Cybersociology Magazine: Issue Five

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Problems in Creating a Global Solidarity Culture

by Peter Waterman

Notes: This paper was written originally (under a different title) for the LabourMedia97 Conference, organised by computer and other communications specialists working with the Korean labour movement, Seoul, Republic of Korea, November, 1997. I have left the body of the paper as it was. Footnotes and an extensive Postscript brings it up to date as of March 1999. A limited bibliography and resource list has been added. Further sources for the argument can be found in my recent publications, or on the Global Solidarity Site (see link at bottom of page).

Introduction: the maturing of a model

In 1984 I first wrote a paper entitled `Needed: a New Communications Model for a New Labour Internationalism. This suggested, precisely, that the new labour internationalism then taking shape was not an organisational but a `communications' internationalism. I surveyed the field, identified resources, indicated some relevant theory, suggested obstacles and strategy. The paper also identified the pioneering role being played by international labour support and media groups on the periphery of the union movement.

In 1995 I wrote another paper, entitled "A New Communications Model for a New Labour Internationalism: Still Needed." This looked sceptically at the achievements of the intervening years. It recognised the decline, in the face of neo-liberal attack and trade union retreat, of the independent labour support groups, and their frequent over-engagement with (not necessarily incorporation by) the institutionalised union movement, nationally and internationally. I identified the common problems facing both the institutionalised and the alternative labour media activists. I suggested that labour by itself was unlikely to develop an appropriate new international communications model, and concluded that it would need to learn from the new alternative international social movements (women's, ecological, alternative radio and video, etc.) if it was to do so. I mentioned the number of international labour periodicals that had disappeared, or failed to take off. And then indicated the writings and activities of the international women's, and the (largely non-labour) radio and video movements.

In 1997 my feeling is that an independent labour model might finally be coming into existence, one that can make a significant contribution to the general movement for a global solidarity culture. Why? Let us consider four 1997 experiences.

I. The first is that of the international communication practices of the Liverpool dockers. These 500 or so men have been locked out by their employers for two years or more. For most of this time they have been actively engaged in international communication activities to obtain solidarity for their cause. They have used solidarity conferences, docker visits abroad, production of tee-shirts, posters, videos, and the internet. Their email activity has been largely dependent on the efforts of a very small number of computer-friendly specialists. One of them told me, somewhat bemusedly, that he had thus done more for international solidarity within a couple of years, as an individual, than in the previous 20 years, as either an activist in, or leader of, a supposedly revolutionary and internationalist political party. These 500 dockers, resisting neo-liberal corporations and governments, represent a very old kind of working class: male, manual or clerical, proudly local, identified with their work community. They have not - yet - defeated their employers and government. But they have on more than one occasion dramatically forced their will on both the national and international union organisations that claim to represent them. Because of their combination of old and new methods of struggle, of the local and the global, of international solidarity and communication, I call these the Zapatistas of Western Europe. Like the indigenous peasants of South Western Mexico, they are realising the power of the latest means of communication to create a new global solidarity. The email list created for the dockers has permitted not only exchange of information and appeals for solidarity; it has also provided an open space in which international debate on the conflict could take place between workers, national and international union officers...and even left academics!

II. The second example is that of the traditional, institutionalised, labour movement, in its West European place of birth. In early-summer 1997, the Danish union of industrial workers, the SiD, called an international conference on globalisation. This was a very European affair, attracting mostly national and Europe-based international union organisations. This conference showed, however, that at least the more progressive and dynamic part of the old social-democratic labour movement had come out of its retreat before globalisation and neoliberal aggression, had moved beyond complaint and was beginning to formulate an alternative to global neo-liberalism. Amongst other things, the conference proposed new computerised information services, and it created a World Wide Web side, apparently open to all who wished to debate the declaration produced. If and when the proposed services come into existence, this will mark the realisation of an international trade-union project proposed - and rejected - almost 14 years ago.

