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Trade Unions discuss Information Technology

22.10.2003

Trade Unions discuss Information Technology

The National Trade Union Confederation organized a one day Seminar on Tuesday 7th of October on Information Technology. Entitled "Information Technology for All" the Seminar and attended by some 100 unions leaders and delegates, the Seminar was animated by Ashok Subron, trade union militant (also member of the Lalit Central Committee).

The Seminar was divided in three sessions.

The impact of technology on society, the work place and unions was the first topic of the discussion. Much of the discussion was centered on the cruel contradiction and absurdity of present day capitalism where unemployment, retrenchments, degradation of work conditions, poverty are accelerating while the technical tool of production are expanding at a rate rarely experienced in the history of humanity. "Can the present economic system sustain this blatant contradiction?" - these were the kind questions that were asked during the Seminar.

Ashok Subron said that technology can be either a means for the liberation of humankind or a means of its destruction, giving nuclear as an example. The present "revolution" taking place in the ICT field objectively carries the potential of either human liberation or the total submission of humankind to those forces who control technology. Liberation would mean elimination of hard labour and decrease of manual work, more creative way of working, less working hours for workers, full employment for all societies and more time for workers to participate in creative activities and in the democratic process of managing society. Submissions means the reality we experience in our daily lives today. "The way that ICT will in the future affects society depends more on class struggle, on the balance of power in society rather than on an approach of "refusing" or "accepting" technology" said Ashok Subron in his concluding remarks.

The second session was an introduction on the free/open source software philosophy. Union's delegates discovered for the first time in Mauritius, a completely new and interesting philosophical approach to the question of "intellectual" and "knowledge" ownership. Ashok Subron explained the role of "programs" and "software" in the present day society. The free/open source movement philosophy is very simple: program codes must be accessible to all, thus booming knowledge and IT itself; people using free/software has the right to distribute the software freely as they wish. If commercial use is being made of free/opensource, the company must guarantee these two rights as well as not charging for what has been obtained for free. "All these principles are governed by a new "copyright" license called copyleft developed by the Free Software Foundation", explained Ashok Subron to the delegates present. Open Source software such as OpenOffice were shown to delegates present, using LCD projection. CD's with Free/Open Source software were distributed freely to all participants at the Seminar.

The third session was devoted to discuss implications of ICT on workers and citizen's rights. Unions delegates agreed that IT rights must be on the agenda of all union demands both at sectorial and national level. The impact of IT use on civil and political liberties must top unions' agenda. For example in some companies, bosses are requesting that every worker must give finger prints to be put in the boss's digital database.

The Seminar concluded with delegates discussing the IT Plan of the NTUC. After this introductory Seminar, participants proposed a specialized course on Website building plus a beginner's course for union delegates. The NTUC is also raising funds to set up a Trade Union School, where IT Training will be a major component.