Unions using Open Source software

I think there’s a natural link between the Open Source software community and the labour movement. There is certainly an ideological congruence: Open Source proves that people can work together to build complicated and sophisticated products without bosses and mechanisms for workplace discipline.

People and organisations participate in Open Source for different reasons: many companies – especially hardware developers – pay developers to build Open Source software because it benefits them to have widely available, free software that runs on their hardware.

But ideologically more interesting are projects like Debian, a computer operating system based on Linux. Debian’s development model is entirely democratic, and the work of more than a 1,000 volunteers all over the world is coordinated through transparent and decentralised methods.

This is workers’ self-management. It’s a way of organising labour that business tells us can’t work: you have to have a boss telling you what to do. And yet it’s highly effective: Debian is secure and probably one of the most stable and reliable operating systems in the world.

It’s also highly ethical – Debian software is entirely free – both to use, and to alter – and is governed by a social contract. This is a working example of cyber-communism, or an online gift or participatory economy: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.

For me it makes complete sense that trade unions should be supporting Open Source instead of making Bill Gates and Steve Jobs richer. But how many unions even know about Open Source?

The only union I know of that uses Open Source software is the CGT in Spain, who use Debian. Here are the reasons they give:

The person who is writing this made an official proposal to change all of our computers, servers, desktop workstations, laptops, etc. in a period of two or three years to Debian. The proposal was accepted by the most of the local trade unions from all over Spain. The process began last year, and many local federations have just changed to Debian or distros based on Debian.

Our goal is not only to change the organization’s PCs to Debian, but all of our affiliates’ machines, too. Our organization has about 60,000 members and hundreds of locals with computers; we don’t have exact numbers. The main uses of these machines are related to the office area: word processors, web browsing, and a bit of multi media.

We decided to choose Debian because Debian faithfully follows the GNU spirit, because of the DFSG (it is and will be free software), and easy maintenance with repositories of .deb packages, etc.

I used Linux Mint Debian Edition, which is Debian Testing packaged by the team at Mint to make it easier for non-technical users. It’s the best operating system I’ve ever used, and I highly recommend it. For users with no previous experience, I’d recommend regular Linux Mint with a Gnome desktop, which is probably the most user-friendly Linux distribution.

Do you know of any other unions using Open Source?

7 thoughts on “Unions using Open Source software”

  1. Although we’re not a union, we use ubuntu and rivendell for our radio automation. Or we will in 2-3 weeks once I totally figure it out.

    That’s a pretty heart-warming story from spain tho. Go them!(yes, i find unions using open source operating systems ‘heart-warming’)

  2. Totally agree… Trade Unions should take a lead on this and set an example… the arguments are compelling but the problem is that non geeks simply haven’t heard of this stuff.  The question is how can we raise awareness… how can we educate our colleagues in the movement and get things like this on the agenda or discussed at conferences or what have you?  Would be interested to hear people’s thoughts in relation to this.  One thing is for sure… your site is an excellent start… keep it up

    1. Chris,

      Thank you for you comments. Raising awareness obviously is a challenge, but part our idea is to reach the activists in the unions the member and staff to push the unions if it requires talks to be given it is certainly something we’d consider in our appropriate countries of course. Conferences are a bigger challenge the issue I think and something we encourage is not to see open source software as a tool but as a community. Where the proprietary developers tend to I’d like to say falsely create community. So reaching out to Local Linux User Groups is an idea too. These are issues we plan to address as the feedback comes in from the shows. We’ll keep the show going that’s for sure..keep the thoughts flowing!
      In Solidarity!

  3. Totally agree… Trade Unions should take a lead on this and set an example… the arguments are compelling but the problem is that non geeks simply haven’t heard of this stuff.  The question is how can we raise awareness… how can we educate our colleagues in the movement and get things like this on the agenda or discussed at conferences or what have you?  Would be interested to hear people’s thoughts in relation to this.  One thing is for sure… your site is an excellent start… keep it up

  4. I think that labour activists should not use the term “open source”.   We should instead use the term “free (as in freedom) software.    When people use the term “open source” I try to correct them and talk about free software.

    Open source is simply a software development model. In fact the creation of the term in 1998 was deliberately to remove the politics of freedom from the free software movement and instead focus on how to get good reliable software cheaply.

    If that’s the argument, then Microsoft, Adobe and Apple will make the exact same arguments.   Also millions of computer users around the world simply use unlicensed illegal copies of proprietary software.

    On the other hand, the free software movement began in the 1980’s as a social and political movement for the freedom of computer users i.e the freedom to run the software for any purpose, the freedom to modify the software to suit your needs, the freedom to distribute exact copies of the software and the freedom to modify software and release your own modified version of it.

    We need to do what we can to make labour and social activists aware of these four essential freedoms. 

    The free software movement with its social and political aims has much in common with the trade union movement.  Both movements are about building a fair and just society.

    And more importantly, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and the others can never ever argue that they will give you more freedom.   Proprietary software companies are not in the “freedom business”.   They’re in the end user control business.

    So say “free software” and not “open source”.   People do get it.

    1. Bob,

      Thank you for your comments and I feel as the oggcast grows the correct terms of use if you will are certainly an important aspect of the FLOSS community. Have you had a chance to listen to episode 11 http://wp.me/p1yNTT-9S we specifically discuss the FSF and the four freedoms. It is certainly something we respect and take part in espcially since we see the deeper political and democratic connections in both the FLOSS and Labor movements. Use of the correct terms is something we are evolving in using as the show and website grows. Thanks to comments on here the correct Gnu/Linux has become common in my discourse. I can’t speak for Walton, but I can say that there are still many in the labor movement in the US at least that are not as familiar with FLOSS or Gnu/linux as hopefully one of their first sources the correct terms are more important for us to use.

      Thanks again for you comments and hope you take a listen to the oggcast.

  5. I think that labour activists should not use the term “open source”.   We should instead use the term “free (as in freedom) software.    When people use the term “open source” I try to correct them and talk about free software.

    Open source is simply a software development model. In fact the creation of the term in 1998 was deliberately to remove the politics of freedom from the free software movement and instead focus on how to get good reliable software cheaply.

    If that’s the argument, then Microsoft, Adobe and Apple will make the exact same arguments.   Also millions of computer users around the world simply use unlicensed illegal copies of proprietary software.

    On the other hand, the free software movement began in the 1980’s as a social and political movement for the freedom of computer users i.e the freedom to run the software for any purpose, the freedom to modify the software to suit your needs, the freedom to distribute exact copies of the software and the freedom to modify software and release your own modified version of it.

    We need to do what we can to make labour and social activists aware of these four essential freedoms. 

    The free software movement with its social and political aims has much in common with the trade union movement.  Both movements are about building a fair and just society.

    And more importantly, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and the others can never ever argue that they will give you more freedom.   Proprietary software companies are not in the “freedom business”.   They’re in the end user control business.

    So say “free software” and not “open source”.   People do get it.

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