Union PR chiefs are polishing their comms strategies as they prepare to mobilise public opinion against the Government's planned spending cuts.
At this week's TUC Conference, delegates backed a mass political and industrial campaign, and union leaders said they were ready for major industrial action. The TUC will launch the campaign, including a rally and lobby of Parliament, on 19 October - the eve of the Government's spending review.
Senior union comms sources told PRWeek that accompanying media work and lobbying would attempt to convey the chaos the cuts could wreak on public services.
One union PR boss said: 'The job of unions when we're communicating is to tell people about the impact the cuts will have. Behind the stats that are being used by the Con Dems to justify the case for cuts there are real people. Nurses, teachers and police officers will lose their jobs. What that means is that our children will learn less, peoples' health could suffer and our streets could become more dangerous.'
The unions will also look to build alliances with external organisations. Public affairs professionals said this would be key to the success of the unions' lobbying and PR offensive.
One union comms source cited anti-poverty campaigners, health charities and housing charities as possible allies. 'Unions will look to build these broader coalitions because there's no doubt that the cuts will have a massive impact across the public services,' said the source.
Some trade unions have already made progress on this front.
Unite recently launched a campaign entitled 'Don't Break Britain: Cuts Kill Communities'.
A Unite spokesman described the project as 'a robust campaign in defence of public services, seeking to publicise and build this campaign across the labour movement but also across local communities and not-for-profit groups'.
Unite is also holding a fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference called 'Don't Rip the Heart out of Rural Britain'. The spokesman said: 'Unite and concerned community groups are now in a race to save rural Britain.'
- TUC 7 million members. General secretary Brendan Barber; head of media Liz Chinchen
- Unison 1.3 million members. General secretary Dave Prentis; head of press and broadcasting Mary Maguire
- GMB 700,000 members. General secretary Paul Kenny; press officer Steve Pryle
- PCS 300,000 members. General secretary Mark Serwotka; national press officer Richard Simcox
- Unite 3 million members. Joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley; head of press Pauline Doyle
£113bn - Government spending cuts and tax rises expected by 2015*
£4bn - Amount to be cut from the social security bill by 2015*
£10m - Savings from banning first-class air and rail travel by civil servants*
350k - Estimated number of public sector jobs to be lost under the cuts**
Source: *Emergency Budget 2010; **CIPD
Comms experts suggest how union PROs should tackle the campaign against the cuts
Jon McLeod, Public affairs chairman, Weber Shandwick
I think the unions are waking up to what modern lobbying is all about - advocacy.
If you can mobilise the TaxPayers' Alliance, The Patients Association, Which?, Mumsnet and other digital platforms, you are likely to do more to worry the coalition than any number of hairy-armed brothers marching down Whitehall.
The key issue, though, is focus and control - what is a broad alliance against and who sets the agenda?
Rory O'Neill, Partner, Gardant Communications
There are going to be some unusual alliances over the next few months. The unions need supporting players within a campaign, and the right-wing lobby groups need a new purpose.
There is quite a lot of common ground within these organisations, such as concern about any electoral reform.
I will be intrigued to see how groups such as Big Brother Watch react to issues such as means testing of benefits and how the TaxPayers' Alliance responds to any non-progressive taxation.
Lee Whitehill, Director, Interel Consulting UK
Union press teams are prepared for this battle so the Tories will need to watch out.
The unions must create as broad a church as possible if they are to neutralise the inevitable stories about a second winter of discontent. Going viral is the Holy Grail of modern PR, and the unions, with seven million angry members, have a head start.
Getting people talking around the dinner table will be just as important for union PROs as getting their boss on the telly.
See news editor David Singleton's opinion on the unions' comms challenge