Thursday, 10 December 2009

Good use of video on the UpTake

Hello, hello, UpTakers!  The team is settled in Copenhagen, and I wanted to pass along the many ways you can follow our coverage of the UN Climate Change Conference, our first international news coverage. The conference lasts until December 18th, and we'll be there, cameras in hand, for the entire thing. 
From about 2 AM CST - 12:30 PM CST, we're live-streaming the sessions inside the Bella Center on our front page.  We'll alert you on our Twitter account when a session is live, or you can check the badges below our video on the front page. 
Many sessions run simultaneously, so you can switch channels on our video player by clicking Copenhagen 1, 2, 3 or 4 on the right-hand side of the player.  After the sessions are over for the day, we'll replay the entire day on the front page.

Fancy, produced video

We're also publishing edited pieces throughout the day.  Examples: we talk with Naomi Klein of The Nation about the concept of hope, and what it means for this conference. Watch a musical demonstration outside of The Bella Center before Day One.  And should Africa be represented by Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenaw at the conference?

Read our tweets

Our team is twittering furiously throughout the day.  Check our live blog for all the tweets in one place, or add them individually: Chuck, Jason, Mike, Jacob.  (Oh, say hi to Jacob Wheeler, journalist from Chicago who's helping us out in Copenhagen.)

A gaggle of videos and links (kind of like a pride of lions)

We're also collecting video on the conference from all over the web here, and you can read daily link round-ups from our interns, Alicia and Kelly, here.  (Say hi to Alicia and Kelly, everyone.)

Embed us!  Steal our RSS!

If you'd like to embed our livestream player, go to our front page and click on the Embed button at the bottom of the video player.  That'll bring up the code.  Click on the channels on the right to bring up that channel's embed code.

If you'd like an RSS feed of our videos, take our Blip RSS here.

We left our heart in Minnesota

We don't miss the snow, but we're not ignoring you, Minnesota.  Check our Minnesota Twitter account for our local live-streaming schedule, and for local videos.  Our citizen journalist supreme, Craig Stellmacher, shot this great video of Sarah Palin and her fans at the Mall America.

As always, if you have questions, or want to say hi to the team, you can write us at

Tak!  (And thanks for watching.)

The UpTake

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Clare, Kevin & Elly's flying bday party circus

What can we say? Anyone up for a spot of Pythonesque flibbertygibbits?

Since we have this wonderful space we want to bring together the best of a bad bunch and celebrate our madness with you.

Fancy dress absolutely essential: Monty python your little socks off. Prizes for the crackerest costumes and free drinks for the most drunk person!

Date: November 26th
Time: from 7pm - 12am
Venue: Resistance Gallery, Poyser St, London, E2

With Dj's:

Clare Solomon
Kevin Deane
Elly Badcock

and many more...

Film showings of Life of Brian top of the bill, Flying Circus playing on the mezzanine from 7pm

This is a strictly No Politics Party: what other sort would we want?!

"Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue over who killed who."

On the night we want to have art, visuals and plenty of interactiveness so feel free to contribute anything to the evening.

For those of you who havent been to this venue before (dubbed the avante gard space of our time by the Metro!) you are in for a treat. Normally the space for, as it says on the tin, all sorts of resistance stuff our birthday party will definitely be in spirit of the venues aims.

Anyway, hope you can come.

Unfortunately due to space constraints we may have to do a sort of door policy so please indicate if you are or maybe coming and then change as and when you know that you are more definite (make sense?)

Ciao 4 now and, in the good words of our mate Monty,

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Fire-fighting in Cyber space: An exploration of Internet Use for mobilisation and democratic accountability

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Fire-fighting in Cyber space: An exploration of Internet Use for mobilisation and democratic accountability

John Hogan, Reader in Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire, UK (

Andreja Zivkovic, Lecturer in HRM, University of Hertfordshire, UK (


This paper examines the use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) by Firefighters in the UK to generate solidarity and maintain collectivism. This is pursued through the examination of how ICTs were utilised in the conduct of the national industrial dispute that raged within Britain’s fire service between 2002 and 2003. It seeks to conceptualise this rich experience of cyber-organisation through the use of the analytical template of distributed discourse. From this perspective ICT has profound implications for collective deliberation and organisation, in that it facilitates communication to occur rapidly, at low and distributed cost; attenuating the time-space poverty of participants by allowing for asynchronous communicative exchanges and by bringing together those separated by distance. Flows of information may now escape institutional boundaries as never before. The communicative possibilities are for more extensive interaction, greater density of communication, sharper visibility and higher levels of transparency.

Through the examination of official and unofficial firefighters web sites, combined with virtual and real time in-depth interviews with key actors, this paper examines the specific domain of union governance, and suggests that tendencies towards oligarchy (sustained by control over the flow of information, access to superior knowledge, skill in the art of politics and a membership diverted by the pulls of work, family and leisure) are challenged by the distributed discourse that lies at the heart of organizing in the information age. In particular, we draw out the possibilities for greater equality of knowledge, distributed control over the means of communication, the enhanced communicative skills of more ordinary union members and a reconfiguration of the time-space dimension of communicative practice. Finally, the paper explores the role that distributed forms of communication and organisation can play in trade union renewal, particularly in promoting participatory democracy and overcoming tendencies to bureaucratic inertia in trade unions.

Paper presented at Trade Unions in the Information Age workshop, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Lancaster, June 28th-29th, 2006


Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language….In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.
Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”

There is little doubt that we are living through a period of profound transformation, not least when confronted with the new possibilities unleashed by the seemingly permanent revolution in the world of information communication technology. The revolution in communicative possibilities is highly significant for trade union organisation and mobilisation. It is our contention that the space created for “the spirit of the new language”, distributed discourse, might well be opportune for a movement seemingly locked in the embrace of failure. However, there are compelling reasons to conclude that adaptation to the language and logics of the “Information Age” is labouring under the unbearable weight of tradition, most notably the obsession of centres of power to remain within the paradigm of the “native tongue” of control. In fact, it is rather telling that when a major conference was hosted by the TUC to discuss the implications of the internet in May 2001, one of the central calls was for the establishment of an “Internet Czar” to codify legitimacy and oversee union activity and presence on the internet.

Between the autumn of 2002 and the summer of 2003, a bitter national industrial dispute raged within Britain’s fire service. Fire fighters under the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) mounted an ambitious campaign for a substantial increase in wages. Events over the period included widespread demonstrations, a large number of meetings between the FBU and National Employers, high profile government-sponsored reports, moves to change the law governing the service, deep divisions between the labour and trade union leaderships, and most dramatically, a series of national strikes, all of which received wide spread media coverage. The dispute ended on June 12th 2003, when a delegate conference ratified the recommendation of the FBU leadership to accept a highly controversial, and for a substantial minority unsatisfactory, settlement, one that may yet unravel and ignite further conflict. It is perhaps ironic that people at times accused of embodying the spirit of “old” labour should pursue their struggles into cyber-space. But that is precisely what they did and continue to do.

The web campaigns associated with the Fire Fighters’ Dispute stand as a clear example of the way in which trade unionist in Britain, from every level, have been making increasing use of new ICTs (information communication technologies), especially the internet, within their union-related activities. This is a significant change. In 1999 we argued (Hogan and Grieco, 1999) that the level of activity had been low and reflection slow to develop. Much has changed. There has been a notable development of interest within academic circles and within official trade unionism, along with increased union activity in cyberspace. Within this paper we provide a brief summary of these developments. Here we indicate that while there consideration of the ways in which internet use might complement and change the conduct of existing trade union activities (servicing, organising and mobilising), there is little understanding of the ways in which democratic structures and processes of trade unionism might be challenged. To develop our understanding, it is important to move outside of the realm of national official union presence on the internet, to incorporate an appreciation of the contributions of local, unofficial and individual activists. Our contention is that it is the lay member web sites which illustrate the impact of the internet on processes of union democracy, voicing of lay members, and the ways in which the who, the what and the where of trade union activism are changed by the capabilities of new ICTs. Hence, we return to the Fire Fighters’ Dispute to indicate how its associated web activity illustrates some of these key themes.

