Why Open Source and Creative Commons are important for unions

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) offers powerful, free tools for trade unions and their activists, and a serious attempt should be made to adopt them, and to defend the freedom of the Internet. In the UK, this includes working to repeal the Digital Economy Act.

The idea of Creative Commons should not be strange to trade unionists: as labour folk musician Wood Guthrie wrote in the 1940s,

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Embracing Creative Commons by deliberately sharing resources – and taking a more pluralist approach to organising – would give unions and their activists much more effective tools. With regard to FOSS, although most users are not aware of this, there is a “software war” between the two main proprietary formats, Windows and Mac, and the free and open Linux format. It is important for trade unions to take sides in that war, as it will determine whether information technology is controlled by corporations for profit, or by an accountable structure of users and developers. Unions need to join social movements campaigning to keep the Internet a free public sphere and Digital Commons, outside of the control of large corporations.

Aside from the ideological questions, FOSS provides useful free tools for trade union activists. FOSS also tends to work better on older computers than proprietary software, and is secure and not susceptible to viruses, making it ideal for developing countries or trade union activists without access to the latest equipment. Unions would dramatically empower their activists by salvaging old computer equipment, installing the appropriate FOSS, and giving it away, along with training in its use. In addition, switching union computers to FOSS would save tens of thousands of pounds in licensing costs.

One caveat, however: there is a learning curve when adopting FOSS, and the focus should always be on usability – there are enough barriers to access without potentially creating more.

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