III. The third case is that of the work of the Israel-based Eric Lee. Lee is a one-person international labour communications industry, active primarily in the new computerised media. I will concentrate on his book about this, entitled The Labour Movement and the Internet: The New Internationalism. Lee's book was not only a first for the labour movement, it is arguably the best handbook of alternative international computer use. It has a very nice combination of ideas and technology. The language is informal without being pretentiously pally. Lee is an enthusiast for computer-mediated communication (CMC) without being starry-eyed about it. His argument for international labour CMC is also - and this is crucial - embedded in one about the revival of labour internationalism. I do not happen to agree with everything Eric Lee says. He and I come from very different labour movement traditions. He is more oriented toward the contemporary mainstream (the institutionalised union movement), I to the periphery (the independent labour resource groups, the new labour movements). Yet I gave my published and unpublished materials to Eric, and he gave me generous acknowledgement.

IV. The fourth example is that of Labour Media 1997 (LM97) itself, sponsored by the dynamic new trade-union movement in Korea. Now this is not the first such international conference held. There is a whole history of these, including the LaborTech conferences emanating from San Francisco, and the LabourTel ones based in Manchester. The LabourTel conferences have been organised within the framework of the British trade-union movement, and have been criticised (on the Net!) for their peripheralisation or exclusion of those outside the mainstream. The LaborTech ones have come from the radical periphery of the labour movement and have been much more open and flexible. The LM97 conference seems to span this divide, in so far as it is sponsored by a national movement that was peripheral and that has become central! But LM97 is also the first such ev ent - as far as I am aware - that has used the internet seriously not simply for organisation but also for preparatory discussion. It has received and published on the internet a number of pertinent comments and suggestions from the US, Haiti, India, Colombia, the UK, Japan and South Africa. If the proposed `virtual conference' takes place on the Net, this may also be a first. If, in moving to the centre, the new movement does not forget the necessary role of the periphery, including autonomous media, this is also likely to be a first.

What will actually happen at this event we cannot predict. But LM97 looks likely to represent a new form and phase in the development of a communication model for a new labour internationalism. In order to do so, I think it will need to also recognise the necessity for a new understanding of at least the following:

Let me pose these in terms of four propositions, which I will try to illustrate or argue for.

1. A globalised networked capitalism requires a globalised and networked labour response

We are living through a revolution within capitalism, one even more profound than that from a local and craft-based capitalism to a national and industrial one. Just as that transformation required an equal one from the craft-based guild to the industrial trade union, so does ours from the national and industrial trade union to a globalised and networked model. At present the trade unions are turning out dressed for national football (with missing and injured players), to find that the field is a rink, that capital is playing global electronic ice hockey - and that the state referee is a member of the other team!

The reason, incidentally, why the present informatised capitalist revolution is more significant than the industrial capitalist one is because the computerised communication on which it is based also potentially overcomes the 2,700 year-old split between the rational and sensual, the brain and the hand, implied by the invention of the alphabet. Whilst the national-industrial phase of capitalism evidently failed to provide the material and social conditions for its own overthrow, the global-information phase seems to allow for such.

Figure 1 is intended to show, schematically, the major institutional and ideological elements of our contemporary phase, how they express themselves globally, what movements they provoke, and the kind of alternatives these movements are trying to develop. In this model labour has a place, but no longer the primacy once accorded the labour movement under an industrialised and national capitalism. If labour wishes to achieve its own specific ends it is going to have to not only ally externally with the other indicated movements (and other such that may exist or appear) but to internalise the issues raised by the others. Amongst these movements are the growing international movement for the democratisation of communication and culture.

Figure 1: High capitalist modernity, globalisation, social movements and an alternative global civilisation


Aspects of high capitalist modernity: institutional/ (ideological)


Dimensions of contemporary globalisation


Social movements, global, national & local


Alternative global civilisation



Capitalism (possessive individualism) Increasingly rapid movement, intensive penetration, restructuring, capital concentration Labour, union, socialist Socialised production, ownership, exchange



Industrialisation (industrialism, consumerism) Ecological manipulation & despoliation Ecological & consumer System of planetary care



Administration & surveillance (bureaucracy, technocrary) Hegemonic inter-state regimes Democratic, political, civil & social rights Coordinated multi- level order



Professional army (militarism)


Military/police repression & control Peace, conflict- resolution, pacifist Transcendence of war via exemplary disarmament



Computerisation of information & culture (computerism/ informatism) Informatisation of crucial international relations & culture Democratisation & pluralisation of information & culture Accessible & diverse alternative information & cultural order




Commoditisation & manipulation of gender, sexuality & reproduction (patriarchy) Global gender, reproductive, sexual, family commoditisation & programming Women's feminist, sexual rights Egalitarian, sexually pluralistic & tolerant



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With rare exceptions, the labour movement, nationally and internationally, has had an instrumental attitude toward communication and culture, subordinating it to specific institutional or ideological requirements. With the increasing centrality of communicati on and culture to social life, the labour movement has to not only value and support the pluralisation and democratisation of this area, but to understand its logic, to learn the skills, and to recognise that any new labour internationalism is going to largely be a communications internationalism.