Surveying the Terrain

Debates about the place of new ICTs and their use by unions have formed part of the most recent segments of the ‘union renewal debate’ concerned with how unions might reinvigorate membership numbers, collective bargaining coverage and gain a renewed organisational, political and societal role after twenty five years of derision. Views that trade unions must engage with new technology or die are common: “what does seem certain is that unions that do not get to grips with the digital world will atrophy” (IRS, 2001; Lee, 1997; Diamond and Freeman, 2002). Space constraints only permit a very brief overview here. The main features of the internet, which are seen as having the potential to affect conventional modes of trade union activity involve: the ability to access information on a 24 hour basis, the ability to transcend the need for physical presence, the speed of communication, the extended reach of communication (particularly across dispersed populations), and relatively low cost..

Optimism has been derived from the observation of the ways in which the increased information provision and dissemination potential of the internet can improve the services that are provided to members, including contact with representatives, advice and guidance, and education provision (Diamond and Freeman, 2002; Greene et al, 2000; Greene et al, 2003; Kirton and Greene, 2002; Greene and Kirton, 2003). Furthermore, the internet is seen as an alternative tool of organising new segments of potential membership, particularly younger workers (Greene, 2001). In addition, web sites can provide mechanisms to aid activists and encourage participation of more of the membership, particularly those currently under-represented (Greene and Kirton, 2003). This fits in with the general diffusion of an ‘organising culture’ within the British trade union movement, moving away from the servicing of existing members (Heery et al, 2000; Gall, 2003). The medium of the internet has also been identified as a means to strengthen international labour co-operation and solidarity (Bailey, 2000; Lee 1997; Carter et al, 2003), while, in labour disputes specifically the internet is seen as providing a vital networking and campaigning tool, leading to the enhanced maintenance of solidarity across dispersed membership bases and facilitating the co-ordination of conventional physical pickets and demonstrations (Pliskin et al , 1997; Carter et al, 2003; Greene and Kirton, 2003)

The issue of union democracy has also been the subject of debate, and one of our own areas of particular interest. We have argued in particular that internet and email communication hold with them the potential to facilitate processes of ‘distributed discourse’. In a trade union context, this involves greater equalities of knowledge to a larger number of people across a wider area, offering enhanced spaces for voicing of interest and dissent. Processes of distributed discourse through internet communication mean that knowledge need no longer to be subject to centralist iron laws of oligarchic formation, where the line is dictated from a hierarchical centre. Part of this is the way in which the internet provides mechanisms whereby voices which may be silenced or marginalised within official channels can be heard, and whereby ordinary members are able to impose transparency on their elected officials and representatives, contributing to increased accountability (Hogan and Grieco, 1999; Hogan and Greene, 2002; Greene et al, 2003; Carter et al, 2003).
Unions Online?
Moving on from optimism of potential, scepticism makes an appearance when the conservative nature of internet use by trade unions in Britain is observed. Admittedly, initial research indicates that use of ICTs is widespread. (Fiorito, 2001; Diamond and Freeman, 2002). In addition, most of the larger TUC affiliated unions now have a significant web presence, (Ward and Lusoli, 2002). However, it is clear that unions have not been as innovative as they could have been. Indeed, Ward and Lusoli see them as ‘dinosaurs in cyber-space’. Unions appear mostly concerned with basic information provision rather than with mechanisms to facilitate interactive discussion. Some (primarily very small ones) still without a web presence, while visibility for local branches is very limited (Ward and Lusoli, 2002) A survey by Poptel also supports views that unions are fairly conservative in their aims; for example, while respondents ranked most potential uses of the internet highly, they were much more equivocal about innovations such as on-line voting. Overall, there is still a strong preference for trade union participation of the face-to-face, physical form, confirmed by other evidence in the education sphere (Kirton and Greene, 2002). In addition, it is clear that there is some resistance to the notion of distributed discourse. In fact, when the LSE staged a conference on Unions and the Internet in 2001, hosted and co-organised by the TUC, at the centre of discussion was the proposal that Britain’s unions need an ‘Internet Czar’, to oversee the web presence and web activities of the UK trade union movement.

In the end, it should be noted that the most persuasive commentaries on unions and the internet recognise that ICTs are not a panacea for the ills of the trade union movement (Greene and Kirton, 2003; Greene et al, 2001; IRS, 2001). Nevertheless, it is also clear, that much of the research and commentary, as well as TUC and union policy suffer from an almost exclusive focus on official and nationally-based union websites, where arguably the most resistance to distributed discourse may be found. We have argued elsewhere (Hogan and Greene, 2002; Greene and Hogan, 2001) that the examples of the most innovative use of the internet, which offer the greatest challenges to conventional trade union activities are to be found outside of official structures, within lay or ordinary member locations. This is where we turn to next in looking at the Fire Fighters’ Dispute.

Fire Fighting in Cyber Space

As the fire fighters’ pay campaign unfolded, one FBU union activist, Simon Hickman, established an unofficial web site in the June of 2002, the 30k site ( Given space limitations, it is impossible to convey its full extent and depth. However, there are a number of features that are particularly noteworthy. The site is a very rich information resource, containing electronic archive and news materials, links to notices of rallies and meetings, news of strike schedules, and directed links to the facility to lobby MPs electronically and to view the official strike bulletins on the official/national FBU site. There is a search engine, invitations to contact the site and facilities to directly communicate the address of the web site to friends. The links to external sites is limited to those dealing specifically with the dispute. Following an attack on the site in November 2002, Mr Hickman was compelled to move to a dedicated server, a cost that viewers are invited to contribute to, made possible by amongst other things an online electronic debit payment facility. Perhaps most interesting of all is the space made to interact and discuss the campaign and other matters of concern in chat rooms and forums. The registration process to enter discussion is quick and straightforward, interactions are moderated and the product of debate is openly available for view in separate interest groups.

There is no doubt that the 30k site has been seen as important. By the end of 2002, the site came third in an international poll of the best labour movement websites (official or unofficial) for the year ( and has generated a staggering volume of visits and participation. While space constraints prevent a comprehensive assessment, there are a number of key observations that can be made.

Multi-Voicing and Visibility

Between August 19th 2002, when the site began to monitor and record site visits, and July 8th 2003, the site was visited 487,418 times, with the viewing of 2,959,367 pages, while there were nearly 5,000 visitors registered as members of the chat rooms and forums, who combined to contribute to the posting of over 126,000 messages. Both the 30k site and the FBU official site deploy the same software for generating statistics about visits, which allows easy comparisons to be made. On the available evidence, we can see that the unofficial site1 clearly outperforms the official site2. The average number of visits per day at the time of inspection, July 8th 2003, stood at 1,168 for the official site and 1,875 for the unofficial site, average visit length was 1 minute 37 seconds for the former and 9 minutes 20 seconds for the latter, in terms of the average number of pages viewed per day, the official site scored 1,538 while the unofficial site registered 9,744. Thus, while mindful of the perils of relying upon polls as well as raw statistical data, such evidence suggests that the 30k site did achieve a significant level of visibility for the cause, while providing a communicative space for the multiplication of voices in a manner that could not be achieved in real time and space. Furthermore, the evidence suggests support for our contention that the relatively low cost and distributed character of the technology provides ready means for actors outside of official structures and with far fewer resources to access the means of developing and transmitting information, to such good effect that they can even out perform established institutions.

Skill Development
The power provided to the non-expert is illustrated when one profiles the web master of the 30k site. Hickman is not a computer professional. He is a fire fighter and an FBU station representative. As he explains,

“The initial set-up took a couple of days if that. I run a few personal sites so I had the hang of it really. was the first one I set up and that site has changed allot since that was started in '98 but has given me the tools to run this site. Day to day running of the site….Normally a couple of hours updating it daily, that's searching for news and any other ideas that have been passed to me.

The time consuming part is the forum. I have 5 people helping me moderate it...” (correspondence with authors)

A number of key issues are suggested here. The task and cost of managing the site are distributed, from the many who supply information to the few others who share in the task of moderating remotely. That said, cyberspace does not exist as a ‘virtual’ paradise, free from the burdens, ties and demands of everyday life, for as Hickman has also pointed out, his activities have placed upon his domestic space and time considerable pressures, indicating that internet communication still takes considerable time to do properly. However, there is no doubt that the costs of matching the product of his efforts through conventional communicative means would have been prohibitive.

