[iDC] Comment on labor media and Iran

Jesse Drew jdrew at ucdavis.edu
Tue Jun 23 21:23:46 UTC 2009

Dear Trebor and all,

I am really enjoying the discussion and debate unrolling here on this  
list, and am quite surprised by the overlap between my own research  
and that of the other participants.  I have wanted to respond to many  
of these posts and threads, and kept waiting for the time to add to  
the discussion with something more complete than a quick response or  
comment.  Unfortunately, my addition to the list corresponded with my  
two young kids getting released from school for summer!  So, at this  
point, I feel compelled to just jump in when I can.

As I mentioned in my introductory statement, I have been working on  
communications practices by labor activists and concur with the  
contributor who mentioned the importance of the communications of  
global business, typically overlooked by media hype over personal  
communications use.  In tracing the contemporary development of global  
labor communications, it is easy to see its counterpart in how the  
telegraph helped colonialism develop into imperialism, how wireless  
radio assisted United Fruit in creating the Central American banana  
republics, and how modern computer networks facilitated the global  
production line.   These uses should be kept in mind when considering  
the liberatory elements of labor activist communications and should  
serve as reminders that all such technologies must be viewed as  
contested terrain.

I often find much discussion of the relevance of social networking and  
media tools still pegged to the familiar mode of traditional  
broadcasting—how many eyes or ears a centralized message is reaching.   
Those of us with past lives in other electronic community-building  
ventures, such as in community access television or mini-FM radio,  
know that it can often be more valuable to have shared communications  
among small numbers, or horizontally between organizational  
structures, rather than to reach a mass audience. As has been pointed  
out on this list, not all of this needs to be of a communicative  
nature, but could involve  information and database sharing as well.   
A union negotiator pointed out to me that being able to walk into the  
room with a laptop and network connection and access the same  
financial spreadsheets and databases as the corporate negotiator may  
offer the largest advantage he has experienced from the new  
communications technologies.  Chemical workers have explained to me  
how the power over worker health and safety has grown enormously once  
chemical and hazardous substance databases began to be shared among  
different unions around the world.  Such seemingly banal or mundane  
anecdotes are certainly not recognized to be as newsworthy as a  
million tweets, but may signify far larger, more meaningful change.

Speaking of tweets, I can’t help but comment on the situation in Iran,  
and the horrible situation confronted by Iranian democratic  
activists.  I believe like-minded people around the world must act in  
unison to defend human rights and liberties there, as well as anywhere  
such struggles arise.  At the same time I have grown increasingly  
annoyed by the armchair “tweeting” of many North American observers,  
who urge the Iranians to confront the police and the militias.  I  
would make a wild guess that very few of them know what it is like to  
face down a phalanx of riot police, while being gassed, maced and shot  
at.  This is a real flesh-and-blood struggle, not a virtual one.  It  
strikes me as another example of mediated experience being confused  
with real experience, something I find epidemic in many young people  
today.  It particularly irks me because we had our own election fraud  
here in the US just a few years ago, and allowed our own Supreme  
(Court) Council to install their choice of president.  The Americans  
meekly accepted their fate and went about their business.  I don’t  
believe a single barricade went up in the aftermath of that stolen  
election.  This week I have seen several editorials and articles  
taking credit on behalf of “western technology” for allowing the  
Iranian rebellion to happen!  Funny, I don’t recall seeing any mobile  
phones attached to the Iranians when they overthrew the US-installed  
Shah of Iran in 1978-79.

Looking forward to more discussion.  Thanks,

Jesse Drew

Jesse Drew, Ph.D.
Director, Technocultural Studies
University of California at Davis
Art Building, Room 316
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616

jdrew at ucdavis.edu

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