Assessing the role of information and communication technologies (icts) in the emergence and success of ‘networks of dissent’.
Dissent occurs in all societies to a greater or lesser extent. In the past people have organized using whatever methods were available at the time, because communication in the past was not as global as today, dissent was too a great extent localized i.e. few events reached mass or global audiences. Today however with mass communication, sattelite TV, internet, 24 hour news channels like CNN, AL JAZEERA, BBC and others, events can soon reach global audiences within a very short time. This can be a hazard if events move quicker than people’s ability to organize; it can lead to a delayed response or even inaction, which may not be positive for the recipients of any action to help them
Anyone who watches news events will know how events happening anywhere in the world can reach mass audiences within minutes of them happening. With news reporters and organizations like ngo’s and human rights having people monitoring events and waiting for situations to rise ,and all these organizations are media savvy as they want their side of the story to be told.
With the rise of icts has arisen for those who have access to information technology the global network civil society. people can now form the comfort of their homes and without putting themselves to physical harm join human rights organizations or participate in civil disobedience e.g. anti war collations or join anti- nuclear organizations, to organize and through icts can email dissent or organize petitions to put pressure on governments, local MP’S or local government to change things that you want. This is the natural hall mark of a democratic society to use non violent and legal means to organize and put pressure on authorities to change things which you do not agree in a logical argued in a perisasvie manner.
I now want to look at the case of Nike the well known sports goods manufacturer and the global organized campaign to improve the pay and working conditions for the workers who make their goods in South East Asia. Nike came under commercial price pressure from competitors to lower its cost in order to remain competitive in the market place. It had no choice to locate to low cost parts of the wolrd.it did deal with sub contractors who would employ the necessary labour to make Nike’s goods. It must be said Nike did not stipulate wages for the workers to be employed, that was to decided by the subcontractor, the assumption being the sub contractor having local knowledge would be paying the local wage rate.
Stories began to circulate from ngo’s, workers rights organizations, about the appalling conditions in the factories, of the treatment of mostly female workers, of 12 hour shifts, few breaks to eat or go to the toilet, of sexual harrassment, of the low wages, of use of child labour, of the cramped conditions where the women lived, wages of £1 a day to make a pump costing £7 to make sold on world markets for £70.
International labour unions and concerted campaign of organizations using the internet and satellite TV channels began to circulate stories about Nike workers. The main news channels also began to take interest in the stories. Nike tried to defend itself against the bad publicity, its pr department rightly pointed out that it was not directly responsible for the treatment of the workers but the sub contractor. This defence did not work well for then them, a worker organization charity managed to smuggle a 12 year old worker to America who was interviewed on prime time TV on the main US channel about her treatment and worker conditions. For Nike things could not get any worse, one of the Chief executives of Nike ended up personally on prime TV apologizing to the girl for what happened to her.
The response by Nike has been to draw up a sort of human rights workers charter for any of its sub contractors to abide by. The problem again here is compliance, because the sub contractors have to have some at the factory to monitor the conditions and report anything that might infringe the charter.
If we analyses the success of the campaign. Nike is a global company, most of its goods are sold in rich countries to customers who are by world standards rich and can choose not buy their products. The campaigners against Nike were also from the rich countries that are socially minded and have the time, energy, knowledge and ability to access icts to organize an effective campaign, and also they know how to use the media to tell their story.
So Nike really had no defence but to give into the pressure. The reality is that where Nike products made in poor countries, most of the exploiters are not global companies like Nike but local employers who often have no regard for the welfare for their workers. Here global civic organizations have been less effective, because of the local political and economic situation employers are immune from form criticism as by some it is seen as meddling in their affairs.
The recent fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh which killed 100’s because doors were locked, the local government has done nothing, despite criticism of its failure to carry out the necessary health and safety checks. In a corrupt country like Bangladesh it is very unlikely that those responsible will be punished. We have to ask in the Nike case who’s agenda is being served, the Nike workers were treated no worse than local standards, was the campaign to appease the guilt of middle class consumers in the West or a genuine attempt to bring humane practices in the work place. We have a tension here between the local agenda versus the global agenda and the high light the obvious power relation between workers and employers, which exist everywhere.
It must be stated that the sweat shop campaigns have not been simply limited to Nike but are ongoing everywhere in the wolrd, be they local, national and global with or with icts
There is no doubt that a global civil society, of an active citizenry, persueing the common good can be a force for good.
