change of consciousness. LabourStart.tv aims to do the same thing, only with sound and moving images. Right now, we're linking to a video of the Iraqi labour solidarity tour, produced for U.S. Labor Against the War. We're linking to a tribute video produced by the IAM to honour Rosa Parks. We link to three short animated films produced by British trade unions. We have links to several speeches given at the recent founding convention of the Change to Win federation.  We're linking to extraordinary testimony given by Canadian nurses about the dangers of being stuck by needles.

I know that all of this is a bit new for many union members, so we've made it easy to view the films. There are links to the software you might need next to each film, depending on its file type. But for most people with modern computers, you just click on the link and the video starts playing. Let's be absolutely clear about this -- like LabourStart, LabourStart TV does not create its own news content. We link to existing videos produced by unions. As I write these words, we are showing links to 46 union videos produced in the last few months.

By the time you read this, there may even be more. Already, you can spend several hours watching these videos. Moving images with sound can do things that text cannot. We all know this. All of us watch television, play videos and DVDs, and go to the cinema. We look forward to showing links to union videos in dozens of languages from around the world, showing workers in struggle and moving all of us to greater activity. To do this requires that there be one place on the web that puts all of this together, that shows us what unions are doing and what can be done.

The creation of such a place does offer the promise of a new era in labour communications. That is why I am so excited about it. Please visit today -- http://www.labourstart.tv -- and tell other members of your union!