2. The discourse for a new labour internationalism comes from outside the movement

Traditional internationalist discourses include those of religious universalism, bourgeois liberal cosmopolitanism, socialist labour internationalism. The last of these related to the period of national and industrial capitalism, had only partial success even in that period, and has had decreasing attraction or influence. One reason for the failure was the primacy claimed for socialist over other progressive or humane internationalisms. Another was the competition between socialist internationalisms, each of which tended to claim that its internationalism was the true one. But the main reason for failure was the entrapment of workers and unions within the political framework of state nationalism, and the tenden cy to reduce internationalism to a relation between states (or state-based and nationally-identified parties and unions).

My research on international coverage in a South African labour publication identified a series of contemporary approaches in its pages. These are the following:

The sixth and last category is not a familiar one within the labour movement, although elements from it may be known from contact with new social movements and NGOs. This is not, of course, a single ideology, related to a particular theorist, party or state. It expresses a general orientation toward our contemporary world, and clearly relates to the analysis in Figure 1. It would, moreover, seem to make room for some, if not all, of the other internationalisms - in so far as the latter abandon claims to primacy or superiority.


3. The appropriate style for a new internationalist communications is the critical/self-reflexive one

A new internationalism not on ly needs a new approach or values, it also requires an appropriate style or voice. This applies, in particular, to spoken or written communication. `Style', here, has to do with communicative strategy: a rhetorical posture, a relationship with, or address to, a putative readership. Three major styles relevant to the labour, socialist, nationalist and democratic press historically might be:

All of these writer/reader relations are essentially hierarchical ones, in which that hierarchy is customarily neither questioned nor revealed. These relations are those, as stated, of Prophet and Believer, of Leader and Follower, of Teacher and Student. A fourth hypothetical style might be:

This style is not essentially hierarchical. Nor is it, essentially egalitarian. It is, however, subversive of hierarchy and therefore egalitarian in at least implication.

There is no necessary one-to-one relationship between approach and style, although, for example, the Informational/Analytical style may predominate in contemporary international Social-Democratic discourse, and the Critical/Self-Reflexive has not been typ ical (`criticism and self-criticism' notwithstanding) of the international Vanguardist ones. Nor is there a one-to-one relationship between historical moment/period and predominant style, although certain correspondences have been suggested. I do, however, consider that the 'appropriate' style today for international and internationalist communication should be this fourth one.

It seems to me that the only sound basis for a global solidarity culture under conditions of a globalised information capitalism is dialogue between groups operating predominantly in the critical, creative and self-reflective mode. In saying `appropriate' I allow for the possibility and, indeed, necessity for other styles, in so far as these address other such other human needs and capacities as the affective or expressive - or are required by other media. `Style', finally, should be considered an attribute not so much of individual messages a s of the medium that carries them. This could, for example, mean that whilst an individual article might be in any of the above styles, that of an internationalist publication should, today, be the Critical/Self-Reflexive.


4. In the face of a globalised communications and culture, labour needs to promote a global solidarity culture

Although the origins of the labour move ment have been tied up with notions of solidarity and internationalism, and although such have frequently been expressed in forms of communication, the labour movement, its prominent leaders and eminent theorists never seriously thought about the concepts of solidarity, of internationalism or of communication. Solidarity was either `economic' or `political'. Internationalism was increasingly a relation between nations, nationalities, or nationalisms (and their trade union dependents). Communication was simply an instrument to achieve organisational or political ends (building the union/party, achieving the revolution, developing the economy, supporting the state-nation). Today we need to theorise and strategise all of these.

