Trade unions focus on information technology
Many trade unions recognise the need to keep their organisations and members up to date with new trends and developments in information and communication technology. In 1998, members of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) may soon receive offers of PCs and Internet access at home, and the Norwegian Union of Graphical Workers is offering its members free Internet courses.
Many trade unions recognise the need to keep their affiliated organisations and members up to date with new trends and developments in technology, and at the moment the focus is on information and communication technology. A recent survey show that six out of 10 members of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge, LO) regularly use personal computers (PC s) at work, at school or at home, and that almost 33% of all members have access to the Internet. The former figure represents a 10% increase since December 1996. Furthermore, 20% of those having access to the Internet claim to use it regularly every day, and 16% of members in employment are using the Internet as a source of information (according to Opinion, January 1998). The popularisation of information technology (IT) has made the Internet, and other IT channels of information, potentially more accessible to ordinary workers, and several recent initiatives by trade unions may accentuate this trend.
PC and Internet access at home to all LO members
LO has endorsed a proposal put forward by the Workers' Educational Association of Norway (Arbeidernes Opplysningsforbund, AOF), whereby LO members are to be offered IT package deals containing PC and Internet access at home. The LO leadership is positive towards such a scheme, according to deputy leader Gerd Liv Valla, but awaits further deliberation on the issue before a formal decision is made. The financial aspects of the initiative, and the role of LO in this regard, need to be worked out in detail. AOF has yet to consider the questions relating to finance. LO's own computer division, Fagdata, is in the process of formulating proposals for contractual arrangements, and will soon start evaluating potential candidates among IT supplier in Norway. A similar scheme is already in existence in Sweden, and approximately 45,000 members of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisasjonen i Sverige, LO) have so far had computers installed in their homes. The contractual arrangements entered into with the Swedish supplier, Take Care Marketing (TCM), do not involve any costs for the Swedish LO.
Free Internet courses for NGF members
The Norwegian Union of Graphical Workers (Norsk Grafisk Forbund, NGF), an LO-affiliated union, is presently running a scheme offering its members free Internet courses. These are not occupational courses, but are designed for more general use by the members themselves. The aim is to persuade at least 40% of NGF members to join the course, and the total cost of the scheme is expected to reach approximately NOK 10 million by 1999. At the moment, course activity takes place at four local competence centres owned by local branches of NGF, but will be extended to other parts of Norway in cooperation with local AOF associations. According to the leader of NGF, Finn Erik Thoresen, these courses are "initiatives for the enhancement of democracy". The next step, according to Mr Thoresen, will be to follow in the footsteps of the Swedish LO, and to offer members of NGF PC and Internet access at home. The latter NGF initiative will go ahead sometime in summer 1998, regardless of any decisions made by LO on the issue. NGF is also part of a research project by the Norwegian telecom operator, Telenor, on Internet-based competence development, in which the possibilities of further vocational education via the Internet are explored.
Electronic union branches
The Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers' Union (Norsk Olje- og Petrokjemisk Fagforbund, Nopef) has been one of the pioneering unions in relation to IT in Norway, and as such Nopef has developed the concept of "electronic union branches" (elektroniske klubbkontorer). At some 130 local union offices interaction and information exchange take place via internal electronic networks, or intranets. These are closed networks for the use of union branches only, but information can also be found on Nopef's own homepage on the Internet. In this way Nopef believes it may provide a better and more efficient service to its members, and at the same time give its members an opportunity to keep up to date with events. Internal surveys show that union representatives are taking the scheme seriously, and Nopef has employed a full time IT consultant to evaluate and further develop the scheme. The scheme was one of the main attractions at the technology fair during the 1997 national LO congress, and it received international attention from visiting representatives of the International Labour Office (ILO).
The labour movement in the modern information society was an issue on the agenda during the 1997 national LO congress. LO expressed a wish to be at the forefront in the debate on technological evolution, and displayed a positive attitude towards modern information technology. It was emphasised, however, that the introduction of new technology should not undermine the existing regulatory framework, and that changes in work organisation, such as home based telework, should not take place at the expense of the well-being of the employees (NO9802149F). Nevertheless, there is a general willingness among trade unions to explore the possibilities inherent in modern technology, in order to provide a better information service to their members and organisations. Many union organisations have already created their own homepages on the Internet, including LO, in which they are able to provide information on most issues concerning the unions' activities. More and more unions are following Nopef's example in establishing electronic union branches. Furthermore, LO, in cooperation with AOF and a Norwegian publishing company, Tiden Norsk Forlag AS, has developed a CD-ROM library called the Labour Movement's Electronic Library (Fagbevegelsens Elektroniske Bibliotek, FEB), which contains up to date information on issues including statutes, regulations, and legal precedents. The Norwegian labour movement's own library, the Norwegian Labour Movement's Archive and Library can also be found on the Internet. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)