The AFL-CIO is creating an Internet gateway it hopes will connect its 13 million members online and serve as a high-tech organizing device.
"This will be a revolutionary tool for communications," said Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of America. "Can you imagine being able to ask millions of Internet users to boycott a product or bombard an elected official with protests?"
The Web portal site, called workingfamilies.com, was scheduled to be up and running by Dec. 1. At the moment, it just contains a press release from the AFL-CIO announcing the site.
The labor federation has its own, elaborate Web site, at www.aflcio.org/home.htm, featuring press releases, the AFL-CIO constitution, and other information.
Union members will be offered Internet service at no more than $14.95 per month. The AFL-CIO also said it will offer members discounted computers, with full financing, for as little as $600.
The goal is to bring families online for less than $30 a month, Ray Abernathy, an AFL-CIO spokesman, said Sunday.
The Web site will link to the home pages of the AFL-CIO's 68 affiliated unions. Card-carrying members also will have access to e-mail, news, weather and an electronic storefront featuring union-shop goods.
"With workingfamilies.com, we're helping bridge the growing gap between the technological 'haves' and 'have-nots,' and we're also giving working families new ways to connect with one another and to make their voices heard," said John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president.
Chris Charron, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said the AFL-CIO could create a successful online community.
"The Internet is a great way to create support and mobilization for communities that are otherwise disparate," Charron said. "Having a virtual meeting place for the national workforce makes sense."
The AFL-CIO will not challenge the major Internet service providers, such as America Online, or the major portal sites, such as Yahoo!, Charron said. The organization, however, does have the opportunity to serve a niche market.
"They have the capacity to create a small access business and a community content site," Charron said. "But it really has no chance of competing with the large broad-based sites."
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