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The End of LUV, Inc? An Example of Federalism and Unitary Organisational Structures

In a few weeks, Linux Users of Victoria, Inc., will be holding another Annual General Meeting. But this one is somewhat different to others. At this meeting, the very existence of LUV as an independent organisation may come to an end. A motion is on the agenda that LUV dis-incorporates and merges into Linux Australia, Inc., as a subcommittee of that group. It is an issue which I personally have given some serious thought to over the past several months, and more fleeting consideration over the past few years.

LUV is one of the the oldest (since 1993), most active (three speakers per month), and largest (c1500 members) Linux organisations in the world. We have been a mainstay behind such events as Software Freedom Day, install-fests, regional mini-conferences, and of course, our regular beginners workshops and technical talks. All of this, one hastens to add, will not change at all with the proposed dis-incorporation.

What will change is that LUV will not be an independent organisation. Our assets, such as they are, will be transferred to Linux Australia, in accordance to the Act governing Incorporated Associations in Victoria. Our income and expenditure will also be legally part of Linux Australia as well, although that body has indicated that there is some room for autonomy in those areas. At the very least, Linux events in Victoria that require funding could go directly to the national body, rather than to the state one which tends to have somewhat more meagre financial resources. An example would be the establishment of more regional chapters.

We will be part of a national organisation and will be able to have more direct input into country-wide affairs, including national policy, as they are related to Linux. Our administrative overhead, which it is admitted is not particularly onerous, should also decline. Plus, there are significant economies of scale and of network scope in being part of a larger group. One also hopes that we will see people who have hitherto been more involved in Linux Australia from Victoria, participating in activities of the Victorian subcommittee of LA.

Overall however, it must be noted that Linux Australia is a unitary body, not a federal one. Members of the committee of Linux Australia are elected from the membership as a whole, not as nominees from the respective subcommittees and, as subcommittees only exist with the approval of the LA committee, they could be disbanded in part or entirely, at any time. The circumstances that this would arise would indeed be quite extraordinary, but it is certainly something that must be considered.

I admit that I am much more in favour of bottom-up, federalist organisations (e.g., a national committee from regional LUGs), rather than those of the unitary model (e.g., a national organisation with local subcommittees). I also acknowledge the substantial benefits that arise through being part of a larger organisations. Whilst Linux Australia is a product of its own history and perhaps does not represent what I consider the most optimal organisational structure, especially for an interest which is primarily the result of of the energy of local volunteer activists. There is of course the possibility that LA may consider changing its organisational structure over time.

Still, if this does mean the end of LUV, Inc. we can certainly be very proud of what has been achieved under our name in the past twenty years. LUV was there, from the very beginning of Linux, when a rag-tag team of wild-eyed volunteer coders declared that they could take on the massive, multi-billion dollar proprietary operating systems, by opening the code to all, by making it free to modify and to distribute, and produce something that was technically superior by any meaningful metric. That was truly revolutionary.

LUV, Inc.? You're a superstar.