A complex and differentiated notion of international solidarity is presented in Figure 2. Taken from a piece on women's internationalism, it specifies on the feminist case. But it would be easy to find labour or socialist cases for this particular column. The poi nt of the specification is to show just how many distinct meanings `solidarity' can have, and how many distinct implications they can have for internationalist activity. The political implication might be that a comprehensive international solidarity policy needs to involve many or all of these aspects if it is not to be one-sided and even counter-productive. The specification also, however, provides a potential means for analysing cases of international solidarity to see what kind they represent and what their limitations might be.

Figure 2: The meanings of international solidarity

Definition General or historical example Feminist case Problem, danger or exclusion
Identity Solidarity of common interest and identity `Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win' `Sisterhood is Global' Universalistic; exclusion of the non-identical; limitation to the `politically- conscious'?
Substitution Standing in for those incapable of standing up for themselves Charity, development cooperation Gender and Development programmes Substitutionism; one-way solidarity, with in-built patron-client relation?
Complementarity Exchange of different needed/desired goods/qualities Exchange of different emancipatory experiences, ideas, cultural products To-and-fro exchanges between movements, feminists on any axis Decision on needs, desires; value of qualities, goods exchanged
Reciprocity Exchange over time of ident ical goods/qualities Mutual support between London and Australian dockers, late-C19 Mutual support between differently confronted women's rights activists Allows for instrumental rationality, empty of emotion/ethics
Affinity Shared cross-border values, feelings, ideas, identities Solidarity of pacifists, socialists, ecologists, indigenes Lesbian, socialist, ecofeminist Inevitably particular/istic: friendship?
Restitution Acceptance of responsibility for historical wrong Swiss compensation for victims of complicity with Nazis Japanese support for WW2 victims of Japanese military prostitution Buying-off guilt? Reproduction of guilt/resentment?
? ? ? ? ?


As for an internationalist culture, this needs today to be not a labour project but a radical-democratic one to which labour makes its specific contribution. It needs, moreover, to be not an inter-national one (a relation, remember, between nations, nationalities, nationalisms) but related to global problems and global alternatives. This is what I call a `global solidarity culture'. This needs, finally, to express itself within three distinct but interdependent spheres of communication, the Popular, the Alternative and the Dominant. We will return to these below.

What, first, is meant by a GSC? This is a political project and can be best set out in another set of propositions.

