A few years back, the TUC launched a website specifically aimed at union reps. It was called “unionreps.org.uk”. The site has a few features, such as news (including a LabourStart newswire), a directory of resources, and so on. But at its heart, it is a giant discussion forum.
Union reps who sign up quickly discover that there are literally thousands of people just like them, reps who often have questions or problems, sometimes at odd hours. They turn to one another with their questions and answers and for them, the site has become an indispensable resource.
The most popular topics are what you’d expect — health and safety, legal issues, and so on. These are the bread-and-butter topics union reps deal with every day.
Having said all that, I wonder why more than 96% of union reps in the UK have not even registered yet to use the site. With 8,000 registered users it’s one of the most popular union sites in Britain — maybe even the most popular — but according to the TUC, that’s only a little more than 3% of the intended audience. There are literally tens of thousands of union reps — probabably more than 100,000 — who are online but are not yet registered at this site.
At a recent TUC conference on organizing at which the site was shown once again to a room full of activists, one participant was amazed never to have heard of this site.
I asked John Wood of the TUC what was being done to promote the use of unionreps.org.uk. He told me that every participant in a TUC course (about 10,000 every year) learns about it, but even if all of them were to sign up, it would take decades to get most reps registered on the site. Individual unions have got to promote it.
Some unions seem reluctant to do so, and are convinced that they should have their own sites for their own reps. In my view, this is nonsense. The questions reps face every day cross union boundaries. The great thing about unionreps.org.uk is the diversity of its participants. A rep from one union could have his question answered by someone from a completely different union.
I often show off unionreps.org.uk as an example of best practice — a useable, friendly website that provides a clear and tangible benefit for trade unionists. Imagine how much more effective it would be if another 100,000 union reps were to sign up to use it.