Chapter 14: communications & campaigns

Issue date
25 Sep 1998

Chapter 14 - communications and campaigns

Contents

14.1 Introduction

The key commitment adopted by the TUC at the relaunch in 1994 was to become a high profile organisation able to campaign effectively for trade union aims and values. That, as the rest of this Report makes clear, has been put to the test in the first full Congress year with a new Labour government. In particular the work leading up to the publication of the Fairness at Work White Paper has dominated the TUC=s campaigns and communications in the last year.

While we have not been able to persuade the new Government and other decision makers to adopt every TUC policy, there can be no doubt that the TUC is once again a major player in public policy. The contrast with the previous government remains stark. Where they exploited almost every opportunity to denigrate trade unionism the new government is committed to dialogue and consultation. The constant challenge to the TUC and the trade union movement is to construct a well reasoned case that can carry the day with ministers.

But this involves more than putting our case across in private meetings. The General Council are aware that this Government is especially sensitive to how it is portrayed in the media, and remains nervous about being seen to reward trade unions with favours, even when we have won the argument. The onus is therefore on the TUC to not only construct a winning argument but to win allies, to win the public relations battle and to mobilise our support in the country, in the media and in parliament.

How this has been done on a range of issues is described throughout this Report. This chapter deals with the nuts and bolts of the TUC=s campaigning, as carried out by the Campaigns and Communications Department on behalf of the General Council in the year under review. It deals with publications, exhibitions and conference organisation services as well as the high profile media and political work. It also reports on work with member unions to co-ordinate and improve the whole movement=s ability to influence public debate.

14.2 Communications in action

Media relations

TUC reports and events continued to achieve wide and generally favourable coverage across a range of programmes and publications, both nationally and regionally. Coverage is tracked through both a daily press cuttings service and a monthly media log.

The demands on the press office continue to grow as increasing numbers of journalists see the TUC as an important research and information source and as a provider of good, strong stories and interviewees. The change of Government last year has also contributed to how journalists perceive the importance of the TUC. A greater role in public affairs is reflected in wider coverage for our views on both the economy, industrial relations and a wide range of policy issues.

Not only does the TUC deal extensively with industrial correspondents, but increasingly with a wide range of other journalists, including political, consumer affairs, personal finance, health, education and women=s editors.

Two issues dominated much of the year=s media agenda - the White Paper Fairness at Work and the minimum wage. There was intense interest in these, particularly by the industrial and political journalists, which generated an enormous amount of broadcast and press coverage but which also made it difficult at times to interest them in other stories.

However, there was extensive national and regional TV, radio and press news coverage of several of our labour market and economic reports, evidence to Government, and reactions to Government announcements.

Particularly successful were the report on the growing gap between director and employee pay (achieving mentions on four national and three regional television news programmes, two national and over 50 regional radio news programmes, seven national and over 40 regional newspapers) and on casualised workers being denied employment rights (achieving mentions on six national TV and radio programmes, over 60 regional radio programmes and nearly 20 regional newspapers). Health and safety issues, such as asbestos and RSI, and our report on race discrimination at work also received substantial local press and radio coverage. Our comment on the GovernmentÕs announcement on joining EMU got 45 regional radio mentions, ten national TV and radio mentions and nearly 40 national and regional press mentions.

We continued to generate news interest in conferences through publishing reports to coincide with them - particularly the Women=s Conference and the Black Workers= Conference. The Time of our Lives conference offered an opportunity to position the TUC in the foreground of debate on the issue of flexibility at work. To generate maximum interest in the issues and the conference, a poll of attitudes in the Netherlands and the UK was commissioned and a report on examples of positive flexibility in Britain. The BBC=s 6 O=Clock News showed a long news story on the issue, flagging up the TUC=s conference. In addition to news coverage at the time, journalists continue to contact the press office for ideas and information on the subject.

