Labor Advocate Online

At Seven–Looking Forward and Back
by Bill Onasch

It’s always easy to remember the anniversary of the launching of the KC Labor web site. It’s the same as International Women’s Day and the anniversary of the February Revolution in Russia that overthrew the Czar (and changed calendars.)

This year marks the completion of seven years. I was sorely tempted to take a sabbatical. But, while having no delusions about being irreplaceable, I recognize that my side is still short-handed. It seems whenever I start dreaming about a less structured retirement some person or event convinces me to carry this modest project on.

When I ventured into this webmaster job I had no training in HTML programming and no talent or aptitude for graphic design. These limitations remain painfully apparent seven years later. Fortunately, most visitors come for the content and are prepared to overlook our technical and artistic shortcomings.

Seven years ago we were seeing an explosion in Internet usage by working people. AOL, the first to offer “unlimited” access, was still growing by leaps and bounds as millions of ordinary folk plunked down twenty bucks a month to spend as much time as they wanted “surfing the Web.”

The surfers were offered guidance by “portals,” such as AOL and Yahoo, who provided navigational assistance to finding various subject matter. But there was little help available for finding sites oriented to the working class that were sprouting. Part of the mission of KC Labor was to start to build a working class portal to these Internet links.

We still maintain–though we need to do a better job of updating--what we call “resource pages,” essentially link directories with some introductory remarks, on topics such as unions, solidarity campaigns, workplace safety and health, Globalization issues, health care, Social Security, labor law, immigrant rights, labor history, labor education projects, retiree information, transit labor, and labor culture. The majority of first-time visitors to our site continue to come in to one of these pages, usually referred by search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN.

I was also fortunate to find some expert collaborators early on. I didn’t have to look beyond my home for one–my wife, Mary Erio earns her living as a Certified Industrial Hygienist and she consented to be the workplace safety/health editor for the site. Doug Bonney, a top-notch labor and civil liberties attorney in Kansas City, agreed to do the same for legal issues. I am most grateful for their contributions.

The site safety editor and webmaster, circa 2000

Another perceived need we tried to fill was the paucity of news about and from our side. LabourStart did and does provide a lot of links to union stories. We wanted to be more inclusive of broader working class and social movement activities and social and economic issues of concern to those movements.

Editing the Daily Labor News Digest is by far the single most time consuming part of KC Labor. Since I have no one to bill I haven’t kept precise track of hours spent but my guess is that it is around 30 hours a week. Every day I scan the following mainstream sites for appropriate stories; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Kansas City Star; St Louis Post-Dispatch; Detroit News; Toronto Globe & Mail; London Independent; London Guardian; BBC; Aljazeera; and the CBC. We get labor story alerts through Google and Yahoo. We also check out a number of labor sites every week day including Workday Minnesota; AFL-CIO blog; and union sites such as the ATU, CNA, UNITE-HERE, UAW, UE, UFCW, USW, and UTU.

Over the years we’ve been helped by an informal network of volunteer correspondents who from time to time supply us with stories we might otherwise miss. Deserving special mention in this category are Kathleen O’Nan in Los Angeles, Rod Pugh in Vancouver, Andy Pollack in New York, Stuart Elliott in Wichita, George Shriver in Tucson, Tony Saper in Kansas City, Dave Riehle in St Paul, Jerry Gordon in Cleveland, and John Woodruff, Jr in Connecticut.

Since 2003, we have institutionalized what started out as irregular missives to our e-mail list into a scheduled Week In Review column commenting on some of the news stories of the week.

Some of our early features didn’t work as we intended. For a while Mary Erio offered to answer workplace safety and health questions from visitors. It turned out she was asked many workplace questions but most were of the shop steward variety, few actually pertaining to her expertise. We had to scrap that one.

Doug Bonney also tried answering labor law questions. It was then we first realized that we were not primarily dealing with a local audience. Doug is licensed to practice law in Missouri and Kansas but questions for him started coming in from almost every state except where he was a member of the bar. Legally excluded from offering advice in those other 48 states we reluctantly had to abandon that good idea.

Site law editor Doug Bonney

Perhaps most discouraging was our offer to put people needing a union in touch with organizers. We received many more requests than we could find unions willing to talk with them. We now provide links to the AFL-CIO and UE organizing web pages and wish people luck.

From the beginning we aimed to do more than provide news and useful references. We also wanted to play a role in the living working class movement, identifying and discussing issues, supporting, even sometimes initiating activity.

KC Labor has sponsored, or co-sponsored, three informative conferences: Labor and the Law, June 2001; Worker Rights At Home and Abroad, March, 2004; and the Future of the Labor Movement, April, 2005. Some of the speakers who participated in these events were: Amjad Al-Jawhary, representing the Federation of Worker Councils and Trade Unions of Iraq; Ed Bruno, now organizing coordinator for the National Nurses Organizing Committee; Mark Dudzic, national organizer of the Labor Party; Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies; Jerry Tucker, a former UAW district director now a consultant to organizing model unions; Trent Bell, President of the Kansas City chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Stuart Elliott, webmaster of Kansas Workbeat; Kelley Dull, President of AFGE Council 171; David Riehle, Local Chair of United Transportation Union Local 650 in St Paul and an accomplished labor historian; Bob Kutchko, webmaster of Union Pride and a veteran of the Teamster organizing drive at FedEx; Christine Frank, a member of IATSE Local 13 in Minneapolis and coordinator of the Climate Crisis Coalition of the Twin Cities; and, of course, our own Doug Bonney.