  1. 1. As a preliminary definition we might consider the following. A GSC implies the creation of transterritorial relations which enrich and empower popular and democratic communities or collectivities by exchanging, sharing, diversifying and synthesising their ideas, skills and arts. The strength of the dominant pattern of international relations and communications lies in finance, machinery, institutions, arms, territory, and their tendency to stratify, segment, oppose, oppress and destroy.Information is here a resource to be hoarded, sold, controlled and used to reinforce the concentration of wealth and influence. The strength of a GSC is asymmetrical. It lies precisely in the use and furthering of international communication and culture as a cooperative, constructive and creative relationship between people. Unlike a globalised culture, this is not something coming from one or two countries or a handful of companies, nor is it one which homogenises. It is, on the contrary, something that provides both space for and stimuli to the local and particular, valuing difference and variety - at least in so far as the local and particular are not themselves racist, chauvinist, sexist, militaristic, authoritarian, etc.
  2. 2. The primary political force for th e development of a GSC is provided by the new alternative social movements (NASMs) with a critical and committed understanding of globalisation. Developing under conditions of globalisation, information capitalism and nation-statism, the NASMs are faced by the necessity of confronting their constraints. In so far as the NASMs (and radical-democratic ethnic and labour organisations) reject capitalist, statist, bloc, sexist, racist, etc., solutions, they are open to international dialogue and cooperation in a way that the old ones could not consistently be.
  3. 3. The most favourable terrain for the new democratic global social movements is precisely that of communication/culture. Movements such as those of women, human-rights, ecology - and the new labour ones - are increasingly recognising this, even whilst they are active in traditional parliamentary, community, industrial, lobbying, organising and financing activities.
  4. 4. The specific difficulties of creating a GSC are primarily those of motivation, resources and language. Motivation first requires recognition of the problem - something that is only spreading slowly and unevenly throughout the world. Resources must be sought amongst the interested categories themselves. Advantage can, however, also be taken of the institutions (e.g. public-service or community broadcastin g) and finance (development-aid or solidarity funds) of liberal-democratic states, of unions, parties, churches, foundations and international agencies that seek to demonstrate their democratic or humanitarian credentials. Recognising the interpenetration or overlap between global solidarity on the one hand, and, on the other, labour/socialist internationalism, religious universalism and bourgeois cosmopolitanism, should enable activists to make principled and purposive recourse to such facilities. Language should be seen as a problem rather than a barrier, for the following two reasons. Firstly, because we have not even begun to explore the possibilities for the creation of a GSC between single or related language groups of different nation-states (not only English and Spanish but also Armenian, Hausa, Quechua, Dutch/Flemish/Afrikaans). A GSC does not require that everyone be able to speak in a direct and unmediated way with everyone else but that global solidarity be valued and demonstrated, even locally. Use, furthermore, can be made of the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge of immigrants and re-migrants. Foreign-language skills could be encouraged amongst both the masses and the activists. Secondly, we need to recognise the growing importance internationally of non-verbal communications and culture (music, dance, graphic arts, video), such as the South American poor women's 'arpilleras' (tapestry, appliqué), appropriately called `pictures that speak'.
  5. 5. Global solidarity groups are already capable of using for their own subversive or counter-assertive purposes the dominant international channels and symbols. This is exemplified by the strategy used by East-European dissidents to get their messages back to their own populations by using the dominant Western media. This strategy has been used implicitly by Greenpeace, adept at exploiting the mass media to get its minority message to a mass international public. But one needs to be conscious of what one is doing if, instead of riding a sealed train, one is not to be taken for a ride.
  6. 6. The progressive professional, technical, administrative and cultural middle classes can further the above process, just as its democratic and internationalist elements have initiated it. A leading role could be played by radical communications specialists bored with providing ideologies, theories, strategies and techniques to nationalist technocrats or counter-elites. They are, in fact, responsible for initiating the international democratic communication movement, represented by the People's Communication Charter and related projects. Increasingly resentful of elitist technocrats and political manipulators, township dwellers, workers and others could respond positively, even to foreign specialists, if these help them rediscover their international history, develop the skills locked into alienated work, extend their own international knowledge and contacts - and are prepared to learn as well as teach.
  7. 7. The appropriate media for a GSC must differ according to place/space, category, level and political conditions. Place/space: video might become increasingly central within the US, where there now exists the possibility of broadcasting via satellite to individuals and public-service cable channels nationwide; the most important for Africa and Latin America at present is likely to be radio. Local, national, regional and global space suggest specific possibilities and constraints, with computer-mediated communication (CMC) and its growing possibilities, being self-evidently crucial for exploiting/bridging global space. Category: printed materials can be both read and produced by most peace-movement members, not by most members of rural labour unions. Level:: the cost and technical complexity of computers makes them initially relevant to organisers and communicators, not to most social movement members/supporters. Political conditions: there are media and modes of expression with a high and therefore provocative political profile and there are those with low ones (`informa tion', `educational materials').
  8. 8. Self-determined self-activity amongst the relevant movement members and supporters is essential if such a project is not to reproduce the fate of the vanguardist worker film, photo, radio, theatre and other such movements of the 1920s-30s. This was always subordinated to the ideology of its vanguardist initiators and later declined into a state-controlled propaganda effort. International cultural activity from the grassroots, shopfloor, community can provide these with an independent sense of community that can empower them - as it did 19th century European proletarians - in not only global but also national and local struggles.
  9. 9. If a GSC model already exists, it is largely hidden from public view. The development of such a model therefore requires the identification and analysis of the whole range of internationalist communication practices, whether of a generally `non-dominant' or a specifically `alternative' nature. We therefore need to examine traditional international solidarity communication, as well as such mass or relevant individual or group activities as migration, vacations, work and study trips, foreign and international, amateur or community radio, video and computer communication, correspondence, etc. We need to be sensitive to the communications work and skills of increasing number s of skilled or semi-skilled communication workers, as well as those of increasing categories of `proletarianised' education, cultural, communications and information professionals or technicians. These, and their organisations, are not only capable of acting internationally in their own right but also of acting as agents (educators, technical specialists) for others.


