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e-Democracy update - 29/3/06

29 March, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

Unions side-lined by French e-communications

Industrial action in France has become decentralised, side-lining unions, at the same time as it has gone hi-tech with students use mobile phones and the internet, to plan strikes and mass protests.

Over a million marched in the streets across France today in opposition to new laws that allow companies to fire young workers without cause during their first two years of employment.

Protestors launched online resources on sites such as Stop CPE to rally support against the new laws.

The site also provides details on buses and free rides to protests, information on student apartments and dormitory accommodation, and phone numbers for the latest news.

Users can opt to receive mass messages by mobile phone. At last count, there were over 300,000 mobiles connected.

European Parliament member Benoit Hamon says the strikes and protests are very different from classic political organisational forms.

"Traditionally, the labour unions or political parties and organisations acted as relay systems with the powers that be, and they became the mechanisms for negotiating a way out of the crisis. But this time, nobody is acting as the interface," he says.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says he is open to talks on employment and possible changes to the law but will not withdraw it.

"Only in action will we convince all of the French that tomorrow can be better than today," he says.

Community website acts a "blog" version of government

A local council in the UK has launched a new website so community groups can post news and information.

The Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in Yorkshire, UK, has set up a "blog" version of government so representatives can develop and maintain sites for their community groups.

Any community group can register for the Wakefield District Community Online (WDCO) and build a community website free of charge.

Wakefield Metropolitan District Councillor Peter Loosemore says there are already 33 groups and organisations on the site.

"People who have used it have told me that it was really easy to get their site on line. So don't be put off, even if you're new to computers," he says.

"We hope that more will sign up."

New VOICE for UK groups to make online communities

Two UK-based e-democracy groups will soon release a set of tools to help local authorities and community groups build websites and link online communities together.

The Local Directgov Programme and Local e-Democracy National project will soon release VOICE, a new set of tools to build websites and online communities for free.

The toolkit includes free web design software and tools to share files, photos and news.

The software also allows users to track campaigns through weblogs or discussion forums.

UK organisations are currently testing pilot versions of VOICE. The final version will be released later this year.

Bush suggests blogs

US President George W. Bush has recommended blogs promoting progress in Iraq as an alternative to mainstream media.

President Bush says blogs are changing the way people get their information.

"So if you're concerned I would suggest that you reach out to some of the groups that are supporting the troops, that got Internet sites and just keep the word moving," he says.

His comments were in response to a question from an audience member at a rally in West Virginia.

The audience member asked what could be done to keep the press from ignoring progress in Iraq.

Anonymous Iraqi blog nominated for literary prize

An anonymous Iraqi woman’s blog has received a nomination in the world’s richest non-fiction prize.

The woman, known only as Riverbend, is running against 18 other books in the Samuel Johnson prize with a book version of her blog Baghdad Burning.

Riverbend began her blog on August 17, 2003. Prior to the invasion, she worked as a computer programmer. She said she lost her job when it became too dangerous for women to travel to and from their workplace alone in an increasingly lawless society.

"I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway," she says.

The winning author of the prize will receive £30,000 when announced during an awards dinner at the Savoy Hotel, London on Wednesday June 14, 2006.

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