Amjad Al-Jawhary

The local pro-Labor Party print newsletter, Labor Advocate, was incorporated in an online format into the site. While I have been the most prolific contributor others have submitted articles from time to time and hopefully there will be more to come.

Sometimes we have been drawn in to debates, such as a sharp exchange with LabourStart’s Eric Lee over his support to the U.S.-British invasion of Afghanistan–the beginning of that long war that continues today. Other contentious issues have included the split in the labor movement and the crisis in the auto industry, organized in pages dedicated to those topics.

We did have one major scoop–after attending the founding conference I posted the first published article on the launching of US Labor Against the War, picked up by many other sites.

Our stands on the Afghan and Iraq wars cost us some support. Some members of our e-mail list denounced us at the time and angrily cancelled their subscriptions. Others have quietly urged us to stay away from foreign policy and “security” issues. We take guidance in this area, and many others, by asking WWDD–what would Debs do?

Eugene V Debs may not have been the messiah but was the most important and inspiring leader in the history of the American working class. An effective, militant trade unionist he went on to help build a mass working class party. He embraced a workers solidarity that transcended race, gender and national boundaries. Practicing those principles, he went to prison opposing the great unjust war of his time.

Eugene V Debs

Above all else, the KC Labor project has been a modest effort to help reclaim and renew the proud working class heritage Debs so ably represented. We see no acceptable alternative for the future of working people. That’s why we have not only been pro-union but also pro-Labor Party, and supporters of US Labor Against the War.

Over the past couple of years the site has begun to devote considerable attention to an area too long neglected by the labor movement–the environmental crisis. Our Daily Labor News Digest has a section for environmental news–sometimes it’s the biggest section–and I was glad to be able to give a first-hand report on the inspiring Labor & Sustainability conference held in St Paul in January. It’s our belief that this issue must be integrated into a revitalized labor movement.

All the work of KC Labor has been accomplished without a paid staff. That’s not because we are opposed in principle to compensating staffers–we don’t have any significant source of funding. We decided early on that in order to maintain our independence, to say the things we think must be said, we would not seek grants, subsides, or paid advertising. Not wanting any obstacles to viewing our material we also rejected asking for payment for content.

The bare bones expenses of the site–web hosting, domain registration, e-mail service, etc., run several hundred dollars a year. When we travel to cover events such as the Labor & Sustainability Conference, the Labor Notes conference, the launching of the National Alliance for Immigrant Rights, the founding of the South Carolina Labor Party, the USLAW National Labor Assembly--just some of what we attended over the last year–expenses add up. These outlays would be peanuts to big commercial sites but when the deepest pocket depends on a Social Security check they are formidable.

Ultimately our budget depends on the support of those who use and appreciate the site. We know there are many worthy causes seeking funds. We don’t expect anything really big. But, if you’re so inclined, there are a couple of ways you can be of help.

We have three shopping links in our KC Labor Store where you can buy books, Fair Trade coffee, and union made clothing–and we get a small commission on anything bought directly through these links.

You will also find scattered through the site, and appearing on this page, PayPal buttons. Through the one labeled “donate” you can make a one-time contribution of any amount. The one marked “subscribe” allows you to set up a regular monthly contribution of ten dollars.

All in all, though a lot of hard work, and occasionally frustrating, the webmaster has found KC Labor a quite rewarding experience over these seven years. I can’t guarantee we’ll go another seven. But I promise we’ll continue our mission as long as we can.

Fun Facts About KC Labor

Currently 8657 files, taking up 125.81 megabytes of storage, are on our server.

Last month we had an average of 2159 hits a day.

We have identified visits from at least 49 different countries. The top nations last month were Canada, Japan, Britain, China, and Germany.

The ten most popular entry pages are Home, Unions, News, Law, Social Security, Labor Advocate Online, History, Know Your Rights, Labor & the Environment, Immigrant Rights. (Though we provide them server space we do not count the pages for KC Labor Against the War, or the Kansas City Labor Party.)

The top referrers to our site are currently stumbleupon, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and TeamsterNet.

At least 254 other sites have links to

Eugene V Debs is consistently the most popular search string bringing visitors through search engines.

The Kansas City Police Department visits our site daily.

Our web host is SupremeServer. Our ISP is AT&T. We use IntelliContact to manage our e-mail list.

Microsoft FrontPage 2003 is our primary publishing software, supplemented with Mozilla Composer. Mozilla Sea Monkey is our favored browsing tool because it contains both the Firefox browser and Composer. Eudora 7 is our primary e-mail program.

We optimize our web pages for the Firefox browser but we check them out for compliance with Internet Explorer 7 and Opera 9 as well. Unfortunately, we have no way of validating Mac-based browsers.

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