What is the relationship between this project and the three earlier-mentioned spheres? This is suggested by Figure 3. Whereas traditional models would oppose the Dominant to the Revolutionary, the Capitalist to the Proletarian, the Dominant to the Popular, or the Dominant and the Popular-Alternative, these are all binaries and conceived as solely oppositional (Capitalist or Bourgeois culture being opposed to, threatened by and eventually destroyed by Proletarian and Socialist culture). Yet we have to recognise, particula rly under information capitalism, that the Popular is also inside the Dominant, just as the Dominant is inside the Popular. I wish, moreover, not to conceal the tension between the Alternative and the Popular but to reveal and recognise it. In so far as this paper is likely to be read by people involved in and committed to labour or left communication and cultural projects, it is also necessary to recognise the interpenetration of the Alternative and the Dominant. Indeed, some radical communications activists argue that the primary terrain for social movements today is the dominant media - and even the prime-time TV news . If, they say, a social movement does not exist on the dominant TV at the peak viewing time, it does not exist! I myself think that activity within all these spheres is essential for a holistic alternative cultural project.

Figure 3: The relation between dominant, popular and alternative communication and culture

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I am not sure that the preceeding ideas mount up to something, or that this paper is more than the sum of its parts. I am aware of a bias toward print media, as well as a lack of sufficient focus on the alternative international labour media. The print media bias may, however, add something to arguments increasingly focussed on the audio-visual or the World Wide Web. And the attention to non-labour m edia is essential if the labour-oriented ones are to both draw from and contribute to a more general project - and to regain labour's original emancipatory and internationalist vision.

Postscript 1999: Left behind?

It gives me no particular pleasure to report that, 18 months later, the development of internationalist labour media leaves it in the same position - relative to others - as it was then. This is in the rearguard, not the vanguard, of alternative international communication and culture, particularly that to be found in cyberspace. Whilst there has been some quantitative advance, as indicated by the LabourMedia97 event, or by the Labor-on-Line Conference, New York, January 1999, labour (left, right or centre) is still tending to act as if the creation of an international labour communication or culture is, in the name of the old song about their emancipation, `the task of the workers alone'.

From docks to digits. On the positive side we can, paradoxically, report the end of the Liverpool dockers' protest action in early 1998! Whilst failing to tame capital and state, locally or globally, their use of the internet to create an effective international network at waterfront level, certainly impacted on at least the more progressive part of the institutionalised international trade union movement. My hunch is that these organisations are going to either adapt to electronic networking and effective solidarity or be increasingly circumvented by progressive or militant workers and their communications allies. This computer-aided and internationalist effort, moreover, seems to have had a dramatic emancipatory effect on the dockers themselves. Instead of using the considerable individual redundancy payments many (not all) received themselves individually, they were trying, in collaboration with friends at Liverpool's technical university, to set up a worker self-managed enterprise to 1) train themselves and others in the new technology! 2) themselves produce cultural goods! The first of these implies a positive labour response to the conditions of a globalised networked capitalism. The second means `capitalising' on 1) Liverpool's rich local popular cultural tradition, 2) following up on their own experiment in producing a music CD-Rom, with the help of their many friends in the rock business! The shop-steward who announced this was quite clear that this was an experiment that broke with trade union tradition. He also said something to the effect that if he had a pound for every time someone had told him workers' cooperatives represented collective capitalism he would be a rich man! Win or lose, this experiment is worth watching.

Labour's own digital democratic deficit. On the negative side I have to report both the difficult relations between and wi thin the various `alternative' or `independent' international labour networks. Some of this was demonstrated at the LabourMedia97 event, when prominent Western labournetters shocked the Korean majority by either public displays of temper, or by brusquely telling their hosts how they ought to be sucking their electronic eggs. Neither the Western, nor the Southern (a South African woman), nor the energetic and innovative Koreans themselves, moreover, showed sensitivity toward women, awareness of feminism, or knowledge of the much more advanced work of `[email protected]' (to use the name of a book I will mention again below). A Western veteran of labour use of the new technologies, in the meantime, was attempting to slip past a largely unwitting audience a resolution condemning, in traditional national-industrial leftist terms, the very globalisation that had made this conference both necessary and possible! He was on his way to an `anti-globalisation' event and evidently wanted to take with him the orientation of that event, endorsed by this conference! Another such specialist has defended to me the practice - of both institutional and independent sites - of concealing or manipulating evidence on the number of `hits' (visitors, viewers) so as to conceal from parent organisations or'supporters?' their marginal impact. Relations within and between projects have not noticeably improved since then: in some cases they have worsened. Machismo, both in the specific sense of ignoring/dismissing one half of humankind (and working people!), and in the general sense of self-promotion, aggressive/defensive behaviour, competition and secrecy, continues to thrive in left labour's cyberspace. If the European Union is suffering a `democratic deficit', international labour evidently still has to overcome its radical-democratic one.