For Gramsci the civil society realms where the ruling class seeks to legitimize its rule. In the new globalized world of giant corporations, of global institutions like the world bak, IMF, and the WTO, of an emerging political and economic elite linked by common interests. As a counter balance to these power structures has emerged global civic organizations which are not for profit but act on society at large in positive way. So for Gramsci the civil society realm is no longer local or national but global thanks to icts.For Gramsci counter hegemonic forces like the emergence of global civil societies are forces which try to transform social relations against the the hegemony of the ruling classes
In the west at least many people are by passing traditional forms of dissent i.e. lobbying at your local mp, going on websites seeking like minded people and organizing national campaigns. Migration watch a website which wants migration to the UK reduced managed to get 100,000 signatures online for its e-petition which is the minimum needed to get mp’s to discuss the issue in the house of commons.
As globalization has hollowed the nation state, organizations like EU and global corporations, and supra-national institutions like the IMF, world, bank, WTO are global governance organizations. Citizens in the west are realizing that political and economic power has shifted, so by using icts have reverted back to Athenian style direct democracy and organizing online bypassing the local forms of democracy.
For instance the Migration watch website has been so effective at discrediting the governments own immigration statistics, the UK government (last labour government) has tried to smear migration watch as a racist organization, this has badly backfired for them, as migration watch is linked to other similar sites all over the world and produces authoritative statistics which the UK government finds difficult to dispute.
The jubilee campaign has managed to get together many organizations from Oxfam to anti-globalization movements, together into one campaign. The effect of this has been the pooling of collective intelligence, knowhow and resources, the jubilee 200 debt relief campaign has been successfull,because it has been able to take on governments, the IMF and World bank, and financial institutions by arguing for the case with its own experts able to argue their case. The world wide interest in the campaign means that the g7 and g20 meeting could not ignore the issue. The campaign has been partially successful, it has been able to get dent relief for some countries and debt rescheduling for others. Satellite TV, protests, the internet and social activism developing countries combined to push the agenda onto the world scene.
Governments and organizations have had to come up with new strategies to neutralize this new form of online social activist. In China and Iran there is press and internet censorship, these have not been very success full as citizens have been able to bypass these controls easily. The US has brought criminal charges against weakileaks including stopping money getting to it. Again this has not worked as the founder Julian Assange recently announced a million new documents to be released.
So governments all over the world are in dilemma, in the past there could control the flow information much better, as global civic societies have began to appear online, people no longer trust governments to tell the truth, as an example the UK government in future will no longer count foreign students in the migration statistics. Migration Watch quickly picked up the fraud and will continue to include students in its statistics and the BBC now regularly relies on migration watch statistics in its reporting on the matter.
It must be stated that the online global civic communities are limited to these people who have access to icts.In many parts of the world most people do not have access to a telephone, but this changing with the price of communication coming down due to advances in technology, more and more people are now able to access information, the transformative nature of this as Manuel castles documented means that society is slowly being transformed, the world is becoming more integrated, people all over the world are finding they have more in common with each other than their differences. This is helping to forge new alliances across geographical and cultural boundaries
The Arab spring which has swept the whole Middle East was helped by a youthful population who were media savvy and were able to organize through social activism for change using online media sites. The Arab governments were not able to stop the flow of information.Although Egypt has gone back to being an elected dictatorship,with rigged elections and gross human rights abuses.You do not hear much crticism in the West about this.One the hall marks of the western imperialist principles is as long as you are are friend of the WEST,is we will turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and political chicanery.
The emergence of its has enabled people to organize at local, national and global level, the ease and low cost means more and more people able to participate. As globalization has proceeded the role of the state has changed, the west people no longer trust governments, and are organizing and creating new democratic forms of participation. Campaigns such as Nike and the jubilee 2000 show that global civic institutions can work.
In the poor countries people are using icts to get their governments to provide basic things that they need. So in poor countries people are organizing for more democracy and better government.
In the Good Society change comes from people organizing and agitating for change,the role of the media if successfully used can encourage this process.We wellcome
the postive role of media in the modern world to high light injustice in the world,and help people to free themselves from the power system which is keeping them poor and marginilzed.
Kind Regards Tiger Moto