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New Strategies: Disrupting Cyberspace; A New Frontier for Labor Activism?

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new STRATEGIES: Disrupting Cyberspace; A New Frontier for Labor Activism?

A convergence is beginning to occur between activist hackers and new social movement activists. Both groups are young, educated, countercultural, and hostile to both corporations and globalization. This convergence has enormous implications for the exercise of disruptive power by working-class people in the rapidly emerging electronic age.

The vulnerability of the electronic order to disruption was first exposed some decades ago by the rise of theft by computer. Indeed, it is probably characteristic of big shifts in socioeconomic formations--whether the contemporary shift from the industrial to the electronic order or the earlier shift from the feudal to the commercial/industrial order--that individualistic defiance appears first, before collective defiance occurs. Thus, with the rise of commercial and industrial relations, individuals in positions of financial trust, such as bank clerks, could embezzle money. Collective disruptions by workers, such as mass strikes, came later, when the rise of mass production industries had both increased the vulnerability of the employer class and generated worker solidarities. Theft by individuals was also the first sort of defiance to appear as the electronic order emerged, since the new computer technology could be exploited to steal other people's money.

Reacting to theft by computer, employers allocated billions of dollars to sign up the best minds to design better defensive measures. Protecting computerized systems from crime became a growth industry, and thieves responded by finding flaws in the new systems. It was, and continues to be, technological war.

Computer thieves were followed, in just the past decade or two, by computer hackers. 1 Like computer thieves, hackers have exposed the vulnerability of the electronic order, but with an important difference. They have shown that the electronic order is open not just to theft-focused penetration and manipulation but to disruption on...