The re-presentation of labour in cyberspace. A dramatic demonstration of institutionalised labour's self-exclusion from radical-democratic cyberspace initiatives was its real (not virtual) absence from the third Next Five Minutes (n5m3) event held, with related events, over a week or more in Amsterdam/Rotterdam, March 1999. As I commented on the n5m3 discussion site:






What labour needs to learn about networking. `Networking' is a nice word in English, since it combines `work' and `net'. In the body of this paper I have suggested that the emancipation of workers, the struggle against alienated labour, cannot be carried out by workers (and socialists) alone. I have further suggested that the principles of such emancipatory struggle can be found amongst the new radical-democratic social movements. Evidence for this argument can be found in a new collection on [email protected]. The contribution of Arturo Escobar to this reveals at least his sensitivity to women and the new social movements, as well as making a valuable connection between cyberspace and local place (such as Liverpool?):


Recognising the essential contribution of the new radical-democratic social movements and theories, however, does not mean that we cannot identify and revive a labour and socialist one that has either been forgotten, buried under or concealed by: 1) a mountain of Collective Bargaining Agreements, 2) a Himalaya of state-oriented socialist party politics, and 3) the chimera of `Third Ways' that, curiously - given their occasionally distinguished intellectual provenance - appear to be not alternatives to the left and right of the nation-state-capitalist era but between them!

Here I must return to the previously-mentioned Richard Barbrook, of the Hypermedia Research Centre, London. In addition to producing a Digital Artisans Manifesto [ed. note: see article by Barbrook in same issue of Cybersociology Magazine ] , and proposing a European Network of Digital Artisans, he has also offered us a paper, from a forthcoming book, on `The Hi-Tech Gift Economy'. Drawing prima rily from socialist (including anarchist) history and the Marxist theoretical tradition, but making use of the anthropological literature on the gift (potlatch) ceremonies of pre-class societies of abundance, he sees the capitalist internet as pregnant with a post-capitalist (and for that matter a post-state-socialist) society. I will try to communicate the flavour of his thought in the most economical way, by commenting on his crossheads and quoting his conclusions.






There are, thus, Anno 1999, plenty of resources available if labour, or the labour left, does not want to be left behind, desperately trying, in the year 2000, to use the internet to return to the collective-bargaining or welfare-state utopias that followed World War II. All it requires is to open up to actually-existing capitalism, actually-existing social movements, and the increasingly-existing alternative communication and cultural projects! Unfortunately, for labour, the whole world is not watching, and does not give a tuppeny fu ck what labour organisations do, since there are other movements around that have greater ethical appeal, a higher media profile, speak to it more meaningfully - and actually have more political effect. It is really up to labour, or the labour left, to say farewell to the national-industrial stage of capitalism and enter that of a globalised and networked one. A major task here is that of surpassing labour's fixation on capital and state. Like other international radical-democratic social movements, labour has to realise that its problem is not `representing' a clientele (ever-diminishing) but of communicating to a global public that alienated labour is a complex global problem, and that a democratic and popular labour movement is essential for overcoming this. This, itself, requires qualities of flexibility, imagination, creativity, tolerance, breadth of vision, self-criticism, perestroika and glaznost of which it has, over the last decades, been in extremely short supply. A movement that is not continually re-inventing itself becomes an obstacle to movement. (Oh, and in case anyone thinks I have it in for labour, this applies to the `new' social movements too').







[ Both of Peter Waterman's books are avaialable at a discount through Cybersociology Magazine Bookstore ]

Peter Waterman ([email protected]) is the author of several books, including "Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms" (1998) and "Labour Worldwide in the Era of Globalisation" (1999). He is based in The Hague, The Netherlands and invites readers to visit his website at

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