While it is evident that Hickman developed his skills over time through practice on the web, it is also the case that his site is a space in which skills are developed. Beyond the development of understandings that might come from debate, the site also allows individuals to share ideas about how to systematically analyse documents and to draft responses and to then share the products of their efforts with other visitors. For instance, in one stream of discussion a contributor posted their thoughts on the White paper put forward by the government to modernise the fire service, asking for critical comments so that the quality of response might be improved. Another stream included the posting of a letter that one activist had published in his local newspaper, outlining the arguments in support of the pay claim, an intervention that was greeted favourably by others, many of whom committed themselves to use it as a template for their own letter writing efforts. These examples illustrate our argument that virtual asynchronous meeting has the advantage of allowing for communicative skills to be developed and confidence to be built through rehearsal in safe spaces (Greene et al, 2003).

Transparency, Performance Auditing and Accountability

The 30k site also illustrates our arguments about the implications of internet communication for the enforcement of transparency, performance auditing and accountability. Many contributors to the site commented on what they perceived to be inadequacies in the democratic credentials of the FBU and its leadership:
“…the only truly democratic point of this dispute was the initial strike ballot. Since then democracy has been placed back on the shelf where this union has kept it for many years. This site ….is the only democratic outlet left to us. Meetings are re arranged or called at short notice, motions are ruled out of order by archaic rules intended to stifle debate, huge branches are cancelled out by groups of 5 or 6 who's branches carry equal weight.

Democracy also works on the majority making an informed descision based on all the facts and they haven't exactly been forthcoming have they? (posted at 21:39 on 5/6/03).
When the FBU leadership attempted to persuade the union membership that they should settle, the site became a forum in which the offers were discussed Amid accusations that the centre was attempting to restrict the flow of information between branches to prevent a momentum of opposition developing, some of the contributors to the 30k site used the space to organise opposition, part of which involved exchanging information about how the campaign to reject the proposals was developing in different locations. The site also became a forum for complaint about the voting methods used to conclude the dispute Since the conclusion of the pay campaign, the site has carried a number of messages calling for the resignation of the General Secretary and other leaders. Here readers are reminded of the transformation of the positions adopted over time, allowing the easy comparison of statements of defiant confidence early in the dispute with the “resignation to realism” at the close. Furthermore, amid allegations that the union leadership was so wary of criticism that it was attempting to postpone the 2003 annual conference, the 30k site became a place where activists from different branches and regions could post the result of the resolutions passed in their localities calling for the conference to take place, while it was noted that such information would be useful to collate for the purpose of exposing the extent to which the leadership of the union were prepared or not to accommodate the wishes of the membership (see:

Union Democracy, Disintegration and Distributed Discourse?

In noting the critical voices released on the 30k site, one might be left with the impression that the FBU nationally was completely unwilling to entertain the possibility of constructing such an open forum. However, interviews with an FBU official reveal that such an experiment did take place at the beginning of the dispute. An open forum for the posting of messages was made available and the site was inundated with communications, but the decision was made within two days to close the space, for while a very high proportion of the postings were supportive of the pay claim, there were a significant minority of emotive and critical remarks from “army wives”, as well as abusive and vulgar interventions. From then on, messages were solicited, but before being posted they would be checked to see if they were “appropriate”. The rationale provided was that the union was involved in a high profile dispute, there was intense and hostile media attention and that to make the web site a host for the defamatory and critical could only damage the reputation of the fire fighters and their organisation. Commenting on the 30k site, the observation was made that the site had been “loyal” at the beginning of the dispute, but that it had lost its value as it degenerated with postings abusive and insulting to the leadership, while revealing an unwillingness to accept the majority democratic decision to accept the final settlement.

There are plenty of notices on the 30k site that give credence to the above position. However, while it is practically impossible to know how far the practice of censorship extends, an inspection of content does reveal a remarkably open dialogue, with postings from opponents of the strike, advocates of the final settlement (see for example:, as well as the critical of leadership performance. It is clear that sharp divisions can surface when debate reigns relatively unconstrained, but should this be regarded as necessarily damaging to a union and if so, more than the hidden resentment that may lie undetected and therefore all the more difficult to redress when silence prevails? While the FBU site concentrated mainly on image management, the unofficial site provided this space. What is more, every branch and region of the FBU that has a web site maintains a link to the 30k site, emphasising the point that cognitive policing on the internet can be readily subverted as centres of control are by-passed. In any case, there are different and at times more effective ways of maintaining unity. Processing individual dilemmas and doubts through collective communicative spaces, where participants have the time to consider their responses and suggestions may take the raw emotion out of debate. This is shown on the 30k site in the discussions around whether or not it is worth retaining union membership following the bitter disappointment at the perceived failings of the FBU’s leadership ( What is more, although it would be naïve to suggest that endless debate is a worthwhile end in itself, we would suggest that to make a virtue out of repression, whether in the name of collective discipline or for the sake of effective marketing, necessarily closes off openness to the expansive imagination and creativity that are seen as so lacking, yet necessary for renewal (Hyman, 1999)
While there is no doubt that the 30k site is regarded as important by many of those who have and continue to participate within its realm, success or otherwise is difficult to measure with precision, while the contours of future development and impact are yet to be seen. However, as a lived and living experience it provides a number of significant lessons: the internet is an increasingly important space for the conduct of union-related activities; its low and distributed cost of operation makes it a more accessible space within which visibility can be gained and for communication skills to be nurtured and developed; and, by providing space outside of institutional restraints, it can be exploited in more innovative and interactive ways, to highlight and perhaps attenuate the deficiencies of official union web presence and communicative practices. Yet, Unions are caught in a dilemma; on the one hand, between engaging with a communicative form that is popular and in many ways expansive and on the other, with the traditions of “collective responsibility”, combined with maintaining unity in the face of adversity. How this is to be resolved, is an open question. We suggest that it is fruitful to begin with reflection upon the emerging reality that is distributed discourse and the proposition that,

“Sterility, banality, orthodoxy-that is what ensues when debate is stifled in the name of order…It is what happens when power overwhelms imagination-especially the imagination of those out with power, whose imagination could rewrite history.” (Clegg, 2002)

Bailey, C. (2000), The Labour movement and the internet, Asia labour Update, Issue 34, March-May

Carter, C., Clegg, S., Hogan, J. and Kornberger, M. (2003), The Polyphonic Spree: The Case of the Liverpool Dockers, Industrial Relations Journal, 34:4

Clegg, S. R. (2002), Why Distributed Discourse Matters, in Holmes, L. et al.(eds.) Organising in the Information Age: Distributed technology, distributed leadership, distributed identity, distributed discourse, Ashgate.

Diamond. W. and Freeman, R. (2002) 'Will unionism prosper in cyberspace? The promise of the internet for employee organisation', British Journal of industrial Relations, 40: 3, 569-596.

Fiorito, J. Jarley, P. and Delaney, J.T (2003) Information technology, US union organizing and union effectiveness’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, 40: 4, pp 627-658.

Gall G. (ed) (2003) Union Organising: Campaigning for trade union recognition, London: Routledge

Greene A.M. (2001) 'Unions and the Internet: Prospects for Renewal?', European Industrial Relations Observatory, October,

Greene, A. M. and Hogan, J. (2001), Oligarchic Violence in Trade Unions: Challenges in Cyber-Space, Paper presented to the 19th Standing Conference on Organisational Symbolism, June 30-July 4, 2001, Dublin.

Greene, A. M. and Kirton G. (2003) ‘Possibilities for remote participation in trade unions: Mobilising women activists' Industrial Relations Journal, 34/4.

Greene, A. M., Hogan, J. and Grieco, M. (2000), ‘E-Collectivism: Emergent Opportunities for Renewal’, in B. Stanford-Smith and P. K. Kidd (eds.), E-Business: Key Applications, Processes and Technologies, Omsha: IOS Press, 845-851.

