As we started using the slogan mentioned in the title, we really did not expect there to be any problems with its use.
More so: We honestly thought that all those doing such work must belong to the left. Who else would advocate using communications to the benefit of the rank and file? Who else would have supported the dockers in the way that the original LabourNet UK did? Right-wingers? Supporters of Capital? One has only have to pose the question to see how ridiculous it is.
Before we look into how we do our work in LabourNet Germany and what lessons we think should be drawn from our work, we would like to make one point abundantly clear: We position ourselves openly and demonstrably as part of the left. We make no secret of this and have meanwhile added our slogan to the banner at the top of the frontpage. No one should be able to say that they have been fooled into reading our frontpage or contributing to our site.
This does not mean, however, that we openly or secretly pursue any one particular political line. Our material originates from a number of sources: rank and file unionists, trade union bodies (from local branches right up to conference decisions), left-wing newspapers and even articles from the mainstream press. Ourselves and our supporters/helpers originate from various political backgrounds - both Mag and I belong to no political organisation. What we have in common is that we both are active participants in the union movement - as are most of our helpers and supporters, too. We strive for a broad discussion and scope of ideas, and, to large extent have a wide range of material - especially (but not only) on our discussion pages.
There is a saying that war is good for business. Although we make no money and only have debts, we can say with certainty that our work against the Kosovo war made our name outside a circle of union activists in Germany.
Before we go into the details, it is yet again important to emphasise a very important point: We took no concrete position on the war. We advocated no political program. Both of us were united by our opposition to the war. What we did was to document union opposition to the war. We were the only site that carried all union opposition to the war. During its course we extended our documentation to include various background articles to the war. Here, too, the articles came from a wide range of sources and were politically very diverse. In fact, much of the material we published was of an exclusive nature.
Of course, it should be obvious to any thinking person that the selection of what articles a LabourNet publicises, and what emphasis is placed, reveals the political leanings of those doing the editorial work. So in our case. We were opposed to the war and wanted to make this known and encourage other unionists to follow the examples we published.
In Germany the war was overwhelmingly supported by members of the SPD/Greens government and their respective political organisations. There was a grand coalition in support of the war. Despite resolutions in the years before and opposition to such wars, the German TUC, the DGB, came out very quickly in support of the war. In the case of the Greens it was even more crass.
It took us over a week before we reacted to the situation. As a site dealing with questions of the union movement we had no union angle to a question that is normally situated within the peace movement.
Then a resolution from a factory committee of the metal workers’ union, the IGM, arrived in our mailbox. The committee had passed a resolution against the war and wanted to make this public and wrote to us that they hoped that others would follow their example.
Armed with this resolution and an English copy of an article by Chomsky, we decided to take the plunge and start a page documenting union opposition to the war. Chomsky’s article was exclusively translated by one of our supporters and in the ensuing weeks was copied by or linked to by just about everyone.
As luck would have it, all hell broke lose. Within days resolutions and statements against the war came pouring in. We even received a resolution from a factory in White Russia! At all levels of the unions heated debates took place and were reflected in the number and quality of what we received. During the war we started updating the site at least once if not twice a day.
A number of regional bodies of the German TUC came out against the war. During its course even a number of union executives (inclusive of the massive metal workers union, IGM) passed resolutions against the war and the illegal German intervention in it. This was an indication of how many rank-and-file activists felt about the German intervention in the war. At the rank-and-file level we received resolutions from most of the unions. Interestingly, the IGM started a discussion page on Kosovo, which undoubtedly became one of its best frequented pages.
Our work against the war became very well known outside union circles. The site of the main-stream left linked to us as being the place to read about union opposition to the war. A number of sites from the peace movement linked to us, too, for the same reasons.
By the end of the war we had a reputation as being a fast-moving site where one could find daily new material on and from the union movement - and not only on the question of the war in Kosovo. Although the war is now over, the Deutschmark as official currency has been introduced into Kosovo, our site continues to be updated daily.
As with any web site, the structure of our site changed and was adapted to meet the requirements of the material we receive.