Two hotlines - Women and Pensions and Bad Bosses - were the year=s most successful media initiatives. They received considerable national and regional broadcast and press coverage, particularly in the womenÕs and personal finance pages. The media interest was intense both while the lines were running and when reports based on the calls were published. Interest has continued afterwards, particularly with the bad bosses line, which is still provoking media interest.

The success of these depended on the strength of the issues but also on the fact they provided a focus on >real= people with >real= stories, an absolute must for getting coverage in features pages, in the tabloids and on television. The bad bosses line and its associated reports alone achieved 20 national and 11 regional TV mentions, 27 national and over 160 regional radio mentions, 22 mentions in national press, 19 in trade and specialist press and over 220 in regional press.

The launch of the Organising Academy in January (see chapter 3) provided 36 individuals, most of them young and most female, to promote as the new face of the unions. The regional media and the trade union press gave this extensive coverage. The Academy and trainees also featured on national broadcasts and in the national press, including Radio 4's Woman=s Hour, BBC TV=s Working Lunch, BBC Breakfast News and The Guardian.

The training programme for policy officers in broadcasting and news value skills was extended this year to regional officers and to the 36 Organising Academy trainees.

Publications

Reports, briefings and guidance material for unions have been published this year. There has also been a noticeable increase in material for conferences and seminars, and also in promotional materials and manuals for TUC education courses. For the first time the TUC also produced a CDROM to accompany the Passport to Progress guide to the TUC Education Service Programme.

The success of the CDROM has prompted the TUC to explore other avenues for publishing in this format, particularly combining several publications into an annual reference work. A further report will be given to the 1999 Congress.

Key publications are also made available on the website and in the future visitors will be encouraged to subscribe to some of the more regular publications, such as the relaunched Trade Union Trends and the redesigned Pensions Briefing. The popular Your Rights at Work fold-out leaflet is also on the web, as is the new title Unions at Work which gives a brief introduction to the TUC and the work of its affiliates.

Campaigning items have been led by womenÕs pension week leaflets, bad boss hotline materials, and a family of employee rights reports to support campaigning around the Fairness at Work White Paper.

Other new titles include the 1998 Budget Analysis, the 1998 Directory, a range of health and safety advice leaflets, Negotiating the New Deal, Unite Against Racism posters, New Unionism brochures, and The Time of Our Lives, which was produced for the flexible working conference.

Next Congress year the TUC will be refining the marketing and distribution of our publications to improve and expand our service.

Conferences and events

More than 20 national events have been organised by the TUC during the year - ranging from the Women=s, Black Workers=, Trades Union Councils=, Disability and Lesbian and Gay Conferences through the interACTIV event to issue-based conferences on Pensions, Discrimination Law and Fairness At Work - and ranging in scale from the Organising Academy launch to Congress itself.

Advice and assistance with events has also continued to be provided to a number of affiliates. Additionally, a series of meetings has been held with organisers of other political conferences. These have included discussions with representatives of hotels, venues and service-suppliers, and it is expected that the outcome of these meetings will have a relevance to union conference organisers.

Commercial exhibitions

A total of 83 exhibition stands were sold for the 1997 Congress Exhibition. Smaller exhibitions were also staged at the TUC Women=s Conference and TUC Black Workers= Conference and other conferences throughout the year.

TUC exhibition stand

In 1997 the TUC took exhibition space at the annual conferences of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, CBI and, for the first time at the Conservative Party Conference. The stand was well received at all these conferences. In addition, exhibition space was taken at the following conferences Health and Safety at Work, Institute of Personnel and Development, USDAW, CWU, BIFU, UNISON, MSF and TEC=98.

Parliamentary work

The TUC has lobbied intensely in Parliament over the last year. Much of the high profile activity was directed towards the Fairness at Work White Paper and is reported in chapter 1, but work has continued across all political parties on other important TUC policies and objectives. The General Secretary and other senior TUC officers have continued a comprehensive programme of political contacts. This has included a TUC presence at all the major party conferences with well attended fringe meetings at the Labour and Liberal Democrat Conferences addressed by the General Secretary, and a special briefing for Conservative representatives promoting social partnership and arguing that job insecurity and deregulation was a key ingredient in the Conservative election defeat.