Greene, A.M., Hogan, J. and Grieco, M. (2003) ‘COMMENTARY: E-collectivism and distributed discourse: Opportunities for trade union democracy’ Industrial Relations Journal, 34/4.

Heery, E. (2003) Trade Unions and Industrial Relations pp278-304

Hogan J. and Greene, A.M, (2002) 'E-collectivism: On-line action and on-line mobilisation' in Holmes, L. and Grieco, M. (eds.) Organising in the Information Age: Distributed Technology, Distributed Action, Distributed Identity, Distributed Discourse, Ashgate: Gower

Hogan, J. and Grieco, M. (1999) ‘Trade unions on line: technology, transparency and bargaining power’, Paper presented at a Workshop on Cyber Ontology at the University of North London, October, 1999.

Hyman, R. (1999). Imagined Solidarities: Can Trade Unions Resist Globalisation?, in Peter Leisink (ed), Globalisation and Labour Relations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Pp. 94-115.

IRS (2001), 'Going digital: A lifeline for trade unions?' IRS Employment Trends, 730.

Kirton G. and Greene, A. M, (2002) ‘New Directions in Managing Women’s Trade Union Careers:Online Learning’, Women in Management Review, 17:3/4, 171-179.

Lee, E. (1997), The Labour movement and the Internet: the new internationalism, Pluto Press: London

Pliskin N., Romm, C. T., and Markey, R. (1997), ‘E-mail as a weapon in an industrial dispute’, New technology, Work and Employment, 12: 1, 3-12.

Ward, S. and Lusoli, W (2002) ‘Dinosaurs in cyberspace? British trade unions and the internet’, paper presented at the Political Studies association Annual Conference, University of Aberdeen, 4-7 April.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Free SOAS 9: 4 events/protests. 1st one tmrw

Sorry for such a long email. Our google group is not working for some reason (please call me if you have any technical knowledge on this)

Please distribute this message widely.

1) Call for action at Yarlswood tmrw, Saturday 27th

2) Lobby Home Office on Tuesday 30th

3) Bloomsbury Living Wage Campaign Wednesday 1st July

4) SOAS Occupiers host lunchtime filmshowing and food at Marxism, 4th July


Let them stay..

Our cleaners are not criminals!

Staff and students at SOAS are calling for Alan Johnson, Secretary of State
for the Home Office, to grant leave to remain with permission to work for
Marina Silva and Rosa dePerez, two of the SOAS cleaners picked up in a
brutal immigration raid on 12th June. Marina, who is 63 and has applied for
asylum, following het brutal honour killing of her husband and threats to
her own life, and Rosa, who has four children to support in Nicaragua,
remain in detention following the raid. Their colleagues, including six
months pregnant Luzia, were deported within 48 hours of the raid.

Cleaners at SOAS had demanded and organised for dignity at work with many
joining a union. They had succeeded in winning union recognition from the
privatised cleaning firm ISS and raising their pay to the London Living
Wage—higher than other colleges in the area. It is of grave concern that the
raid, organised by ISS, took place shortly after this campaign and on the
very day on which UNISON was due to protest in support of an activist who
had played a leading role in organising the cleaners at SOAS.

Please support our campaign:

*Lobby the Home Office, Tuesday 30th June, 5.30-6.30pm*

2 marsham st, millbank, Sw1

*Sign the letter requesting leave to remain is granted to Marina and Rosa*

For more information go to:

*Stop the Deportation of SOAS University Cleaners!*

*Supported by SOAS UNISON and UCU*

In solidarity

Please distribute widely

let them stay.png
238K View


Call to action in solidarity with detainees at Yarl's Wood detention centre:



Two weeks after nine cleaners at SOAS were taken into
detention, take action for justice for the SOAS 9 and in solidarity with
detainees in Yarls' Wood on hunger strike for demand including: freeing
children who are detained, adequate access to health care, quality food and
real privacy. Hundreds of people in Yarls Wood are being denied the medical
care they need including a woman with epilepsy and a 5 months' pregnant woman
in the families' section. Families have been on hunger strike for over a week
now and we need to show them our support!

Forward this message widely>>>>>>


Morning – Action to let
the Yarl’s Wood detainees know that we stand with them in opposing the
injustice of immigration controls, the imprisonment of innocent people and the
denial of basic access to healthcare. Call 07952 254487 for more information.

1pm – March and speak out against cuts in ESOL Teaching

Meet Bethnal Green Gardens (Next to Bethnal Green
Tube) for march with UCU (University and College Union) and Tower Hamlets
College students and staff, over cuts in Jobs primarily in ESOL (English for
Speakers of Other Languages). March to Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel, for
speakers and rally.

4.30 pm – Picket the Home Office's Communications
House 210 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BR (1 minute from
Old Street tube, 205 bus goes straight from Whitechapel)

Speak out and rally including speakers from migrant
workers struggles and Yarl’s Wood.

The building looks anonymous but immigration reporting
centres are places of fear for asylum seekers, who have to report to them
monthly, weekly or even several times a week. They are places of
detention and several SOAS Cleaners were held here on the day they were

TAKE ACTION NOW - Send messages of solidarity for

the hunger strikers to:

* Contact SERCO (who run Yarl’s Wood) and demand that
the strikers’ demands are met - 01344 386300 -

* Contact Yarl’s Wood and demand that the strikers
demands are met: The duty manager01234 821517; The switchboard is 01234 821000;
Health'care' 01234 821147

* Forward news about the SOAS 9 and the hunger strike
as well as this call-out to any email lists you are on or press contacts you

* Take action to demand exceptional leave to remain

for the SOAS 9:

* If you can donate towards credit for detainees’
mobiles or travel costs for solidarity visits, email

More information on SOAS 9:

A detainee involved in the hunger strike's story:

More information on the hunger strike:


Dear Bloomsbury living wage supporters,

The Bloomsbury Living Wage campaign will meet at 1pm Wednesday, the 1st of July, in the Institute of Education canteen.

All are welcome! Please bring a friend and come with practical ideas to discuss, possibly including:

* supporting the promising living wage campaign happening within the
Institute of Education, itself.

* building support for Rosa de Perez and Marina Silva, two of the "SOAS 9"
currently detained at Yarlswood removal centre in Bedford who were arrested
Friday the 12th of June as part of a strategy to undermine SOAS cleaners'
struggle for better pay and conditions.

Jesse Oldershaw


The Bloomsbury Living Wage campaign is the network of living wage campaigns
at UCL, SOAS, Birkbeck, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and
Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Senate House. It seeks the better pay and
conditions for low-paid contract workers across the Bloomsbury (WC1) area,
in line with the GLA's London Living Wage. The London Living Wage (LLW)
takes into account London's high cost of living. It was increased in May
2009 to £7.60/hour - 25% higher than national minimum wage. The LLW package
also includes fair sick pay and holiday pay and respect for trade union
rights. There have so far been successful living wage campaigns at SOAS,
Birkbeck and LSHTM.

Email for more information and join the Facebook
group at



Meet SOAS Occupiers at Marxism. Outdoor film showing and food.
Please reply to event if you want to come so we know how much food to prepare.

We filmed the whole thing. We want you to show you what we did and will answer questions and discuss where next for the campaign.

Start up your own campaign. If this can happen at SOAS of all places it can happen anywhere. This needs to be stopped. Our fellow workmates should not be living in a state of fear.


Please join us for an outdoor filmshowing of a number of our videos and photos's.

Including food and discussion.

PLEASE RSVP so we know how much food to prepare.

If it is raining we will transfer to our common room.

This is a truly SOAS affair-we hope you join us.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Iranian elections crisis

Iranian elections crisis

Naz Massoumi / Sun 21 June

A pivotal and unpredictable process of events are taking place in Iran that have serious implications, not only for the lives of Iranians, but for the future of political Islam. What the courageous protests and the violent repression on the streets represent is a struggle over the true legacy of the Iranian revolution which established the Islamic Republic 30 years ago. To understand the complexity of the current situation, we need to address a number of important questions.

Sunday’s Chatham House report has answered key questions over vote-rigging. It found a turnout of more than 100% was recorded in conservative provinces Mazandaran and Yazd. But putting the election result to one side, if the protests have demonstrated one thing it is the breadth and scale of Mousavi’s “green wave”. Not limited to the middle-class, northern Tehran ‘elite’ the movement has shown its deep social roots.

