New Orleans An article by David Barboza and Keith Bradsher in the Times had a fascinating discussion of the ways that workers in the strikes spreading through China are using digital technology, especially their cell phones and access to Skype and other systems not controlled by the state or open to spying by the company to communicate with and organize their co-workers.
The killer quote from the piece goes right to the economics of the matter and the Chinese government’s ability to lower the digital divide by forcing the prices to be worker-friendly, a policy choice that has not been made in most countries of the world, including the US and Canada, as we discussed recently.
“And it might not be possible if the Chinese government had not made a concerted effort in the last decade to shrink the country’s digital divide by lowering the cost of mobile phone and Internet service in this country — a modernization campaign that has given China the world’s biggest Internet population (400 million) and allowed even the poorest of the poor to log onto the Internet and air their labor grievances.”
“This is something people haven’t paid attention to — migrant workers can organize using these technologies,” said Guobin Yang, a professor at Barnard College and author of “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online.”
“Usually we think of this kind of thing being used by middle-class youths and intellectuals,” Professor Yang said.
The Web and digital devices, analysts say, have become vehicles of social change in much the way the typewriter and mimeograph machine were the preferred media during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989 — before the government put down that movement in the June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown that left hundreds dead.”
Here in North America, as Professor Yang infers, we are much happier if we can imagine that technology is just something for the kids and brainiacs, rather than understanding the new power of these tools for organizing.
We also still have to deal with the problem of private sector control of texting. Twitter has not caught on with the low-and-moderate income constituency for sure. Facebook may be gaining, largely because it provides a “directory” for finding people, which is not easily accessible elsewhere.
Lot to think about here – and copy!