A number of events have been arranged where senior cabinet members and other political party leaders have exchanged views with senior TUC officials and General Council members. This included the first visit to Congress House by a Conservative Party leader since the 1970s. The now regular summer party for trade unionists and parliamentarians was again well attended. The General Secretary contributed regularly to the House Magazine, the most widely read journal in Westminster.

The successful resurrection of the Parliamentary Labour Party=s Trade Union group has provided a natural focus for much of the TUCÕs public affairs campaigning work - particularly in the run up to the Fairness at Work White Paper and the setting of the National Minimum Wage. The group has also heard TUC presentations on other topical issues such as the future of the coal industry and personal injury and legal aid reforms. We are grateful to the Officers of the group for the support they have given to other TUC initiatives such as the launch of the Organising Academy and the National Education Centre=s first women=s summer school.

A number of legislative measures of direct concern to the TUC passed through Parliament this year including the Minimum Wage Bill, Employment Rights Dispute Resolution Bill , and the Public Interest Disclosure Bill. Detailed briefing went to MPs and peers at critical stages of the parliamentary process. Comprehensive pre-budget green paper and post-budget analyses were circulated overnight. This consolidated recognition of the TUC as an authoritative and effective source on workplace issues. In order to ensure effectively targeted mailings a questionnaire was sent to MPs asking them to identify their special interests. This produced a good response, showing that the TUC is held in high regard.

Seminars and bilateral meetings between TUC policy experts and MPs of all parties have been arranged on a range of issues including the New Deal and Competitiveness. A thorough presentation of TUC policies was made to the new Liberal Democrat front-bench and both the Trade and Industry and WomenÕs Committees of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Further seminars are planned for Ministers and backbench research staff.

The TUC continued to supply oral and written evidence to Select Committees including EMU to the Treasury Committee; Best Value Working Practices to the Environment Sub-Committee; and Part-time Working to the Employment Sub-Committee. The Government=s intention to use these committees to scrutinise draft legislation in areas like pensions and family-friendly policies will provide another significant opportunity for the TUC to shape and influence policy.

A number of TUC campaign materials such as the Your Rights at Work leaflet and information for women about pensions were provided to MPs for use in their advice surgeries. These have proved to be very popular and useful.

The TUC submitted evidence on the Funding of Political Parties to the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life which inter alia recommended a cap on national advertising by political parties for general elections; a ban on foreign donations; support for state funding for political and economic research institutions; the introduction of restrictions for companies similar to those that apply to trade union political involvement and the introduction of an independent Election Commission.

A TUC seminar on campaigning in Parliament was held for trade union parliamentary and political officers. This was well attended and will be repeated later in the year as part of the TUC=s evolving relationship with other such officers in member unions.

14.3 Developing new communication techniques

Telephone lines

Following the 1997 Congress a number of telephone helplines and hotlines have been run.

In September 1997, a women and pensions helpline titled Pensions Power was opened. This offered advice and information to both union and non-union members. The helpline was overwhelmed with calls - over 100,000 calls in only five days. In an effort to respond to this demand the line was kept open for another week - resulting in a further 40,000 calls. The level of the response took the TUC by surprise and only 4,000 calls could be dealt with during the two weeks, which unfortunately meant that many were left disappointed.

The Government=s Pensions Education Working Group used the evidence of demand shown by the TUC line to recommend the establishment of a further pensions helpline for a trial period of three months. The TUC is now raising funds from pension providers to establish this line as set out in chapter 8.

One of the clearest lessons learnt from the women and pensions helpline was that helplines and hotlines - unless for a specific minority audience - cannot be run in-house. The next initiative, the bad bosses hotline, which ran for five days in December 1997 as part of the employee rights campaign reported in chapter 1, was therefore organised through an external call handling centre for the first time. This involved a freephone hotline for people to call with their bad boss stories of low pay, long hours, health and safety disaster areas and workplace bullying. The TUC provided training to call handlers and the call centre designed a database to capture the information in precisely the way we needed it for the campaign. In five days 5,000 calls were received from which four reports and many case studies were produced for use in the campaign for an effective White Paper.