Of course millions of Iranians did vote for Ahmadinejad and for valid reasons - in support of his populist hand outs, pension rises and state subsidies. For example, he introduced a law that provided insurance to three million female domestic carpet-weavers. He cleverly grouped Mousavi with the corrupt political powerhouse ex-President Rafsanjani whose family had funded the reformist campaign.

However this tactic was far more effective in 2005 – when he could pit himself against the likes of Rafsanjani as the unknown blacksmith’s son ready to ‘cut the hands of the oil mafia’. He could revive the economic populism of the 80s, which benefited the poor, in stark contrast to Rafsanjani’s 90s economic liberalization which increased inflation and inequality. In 2009, as a President who has failed to deliver on promises of reducing corruption and inequality (both have increased) and against an ‘establishment’ candidate like Mousavi - whose term as Prime Minister in the 80s associates him precisely with those populist policies - it just didn’t wash.

More importantly, with 70-80% of Iranian industry still state owned, organisations that were set-up in the 80s to provide social and welfare programmes have now become massive capitalist enterprises owned and controlled by the state bureaucracy including the military. The Revolutionary Guard, for example, controls 30% of the Iranian economy. In power, Ahmadinejad has shown to defend and represent the interests of this bureaucracy.

Hence during the election campaign it was in fact Mousavi who was greeted as the ‘man of the mostazafin (oppressed)’ even in Ahmadinejad strongholds like the eastern town of Birjand.

Mousavi’s mix of revolutionary credentials and call for greater social and political freedoms, in which his wife Zahra Rahnavard played a decisive role in representing the grievances of women, gathered greater momentum than the campaign which saw the election of reformist President Khatami in 1997.

We cannot underestimate how deep the crisis goes. Twenty years ago, it was Rafsanjani and Khamenei’s conservative alliance that wrestled control of power over the ‘leftists’ (like Mousavi) at the top. Now Rafsanjani’s daughter has been arrested and he himself is in the religious city of Qom (where Khamenei is already unpopular) trying to convince the clergy to move against Khamenei. Five senior clerics have already protested but as Iranian academic Ali Ansari argues a serious intervention from an essentially quietest clergy ‘could be decisive’

What’s behind all this? One factor is Khamenei himself. Lacking the political charisma, popularity and authority of Khomeini, he has relied on constitutional changes and an alliance with radical conservative elements to maintain and strengthen his position as Supreme Leader. Another is the reformist demise. Despite being a formidable force in the 1990s the Presidency and parliament majority, by 2005 they had lost all centres of power to conservatives.

There were reasons for this. Khatami held the movement back at its peak, condemning university students in 1999 who had risen up to defend the banning of a reformist newspaper. A demoralised movement then boycotted the Presidential election in 2005 - another reason behind Ahmadinejad’s victory (interestingly he only just beat Karoubi to second place in the first round).

This time round the reformist voters turned out in huge numbers knowing a high-turnout would benefit them (with 70% of Iranians living in the cities). This explains the explosion of anger over the election result and refusal to halt demonstrations.

But a far more important consequence of conservative control was the debate it precipitated in the movement which questioned the very theoretical foundation of the Islamic Republic - velaayat-e faqih (rule of the jurist). It has now reached a point where the majority opinion in the reformist movement believes the only solution for Iran is a separation of religion from the state.

This does not, as some suggest, spell the end of political Islam. Rooftop chants of “Allahu Akbar” late into the evening (reminiscent of the Iranian revolution) and Mousavi’s ‘green’ (representing Islam and peace) movement is a reminder that religion still plays an important ideological framework. But the call for secularization of the state by an Islamist reform movement is undoubtedly a turning point. So important is this, that Mousavi was ‘ready for martyrdom’ and calling for a general strike if arrested. Indeed, the stakes are high for both the leadership and the demonstrators.

This raises huge questions for the movement in Iran. It’s a no brainer that the interests of a powerful capitalist like Rafsanjani or Mousavi conflict sharply with the office worker throwing rocks at police and putting his life in danger. After all, the maior factor of Khatami’s demise was the continuation of Rafsanjani’s privitisation and neoliberal reforms, which alienated the poor. Unfortunately Mousavi in power is likely to follow a similar path.

So whilst working with them, the left must form a critique of its reformist leaders. It should challenge their ties to neo-liberalism and raise the struggle of the poor and the working class.

It must also try to win over Ahmadinejad supporters. There is evidence of this with slogans like “Baseej why kill your brothers?” (the Baseej come from the poor) and reports that some Baseeji are refusing to attack protestors. A leading women activist, who had been beaten in the protests told us that the armed forces have been told not to attack women which has raised the question of whether unofficial, conservative vigilantes are actively organizing to attack protestors.

A further challenge is to organise separately from the leadership. The demoralization with Khatami stemmed from resting too much hope in his promises of reform. Mousavi is after all a key figure in the regime during some of its most horrific excesses.

Crucially there’s the question of western powers wanting to use this movement as a way of undermining the obstacle Iran presents to their plans for the region.

Under Khatami the government’s opportunist support for the US invasion of Afghanistan provided a valuable lesson. As a consequence, Iran found itself in the ‘axis of evil’, surrounded by US military bases in neighbouring countries Iraq and Afghanistan and a massive American naval fleet in the Persian Gulf. Ahmadinejad’s victory and popularity (in Iran and the region) relied heavily on his fiery antagonism towards the US and Israel.

Mousavi is, in fact, not the ideal candidate for the US. He does not recognise Israel, has vowed to continue with uranium enrichment and openly committed to the ideals of the revolution – that’s why he is popular with Iranians. Though Obama’s administration is likely to deal with any Iranian leader. As activists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia will attest, the struggle for democracy will be a lot harder in Iran with a government backed by the US.

Despite Obama’s talk of ‘not meddling’ in Iran’s affairs, the conservatives can still point to the $400 million dollar budget allocated to ‘covert operations’ in Iran, especially with the bombing of a mosque in Shiraz last month.

Given the Iranian government’s monopoly on anti-imperialism, this is the hardest of challenges for the movement in Iran, but a critical one which must be taken up.

But for now the main priority is to be at the forefront of the democratic struggle. Because if this movement is crushed, life for Iranians (and the left) will be a lot worse off.

As activists in the West, we must throw our full support behind those who have taken to the streets in Iran against their rulers.

At the same time we must also highlight the hypocrisy of our own governments and media organisations. Their support for democracy stands in stark contrast with their refusal to recognize the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine or the vote-rigging of Mobarak’s dictatorship in Egypt.

So whilst expressing solidarity with Iranians, we must warn against the dangers of imperialist powers abusing the situation by continuing to our campaign against the existing suffocating sanctions and any catastrophic plans for war. That way, we allow the Iranian democracy movement to continue without foreign intervention or interference.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Racist allegations at SOAS?

Read the first section HERE

There was, however, an eyewitness to the alleged incident, Pablo
Grisales, a cleaner working temporarily in the post room. One might
have expected the investigating managers to ask for a written witness
statement, but that is not what happened. Pablo was called into an
intimidating meeting with three managers present (Richard Poulson,
Sian Jones and an OCEAN manager) and was read out a prepared statement
which he was not shown and which he was asked to confirm. He was given
no opportunity to qualify that statement (indeed, he was prevented
from doing so) or to provide his own independent statement of events.
That unsigned "statement" then became the "witness statement". No
written report of that investigatory meeting was provided except for
the manager's file note.

At the disciplinary hearing Pablo attended in person to provide his
own witness statement which supported Stalin's recollection of events
that there had been no threats. But this was dismissed by Sharon Page
as a fabrication and she chose to believe the non-existent "witness
statement" from the investigatory meeting. She decided to privilege
the "evidence" of the managers' claim that Pablo had verbally
confirmed their prepared statement over that of Pablo's. What else
could one expect at SOAS? Obviously a black cleaner is less reliable
than two white managers.

