PR savvy has helped the trade unions

In previous years the TUC conference agenda would be full of

resolutions demanding the return of a Labour government. Now they've got

one, the agenda is full of resolutions demanding they stop implementing

Tory policies. Whatever, they won't do anything to damage the chances of

Labour being elected for a third term.

One thing the Brothers and Sisters have not been discussing in Brighton

is the Tory leadership election. The union leaders have written off the

chances of the Tories returning to power in the foreseeable future

because they know from their own bitter experience that a divided party

that abandons the centre ground will not win.

They have also learned the value of good PR. There are now more union

press officers than there are industrial reporters. It was not that long

ago that the unions, like 'Old' Labour, saw all the newspapers other

than The Morning Star as the 'capitalist media' and refused to speak to


The unions' own newspapers and magazines were unreadable and even the

NUJ was incapable of producing a decent rag. All that has changed. Not

only do the unions produce readable material, they have also learned

that their magazines can be used for communicating directly with

members, so they send them to their homes.

The unions have also been quick to recognise the value of the internet

and they nearly all have their own websites.

What has changed most among the unions, however, is their attitude

towards providing services to their members. In the 1960s and 1970s it

seemed that the most important union asset was the size of the strike

fund. Today it is the size of their pension department. The unions can

provide anything from cheap holidays to insurance against loss of

driving licences.

In the past year alone, unions have introduced 48 new or revamped

benefits, and one of the biggest growth areas has been the introduction

of helplines. This is ironic because one of the places the unions have

been recruiting is call centres. In fact, if everyone working in a call

centre joined a union for call centre workers it would be one of the

biggest in the TUC.

The TUC itself has seen a remarkable change since John Monks became

general secretary eight years ago. The affiliated unions would often

spend more time arguing among themselves about a few 'poached' members

than they would about arguing with the employers. One of the biggest

unions was even expelled for organising workers in a company deemed to

be the province of another union. Monks has not only managed to welcome

the electricians back into the fold. He has persuaded the Professional

Footballers Association to rejoin, so when Michael Owen scored his

hat-trick against the Germans, Monks was able to boast that he was one

of his members. As a Manchester United fan, Monks is delighted that

David Beckham belongs to the TUC, too.

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