In October, the TUC will be launching another five day telephone line as part of its anti-bullying campaign. Using an interactive voice response system, the telephone line will take orders for advice leaflets from the public and will also link into the new unionism project by asking callers what industry they work in, whether they are union members and if they would like details about how to join a union.

Trade union trends

Trade Union Trends, a series of surveys commissioned by the TUC from Labour Research Department, has been an increasingly authoritative analysis of the work of trade unions produced from surveys completed by most of the TUC affiliates, from developments on union recognition, industrial action and balloting, industrial tribunals and giving an insight into unions as employers and the benefits of membership.

Until 1998 Trade Union Trends was a twice-yearly report covering all these aspects of trade union work. This year to make better use of the information provided through the surveys, four separate reports were produced covering each area in isolation. The first, Focus on Recognition, indicated that employers, even before publication of the White Paper, were accepting the need for trade union recognition within their workplaces. This report proved particularly useful in the campaign leading to the White Paper.

Other original TUC surveys and research into the work of trade unions have been included in the Trends set of reports. These include: union legal services, health and safety surveys and the annual analysis of the Labour Force figures on trade union membership, Today=s Trade Unionists.

Recognising the value of the information with in these reports, a subscription service is now being developed to promote Trends to union researchers, academics and others interested in the work of the trade union movement.

TUC and the Internet

The TUC website (www.tuc.org.uk) developed into a mature source of information from the TUC, during the year under review.

This has come about through the adoption of the Virtual Building(TM) software for the website, which enables every member of TUC staff to publish documents in the appropriate area of the building. Almost all relevant TUC staff have now been trained in publishing on the website, and the range of material is very extensive.

The building also has important features for users. As well as providing a clear metaphor for organising the information on the website, it also has an effective search engine and the ability to draw a map of the building. Those with email facilities can subscribe to any area they wish within the building choosing either to receive a summary of each document published or the full text.

The site has been given a complete redesign to give it a clean and uncluttered interface. Some material such as the guide to rights at work has also been given a design facelift and made more of a feature within the site.

A number of member unions have also taken up the virtual building approach and have their websites hosted by the TUC. The TUC continues to give advice and support on internet and other related new technology issues to member unions.

14.4 Working with unions

The Campaigns and Communications Department continues to work closely with professional colleagues in affiliates. There is much informal contact on a day to day basis. More formalised joint working also takes place. In particular the lobbying campaign run by many unions in the run to the White Paper was co-ordinated in regular meetings called by the TUC.

Various functions have been arranged where professional colleagues can share experiences and learn from experts outside the movement. This year two meetings for those responsible for managing communications have taken place, one of which included a presentation of the Unison Direct project.

TUC/Unity Trust Bank Press and PR Awards

This yearÕs competition was again keenly contested, with an even higher number of entries than 1997. Thirty two affiliated unions entered materials in eight categories reflecting the high status of the awards among affiliates. The new emphasis on recruitment and organisation was reflected in the entries for best recruitment material. The judges were impressed not just by the quality of entries but by clear signs of innovation and improvements.

Opportunities for union communications professionals to share experiences and draw on best practice are provided through the annual awards ceremony at Congress House, the exhibition of entries, and through the two publications Focus on the Winners and the more detailed Judges= Comments.

ETUC seminar for union communications experts

A seminar for more than 40 communications experts from national trade union centres in 14 European countries was held in June at Congress House and the National Education Centre. It was addressed by Minister of State Andrew Smith and Jean-Pierre Bobichant of DG X of the European Commission and featured presentations on campaigning, the Internet, New Unionism and European issues. A seminar evaluation completed by participants gave the seminar high marks.