Here's what Sharon Page actually said: "In my role as Chair I was
being asked to conclude whether two long serving and trusted managers
were telling the truth, or whether Pablo Grisales had changed his
recollection of events. On the balance of probabilities I concluded
that I believed the two managers. I was satisfied that the evidence by
(the complainant) and the SOAS managers was on balance far more
credible than that of Jose Bermudez and Pablo Grisales."

What kind of reasoning is this? Pablo had not “changed his
recollection of events” because he was never given the opportunity to
give his recollection of events during the investigatory meeting. The
managers were clearly not witnesses to the events. And just why is the
complainant's view "far more credible" than Stalin's or Pablo's (the
only independent witness to the incident)? Prejudice can be the only
explanation. To say that this borders on downright racism would be an
understatement. Sharon Page made her decision to dismiss Stalin on her
perception of the complainant's perception. One white manager's
perception of a white complainant's perception of a black employee. No
contest in SOAS.

The greatest lack of credibility in this whole affair is in the way
the incident was investigated and the how the decision to sack Stalin
was arrived at. Even more incredible is the conclusion of the
"payroll" appeal panel which could regard Sharon Page’s conclusions as
being in any way “reasonable”. Quite frankly, this stinks. The whole
SOAS disciplinary process has been brought into utter disrepute.

We cannot allow this to pass. As promised, UNISON and UCU will make
available all the documentation and evidence relating to this case so
that our members can make up their own minds. UNISON are currently
balloting for industrial action and UCU will support them taking such
action. Meanwhile a genuinely independent panel of professors will be
established to examine the evidence and documentation and
reinvestigate this miscarriage of justice.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

So much for liberating women in Iraq

A Briefing Paper
Prepared by
Kristen McNutt, Researcher, Association of Humanitarian Lawyers
Presented to
The United Nations
Commission on Human Rights
2005 Session

Iraqi female detainees have been illegally detained, raped and sexually violated by United States military personnel. Women who stay at home in traditional roles are more likely to be imprisoned as bargaining chips by US troops seeking to pressurize male relatives, according to the New Statesmen (UK) . In December 2003, a woman prisoner, “Noor”, smuggled out a note stating that US guards at Abu Ghraib had been raping women detainees and forcing them to strip naked. Several of the women were now pregnant. The classified enquiry launched by the US military, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, has confirmed the note by “Noor” and that sexual violence against women at Abu Ghraib took place. Among the 1,800 digital photographs taken by US guards inside Abu Ghraib there were, according to Taguba's report, images of naked male and female detainees; a male Military Police guard “having sex” with a female detainee; detainees (of unspecified gender) forcibly arranged in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; and naked female detainees. The Bush administration has refused to release photographs of Iraqi women prisoners at Abu Ghraib, including those of women forced at gunpoint to bare their breasts (although these have been shown to Congress). UK Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd (L) has confirmed a report of an Iraqi woman in her 70s who had been harnessed and ridden like a donkey at Abu Ghraib and another coalition detention centre after being arrested last July. Clwyd said: "She was held for about six weeks without charge. During that time she was insulted and told she was a donkey."

The Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, reports that In the middle of the night, American soldiers broke into the home of Mithal al Hassan and arrested both her and her son. “The soldiers later ransacked the apartment. Denounced as part of a vendetta, Mithal was condemned without trial to eighty days of horror in the company of other women prisoners who, like her, were subjected to abuse and torture. She has since spotted her tormentors on the internet.” A culture of honor prevents many women from telling stories of rapes. The account given by “Selwa”, illustrates this. In September 2003, Selwa was taken by US military personnel to a detention facility in Tikrit, where an American officer lit a mixture of human feces and urine in a metal container and gave Selwa a heavy club to stir it. She recalls, “The fire from the pot felt very strong on my face.” She leans forward and sweeps her hands through the air to show how she stirred the excrement. “I became very tired,” she says. “I told the sergeant I couldn’t do it.” “There was another man close to us. The sergeant came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘If you don’t, I will tell one of the soldiers to fuck you.’” Selwa could not continue with the story. An Iraqi girl, Raghada, reports that her mother, imprisoned at Abu Ghraib, was forced to eat from a toilet and was urinated on.

Iman Khamas, head of the International Occupation Watch Center, a nongovernmental organization which gathers information on human rights abuses under coalition rule, has said; “one former detainee had recounted the alleged rape of her cell mate in Abu Ghraib.” According to Khamas, the prisoner said; “she had been rendered unconscious for 48 hours.” She claimed; “She had been raped 17 times in one day by
Iraqi police in the presence of American solders”.

Another woman, "Nadia," reported that she was raped by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. She continues to be "imprisoned" by painful memories that left her psychologically and physically scarred. Late last year, attorney Amal Kadham Swadi, one of seven female lawyers now representing women detainees in Abu Ghraib, began to piece together a picture of systemic abuse and torture by US guards against Iraqi women held in detention without charge. This was not only true of Abu Ghraib, she discovered, but was, as she put it, "happening all across Iraq". Amal Kadham Swadi states that “sexualized violence and abuse committed by US troops goes far beyond a few isolated cases.” It is unknown as to exactly how many female detainees there are. ‘The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that 30 women were
housed in Abu Ghraib last October, 2003, which was reduced to 0 by May 29, 2004”.

Swadi visited a detainee held at the US military base a Al-Khakh, a former police compound in Baghdad. The detainee disclosed that, “Several American solders had raped her and that she had tried to fight them off and they had hurt her arm”.

These and other incidents are being covered up for US domestic consumption. President G W Bush has insisted that these were the actions of a few and were not the result of military policy. However, a fifty-three-page report, obtained by The New Yorker, written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba and not meant for public release, points to complicity to sexual torture by the entire Army prison system. Specifically, Taguba found that between October and December
of 2003 there were numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and
wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib.

The cover-up by the Bush Administration appears to include the silencing of victims. Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University, who is interviewing female prisoners as a volunteer for Amnesty International, reports that the woman, called “Noor,” who smuggled the letter out of Abu Ghraib, is now presumed dead. “We believe she was raped and that she was pregnant by a US guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbors said that her family had moved away. I believed that she was killed”.

It is well known that the US has a culture of rape: one in six women in the United States has experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault. Reinforcing the climate of sexual violence, photos purporting to be of raped Iraqi women by US troops are surfacing on the web, with some are later removed. Actual pictures can be viewed, as of this writing, at the La Voz de Aztlan website which reports that many of the pictures are now on pornographic sites.

Women Civilian War Casualties
In October 2004, the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website counted casualties of the US attack against Fallujah. IBC concluded that 572 and 616 of the approximately 800 reported deaths were of civilians, with over 300 of these being women and children. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that dozens of Iraqis, including 20 medics, were killed when he US bombed a medical clinic in Fallujah. The clinic was just erected to substitute for the main hospital which was seized by the U.S. on Monday. One doctor told Reuters "There is not a single surgeon in Fallujah. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." Because of the serious assault on medical neutrality, on 18 November 2004 the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers filed an emergency petition at the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of “unnamed, unnumbered patients and medical staff, both living and dead, of the Falluja General Hospital and a trauma clinic.” International Educational Development, Inc, joined this action immediately thereafter.

According to the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, napalm appears to have been used on women and children during the US attack on Fallujah.

U.S. Military Prevents the Delivery of Medical Care to Women Civilians

The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids attacks on emergency vehicles and the impediment of medical operations during war. The main hospital in Amiriyat al-Fallujah was raided twice by US soldiers and the Iraqi National Guard; first on November 29, 2004 at 5:40 am and again the next day. Staff reported; “In the first raid about 150 soldiers and at least 40 members of the Iraqi National Guard stormed the small hospital”. Staff reported; “They divided into groups and were all over the hospital. They broke the gates outside, they broke the doors of the garage, and the raided our supply room where our food and supplies are”. Staff members were then handcuffed and interrogated for several hours about resistance fighters. One staff member recounts; “The Americans threatened that they would do what they did in Fallujah if I didn’t cooperate with them”.

