int.unity project started

Trade unions meet on the net

The Internet not only brings companies closer together, the trade unions ver.di, CWU and UNI Europe have also started a joint project to overcome national borders and language barriers and to test and improve new ways of cooperating. The project is called int.unity.

The ver.di division for Innovation and Technology Policy uses its own projects to make research and development policy. int.unity is such a project. The acronym is made up of letters describing the tasks of int.unity: building up an international trade union community in the net. The task is to set up an Internet platform on which the participating trade unions ver.di, CWU (Communication Workers Union from the United Kingdom) and UNI Europe (Union Network International Europe) can meet in a "virtual workspace" where they can communicate and cooperate with the aid of automated translation tools (German and English).

It took three years; roughly 150 workdays were needed before the project received grant approval from the European Commission. "We are among the chosen few," said ver.di project manager Claus Zanker at the first project meeting on 23 January 2002 in Frankfurt/Main. Only 35 of 148 applications were approved by the EU experts, of these only three under German supervision. int.unity is one of them.

The participating trade union organisations agreed on three topics that they will focus on on the Net. ver.di will take up moderation of the topic Trade Unions and the New Economy, the CWU the topic Trade Unions and the Internet and Uni Europe the topic Trade Unions and European Works Councils. Over the coming weeks international project teams will be formed to discuss each of the topics. They will not only exchange concurring positions of the trade unions, but also differences of opinion. Other experts can participate in the discussions upon invitation in order to expand the specialised knowledge and provide new perspectives. The results will be joint analyses and action recommendations.

Besides exchanging ideas on the topics mentioned, the project also plans to improve the Web platform and in particular to adapt the language technology to the special needs of unions. The participating organisations will communicate and work using their own mother tongues. The messages and documents will be automatically translated in the respective other language in a way that is as error-free and comprehensible as possible. For technical reasons int.unity will begin with the languages German and English. Once the technology is successfully tested and optimised it can be transferred to other language pairs for the longer term.

The results of the expert discussions will be summarised and published by moderators from the three trade union organisations ver.di, CWU and UNI Europe, in order to make the contents of the discussions accessible to all union members.

As a project partner on equal standing OrbiTeam Software GmbH (http://www.OrbiTeam.de) will develop and supervise the BSCW platform. The Institut für angewandte Informationsforschung IAI of the University of the Saarland (http://www.iai.uni-sb.de) is the project partner responsible for the language technology.