The TUC has a problem: on its staff are a number of people who knew a great deal about a wide range of subjects. But what they know — on health and safety, pensions, climate change — is not shared more broadly with the trade union movement and the general public. And the mainstream media cannot be relied upon to give the unions a platform to express our views on public policy. That’s why the TUC decided on an innovative solution: a group blog.
The launch of the Touchstone blog late in the summer of 2008 marks another innovation coming from the heart of what one would have expected to be a conservative and slow-moving bureaucracy. But the TUC is actually ahead of the pack with this kind of blog.
Touchstone features regular postings by a dozen TUC staffers, each expert in their own fields. In early December, the front page included short articles about public sector pensions, monetary policy, the climate change conference, health and safety myths, Obama and the unions, and more.
Group blogs have become enormously important in other countries. In the US presidential elections, the Democrats could count on enormously popular group blogs like The Huffington Post and the Daily Kos to provide the kind of analysis and discussion that might be lacking in more mainstream media. Those group blogs had hundreds of thousands of loyal daily readers, rivalling in scale the more established online media.
But they are relatively rare in the UK — and almost unheard of in the trade union movement. A number of unions now have general secretaries who blog (such as Jonathan Ledger of Napo, Billy Hayes at the CWU and Jeremy Dear at the NUJ) but nothing quite like Touchstone.
It should be emphasised that the Touchstone blog is only part of a broader initiative which includes the publication of printed pamphlets on the same themes. Recent pamphlets in the series cover such topics as the super-rich, a low carbon economy, public service reform and the U.K. “tax gap”. Printed copies can be purchased from the TUC website, or downloaded as PDF files.
The one weakness of the Touchstone blog at the moment is the lack of comments. Looking at the ten stories published on the blog this week, they’ve only generated four comments. This is an indication that the readership is not yet as high as it could be. The TUC and its affiliated unions will need to make a big effort in the next few months to raise the profile of this important project.