Medical care for civilians was blocked by snipers that are set up along the roads to Fallujah that fire on ambulances. Doctors from the main hospital in Amiriyat al-Fallujah are reporting; “The Americans have snipers all along the road between here and Fallujah. They are shooting our ambulances if they try to go to Fallujah”. In addition, medical supplies are being blocked from being sent to hospitals by US troops. In nearby Saqlawiyah, Doctor Abdulla Aziz reported that supplies were being blocked from reaching or leaving Amiriyat al-Fallujah; “They won’t let any of our ambulances go to help Fallujah. We are out of supplies and they won’t let anyone bring us more”.

Obstruction of medical care to the civilian population of Iraq seems to be a pattern that has persisted. Dr. Abdul Jabbar, orthopedic surgeon at Fallujah General Hospital claims that; “The marines have said they didn’t close the hospital, but essentially they did. They closed the bridge, which connects us to the city, and closed our roads. They prevented medical care reaching countless patients in desperate need. Who knows how many of them died that we could have saved?”.

In addition to blocking supplies and aid to victims, hospital staff has been handcuffed and interrogated and patient care has been violently disrupted. “We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments,” reported Dr Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi present during the raid on Fallujah General Hospital. She reported abuse to civilian patients as well; “troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them against the wall…I was with a woman in labor, the umbilical cord had not yet been cut,” she said. “At that time, a U.S. soldier shouted at one of the [Iraqi] National Guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver”.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in a media text of your choice.

Critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in a media text of your choice.

‘Makeover’ in the sense of an alteration of appearance of girls and women along lines of ‘fashion’ and ‘taste’ has recently become a popular television genre in its own right, promoted from its television birthplace in partial slots during daytime programming to ‘primetime’ higher audience entire programmes in the mid-evening (Moseley, 2000). Critical examination of these texts reveals a number of interesting discourses at play, in particular that of self-production along gendered lines. I have chosen to examine the media text What Not To Wear (BBCTV, 2001- ) as it is a recent example of ‘makeover television’ which has achieved great popularity among UK audiences by progressing from the short makeover slot of daytime television, to a programme dedicated to teaching (mainly) women in the UK ‘what not to wear’, or rather, what to wear by analysing their lives through popular psychology, borrowing from behavioural therapy and the discourse of self-help.

In order to critically examine the use of a ‘makeover paradigm’ in What Not To Wear I focus on a particular episode entitled ‘Young Mums’ (BBC1, 27th September 2004 ). Although the analysis is based on this particular episode, the show follows a tight format therefore much of the analysis could be applied to other episodes of the same programme. To ground the analysis in the historical context of makeover, I will first examine the makeover genre itself. The analysis will provide a brief outline of the What Not To Wear format, then critically examine a number of the discourses inherent to the ‘paradigm’ of makeover as presented in ‘Young Mums’.

First, the discourse of the production of the self through transformation (Rose 1989), particularly the production of a ‘feminine body-subject’ (Bartky, 2003:33) will be examined. Second, the use of governance, regulation and surveillance will be analysed with reference to Foucault. Third, the way in which the language and symbolism of popular psychology is borrowed by the hosts to create a semblance of therapy as part of the re-production of self. Fourth, the role of the hosts as ‘expert’ and the form of language and touch used to convey the hierarchy of knowledge and class will be considered. Finally, the sites of resistance visible within the episode will be explored.

As Moseley (2000:303) argues, makeover ‘has been a continuing staple of the woman’s film . . . feminine beauty culture . . .[and] women’s magazines’. The central theme to this genre has been the individualistic ideology of self-improvement (Rimke, 2000:62, Weber, 2005: 4) with a narrative of progress whereby any woman, if she tries hard enough, and consumes the right products, can become her ‘true’ self (Weber, 2005). Underlying this ‘possibility’ is the concept of responsibility to produce and maintain the ‘best’ self possible – a responsibility to oneself and those around not to ‘let oneself go’ (Weber, 2005:4). The makeover paradigm as displayed on television follows this formula, with the revelation of the self in a climactic finale (Moseley, 2000:304).

What Not To Wear is the British daughter of the daytime television makeover paradigm. Presented by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, self-defined style ‘experts’, the programme has so far aired 4 series. Though each series has differed slightly in format the basic formula is the same, featuring two women’s makeover transformation:
Conversation with one of the presenters in a set that is symbolically designed to look like a psychotherapist’s office.
Friends and family are interviewed on the subject of the women’s ‘style’, Trinny and Susannah examine their wardrobes, often discarding or destroying items.
Watch their videos and discover ‘what people really think’ of them.
Scrutinise themselves and scrutinised by the presenters in a 360 mirror, often in a favourite piece of clothing.
Given a set of style ‘rules’ to follow when shopping and given £2,000 to spend.
The shopping task is divided into two days – on the first, they shop on their ‘own’ while being filmed, on the second, Trinny and Susannah evaluate the clothing that has been bought, then shop with the women to direct them.
Their hair and make-up is styled by stylists.
The revelation – the ‘new’ woman is revealed to herself in a mirror.
The ‘new’ woman is revealed to (usually) delighted friends and family.

The particular episode analysed here features two women, identified as ‘badly dressed mums’ (BBC1, 2004), Michalina, aged 35 and Sara, aged 26.

The formula for the show illustrates the discourse of the production of the self (Rose, 1989). This production occurs through a narrative of transformation (Moseley, 2000:304) in which a woman who is seen as someone who does not ‘fit in’ to an image of current styles of femininity is transformed during the episode. As illustrated below, this self is by no means finally produced, but requires constant re-production under an internalized and external gaze (Weber, 2005).

Rose (1989:103) argues that this self-production is a modern construct, where consumption is the way in which we ‘shape our lives’ by creating, managing and marketing ourselves from a range of consumable options. In line with this argument, What Not To Wear presents a discourse of self-fulfilment through consumption.

The ‘self’ that is produced for each woman on What Not To Wear is presented as the ‘true’ self that had been hidden from the world. This fairly essentialist concept that ‘inside’ each of these women is a ‘true’ self, waiting to be unveiled is demonstrated in the language used by the presenters throughout the ‘Young Mums’ episode. Particular to this episode is the discourse surrounding ‘being a mother’ and the effect of this on a woman’s subjectivity. At the end of the episode, Trinny comments of Michalina’s husband: “he got back a woman he thought he’d lost, and I think that’s a big thing for a man when a woman has kids, that they sort of – sometimes stop being a wife” (BBC1, 2004). The way in which both women are portrayed throughout the episode is as a collection of identities; mother, employee, wife . The premise of the episode is that their ‘mother’ identities have taken over.

Importantly for the discourse of self-production, these identities are presented and analysed as always relational to another. Sara searches at the end of the programme for recognition of her transformation from Carl, her husband. The need for his gaze is commented on throughout the shopping task in a way in which suggests, as Weber (2005:14) puts it “being looked at in an appreciative or sexualized way affirms a woman and, in turn, allows her to be more confident”. Susannah attempts to convince Sara to buy a dress she does not like because it will have Carl “standing to attention within seconds of you walking in the door”.Similarly, Michalina feels that her ‘improved’ self will be able to “be herself” and “not have to worry about people sniggering behind my back” (BBC1, 2004).

The self that is produced to ‘fit in’ in this way is presented as what Bartky (2003:33) terms ‘the ideal body of femininity’. Although the presenters do not attempt to alter the women’s bodies in the same way as the plastic surgery of Extreme Makeover (Weber, 2005), the ‘rules’ given to the women are in line with what Trinny refers to as what the women ‘should’ be. In the case of young women, that is “sexy, trendy and fun” (BBC1, 2004). Women should look feminine, and that means showing, or creating a traditional ‘hourglass’ figure (often by wearing heels which force women to walk in a way that pushes them forward and draws attention to the compartmentalised body parts of breasts, bottom and legs considered to be feminine and likely to illicit the ‘gaze’) (Bartky, 2003), wearing makeup and styling their hair. Weber (2005) refers to this homogenisation of production as ‘the economy of sameness’; an idealisation of image that has been criticised by feminists not just for lack of creativity, but also for the way in which it is tied up with the gendered nature of social power, whereby women are represented and traded as passive objects and suffer at the hands of social and physical abuse (Bartky, 2003:35).