On the frontpage the left column is a menu column and the right column contains our current highlights. The menus consist of the following topics:
In the scope of this paper it is not possible to cover all details of our site. At the last count the printed version of the menu items mentioned above totals over 80 A4 pages!
These pages cover both news from the various industries and also newspapers produced by oppositional groupings within the workforce. In the car-industry and chemical industry we meanwhile cover most of the main manufacturers.
The articles published here are meant to provoke discussion. These pages are a mixture of interesting articles we come across and those we have been sent. Those sent tend to be original material. In fact, many articles are first published by us on the site and later in left-wing newspapers. A mechanism for discussing published articles is in preparation.
This project began with a debate over a year in length both regionally and in the periodicals "Sozialismus" and "express". Meanwhile two conferences have taken place and a third is scheduled for December. LabourNet Germany is the web site for this initiative and we were also one of the sponsors of the last conference. Mag as LabourNet Germany is one of the initiators.
The index file is one of the longest in the whole site. Both national and international disputes are covered. This page has made us so well known that we are the first people to hear about workers' disputes. In general these people have had no contact to us before then. This news and news from the other sectors is published in other papers, with a direct indication that it has come from us.
Even the publication of the German TUC, Einblick, had a special reference to us on their cover page, as the site that carries union news that you will not find in any other newspaper.
As the name implies, LabourNet Germany is a site orientated towards German workers. However, our orientation on the site is international. In a globalised capitalist world workers must also act globally.
Like it or not, the international language is English. Most of the international mails we receive are in English and their content is either of interest to unionists in Germany or of importance. Since we have no unlimited capacity to translate our material into German, we have been forced to publish some material in English. To help our readers understand it we provide German summaries of the reports.
We know from our readers that there is a great interest to hear about what is going on outside of the borders of Germany. New tactics, e.g. the question of the Canadian use of an "Unstrike", has generated more than casual interest.
For the future this part of the site will get more emphasis. Above all else, we will try and get more capacity to have material translated as we have done to date.
First and foremost: we have had very good experience with our unambiguous and very clear orientation as being part of the left. LabourNet as a site of the struggle of the Liverpool dockers was not very well known here. We had no real international reputation to build on. We started more or less from scratch.
Our recognition among union activists speaks for itself. We went out and earned it - and it was hard work. We can see from our mailing list - currently 150 strong and growing daily - that most of the members have had nothing to do with our network to date.
Furthermore, we are being more often invited to congresses and to give lectures in our capacity as LabourNet Germany.
Secondly, a rank-and-file site is best run by people involved in the struggle. Our contacts and our day-to-day work in the movement opens up far more doors than can be imagined.
If you want a site to be read and your work to be respected, the site has to be updated daily. In our case we now have enough work to keep both of us busy full-time. Currently we finish the job for which we get paid for and then, in a second shift, we do the work for which no one pays a penny.
In our opinion, it is going to be a long haul to a "Global LabourNet".
The first step needed is a coordination of material. Who is doing what and who has material and needs material? It would help the work a lot if we knew what each other was up to. In the case of LabourNet UK and LabourNet Germany we are members of each others mailing lists. We are, of course, assuming that when such a list (or lists) are available that they are also used every time the site is updated!
Secondly, we need a Global LabourNet site that can be accessed by all LabourNets with no restrictions. After the experience with the "LabourNet International" site we do not want that any one person can pull the plug because they think he/she is the "keeper of the faith".
Thirdly, any decisions have to be taken democratically. In the case of a Global LabourNet site, the initial decisions would have to be on how the site should be structured. Otherwise there should be no restrictions on the material. No one LabourNet and no one person knows all the answers to the problems we are facing in the world of neo-liberalism. We need a clash of ideas and an exchange of experiences regardless of how banal or wrong they may seem to other participants in such a project.
Fourthly, we all will have to recognise that such a project will have to grow and develop. With the passage of time it may change radically.
Finally, we need the necessary resources to run such a site. A provider, a maintainer for the site and the money to pay it all. A very touchy subject!
Dave Hollis, Nürnberg, Germany. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mag Wompel, Bochum, Germany. email@example.com