The ‘feminine body-subject’(Bartky, 2003:33) that is revealed at the end of What Not To Wear is not the finalised ‘self’. Throughout the episode the women are instructed in the ‘disciplinary practices’ (Bartky, 2003: 33) required to continually re-produce and govern themselves. In analysing this mode of self-surveillance, it is useful to refer to Foucault’s (1977) framework for analysing relationships of power so pervasive that they are exercised upon the individual themselves through self-surveillance.

One of the key ways in which Foucault (1977:200) conceptualises the omnipresent nature of surveillance is through the Panopticon; illustrated as the architectural design with a central, supervisory tower at the centre with cells to be supervised around the periphery. The role of the 360 mirror in What Not To Wear, is structurally similar to the Panopticon and serves to act as the focal point for ‘self surveillance’ of the women. Asked to scrutinise her body from every angle, the woman inhabits the central, supervisory space and looks into each cell onto the divided aspects of her body that must be disciplined.

In the ‘Young Mums’ episode, both women enter the 360 mirror in a piece of clothing they like. Trinny and Susannah use a combination of mockery, criticism and praise to first show the women they are not how (or who) they should be, then inform them how they should be.

Sara is informed by Trinny, as the presenter pulls her dress tight to her body; “You have a figure to show off, so you need to get that waist back – you know, we’d like to see more” Susannah, reinforcing the message, pulls her dress up, stating “you’ve got great legs, you’ve got such good ankles you should show them off” (BBC1, 2004). Michalina is laughed at by the women in a display of class elitism, when her assertion that the clothes she is wearing look “quite classy” is met with schoolgirl-style ‘cruelty and viciousness’ (McRobbie, 2004:106). Susannah, in a voice laden with sarcasm, praises Michalina for talking “about the outfit with such conviction” and Trinny is unable to contain her disgust, screaming “I think that is SO HIDEOUS!”. Both comments are met with confusion from Michalina, who clearly does not consider herself to look hideous. Interesting, considering Trinny’s tendency for raising her voice, and reminiscent of Rowe’s (1997:79) analysis of the reaction to ‘unruly women’ who take up ‘too much space’ is her assertion that Michalina comes “running and charging at us” with her bright clothes, and that this frightens people. By the end of the episode, Michalina affirms the comments that the presenters made at this first site of surveillance, signalising its internalization and necessity for constant regulation to prevent relapse. Looking at her new produced self, Michalina agrees with the presenters, stating; “I was a blob…a clown and a blob” (BBC1, 2004).

Rose (1989:227) places the rise of self-regulation in the nineteenth century, in the context of a shift from individuals controlled by an interventionist state, to individuals controlled much more closely by themselves and those around them. Intrinsic to this regulation and ‘production of selfhood’ (Ibid:231), he argues, are the ‘techniques of psychotherapeutics’. Importantly, this link is clear in What Not To Wear. At the beginning of the episode, the presenters conduct conversations with the women to “probe their minds” (BBC1, 2004) in an environment culturally recognisable as that of a psychotherapist, with the women ‘probed’ on a chaise longue. During these conversations, the presenters refer to ‘feelings’ and the language of popular psychology, contributing to the assertion common to the genre of ‘self-help’ that it is the individual inside, not structural constraints of society, that lead to problems (Rimke, 2000:64) and that by altering her appearance, the woman will alter her life. In a style similar to that of the daytime television talk show, the short conversations do no not offer ‘sufficient space or time for personal emotions to be fully developed’ (Macdonald, 2003:83) and are very much directed by the presenters.

During Sara’s conversation, she starts to talk about the fact that her identity seems to be consumed by looking after her triplets (earlier in the programme, Trinny illustrated the hard work involved in looking after three children). Rather than explore the many structural constraints that are involved in this exhausting (and seemingly unrewarded) work, Trinny responds to the statement with the question “how does your husband feel about how you dress?” (BBC1, 2004). At the end of the programme, Trinny refers back to this feeling of identity loss, indicating that the ‘new’ Sara can be the centre of attention. Revealingly, Trinny comments that people will no longer constantly ask her about her children, but will now focus on her clothes instead, indicating that she feels Sara’s identity is her clothes.

The presenters also borrow from behavioural psychology, invented to ‘render human conduct amenable to reshaping’ (Rose, 1989:239). Trinny and Susannah use both reward and punishment in order to ‘reshape’ the women. At a key moment in Michalina’s shopping task, Trinny begs her to buy a dress, giving up on the ‘rewarding’ of compliments and screams in Michalina’s face; “JUST BUY THE OUTFIT OK!” (BBC1, 2004). This illustrates that What Not To Wear lies firmly in the discursive tradition of self-regulation through psychotherapeutics (Rose, 1989:227).

Within the genre of self-help, particularly makeover, the role of the ‘expert’ is key (Giles, 2002:606). Trinny and Susannah present themselves as therapist and teacher. They adopt a position of authority that can be conceptualised in the way that Foucault (1984:61) has analysed the therapist and priest who gains power through confession. They intervene ‘in order to judge, punish, forgive, console and reconcile’ (Foucault, 1984: 61-2). The hierarchy evident in this authority manifests itself both in the language used by the presenters when addressing the women and the ‘economy of touching’ (Bartky, 2003:30) whereby the presenters touch the women often aggressively and intrusively.

The language used by the presenters often takes on a patronising tone; the difference between Trinny admonishing Sara’s children for not eating with their spoons, and the order to Michalina to get “back in your box, try the other thing on” (BBC1, 2004) is barely noticeable in tone. The way in which the presenters grab, pull and on one occasion rip the knickers, from the women is intrusive and humiliating at times for the women . Trinny and Susannah also touch the women in a way that would usually be associated with animals; they are ‘herded’ around and continually have their thighs patted and slapped. Although this form of touch is presented as jest, it echoes the power hierarchy within a society where women are often subject to un-requested touch and bodily intrusion, including high incidence of rape . The message given out that it is acceptable to herd and intrude on women ‘for their own good’ is a dangerous one.

This clear hierarchy is one of both knowledge (of ‘what to wear’) and class. The presenters are from upper-middle class backgrounds and display their opinion of the way in which the other women dress with ‘extreme bodily displeasure’ (McRobbie, 2004:105). Their class difference is illustrated by and reinforces their role as ‘experts’ and is tied to their knowledge of ‘style’. Trinny displays this by telling Sara; “we might know a bit better than you” (BBC1, 2004).

Although the power relations within the makeover paradigm of What Not To Wear are pervasive and permeate into the minds of the women being made over, as Foucault argues, this form of power depends on ‘a multiplicity of points of resistance’ (1984:95). Certainly, there are multiple points of resistance throughout the episode. Often this resistance is played up to the camera, to the audience as fellow participant; Michalina, picking up a pair of brightly coloured trousers, says “they are lovely, aren’t they [pauses, puts them back on the shelf] … no, I’m gonna be good [picks them up again] no, I’m not gonna be good.” (BBC1, 2004).Similarly, as a site of class resistance, Sara argues with the presenters on the necessity of spending over £100 on a pair of jeans. Although both women thank the presenters for their ‘new’ selves, and seem genuinely happy at the end of the episode, this does not reduce the importance of their resistance throughout their encounters with Trinny and Susannah.

The ‘Young mums’ episode of What Not To Wear is critically examined above in relation to discourses of self-production, surveillance, popular psychology and the authority of expert and class. The makeover paradigm within What Not To Wear is part of the discursive production within society of ‘feminine body-subjects’ (Bartky, 2003:33) through self-production (Rose, 1989) and surveillance. There is a great deal more that could be critically evaluated within the media text What Not To Wear. The role of surveillance could be examined in far more detail, particularly in the earlier series where hidden cameras were used to survey the women. Although not used in the episode analysed here, some episodes of What Not To Wear have featured video diaries, which could be viewed through a Foucauldian analysis of the role of confession (Foucault, 1984: 63). In terms of this particular episode, the women were actually revisited by Trinny and Susannah for the 2005 series of What Not To Wear, which could be analysed in terms of resistance, surveillance, governance and the portrayals of class. Although analysing such texts often meets with a resistance of its own, it is important considering the cultural weight and sites of power within the makeover paradigm as demonstrated above.


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