Official union newsletters

Submitted by Janine on 6 April, 2008 - 11:55

If you are union rep of any type, it is important that you produce a regular newsletter for members. Below is a long-ish set of guidelines for effective official union newsletters. Attached is a shorter version of these notes on one page of A4 (PDF).

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OFFICIAL UNION NEWSLETTERS

One of the biggest problems with union bureaucracies is that they do not keep members informed. Yes, there is probably a union journal, but it probably does not cover the nitty-gritty of issues facing members at work, lacks any critical assessment of what the union is doing, promotes the union leadership with all the gloss of PR experts, and does little to encourage membership activism. Even a good nationally-produced union journal would not be enough: workers need publications that cover their specific concerns in their company or workplace and which can act as an organising focus.

Lack of regular publications makes members feel that the union sees them as a ‘stage army’ – only worth communicating with when union leaders want them to vote in an election or take some limited action; not worth keeping informed in the days, months and years in between.

Perhaps union bureaucrats understand that an ill-informed, uninvolved membership is less likely to question and challenge them. Marxists certainly understand the opposite: that information, accountability and debate is crucial to developing a confident rank and file that can transform the unions into effective, fighting bodies of workers.

Pretty much whatever post you hold in the union, you should produce a newsletter for members. You might be the workplace rep – produce a newsletter for staff in your workplace. Or you are the branch secretary – produce a branch newsletter. Perhaps you are the health & safety rep – produce a newsletter on health & safety issues. You might be the regional women’s officer – produce a regional women’s newsletter. Even if you are, say, the branch treasurer, and a newsletter on the branch’s finances doesn’t seem particularly desirable, you are still part of the branch leadership and should make sure the branch produces a newsletter!

You must report on any negotiations with the employer. This a basic matter of democratic accountability as well as a good way of keeping members informed. If you have had a local negotiating meeting, immediately follow it up with a newsletter that goes through every demand that you raised and how management responded; and every announcement that management made and how you responded. Explain the implications, and how members can fight against management’s latest attacks or mobilise support for the demands you are pressing.

You should also report on union decisions. Perhaps the union has decided on a set of demands to improve working conditions. Or has launched a campaign to defend an individual member who management have victimised. Or reached an agreement with the employer about a new grievance procedure. Maybe your branch has voted to affiliate to ‘No Sweat’, or to take part in a local anti-fascist initiative. Tell the members; and tell them how the decision was made.

De-mystify what a union rep or official does. Explain the structure of negotiation and consultation in your company. Explain that the union rep is a worker who speaks on behalf of his/her workmates and invite workers to give you their ideas and opinions. Avoid coming across as an expert who ‘sorts things out’ for workers.

Use your newsletter to encourage workers to become more active in the union. Give concrete examples rather than just general exhortations to ‘get involved’ eg. come to meetings, give out newsletters, tell the rep what demands members want to be raised, represent the union branch at a conference, report safety concerns, come to a political protest action, sign up new staff to the union, canvass members to vote in the union election/ballot etc. Explain that there is a role for members who are not the official rep, and that members who get active now could take up the role of rep in the future. Also explain that by getting active, members can influence the union’s policies and strategies, and can raise criticisms.

Any union elections coming up? Advertise vacancies and explain to members how they can stand or nominate a workmate. If there is a contested election, invite each candidate to write a short election address for the newsletter. If there is a national or regional election and your branch has nominated a particular candidate, include an article about that candidate and why the branch has nominated him/her. Explain to members how to cast their votes.

Tell workers their rights. Have a regular ‘know your rights’ column, addressing one particular issue in each issue of the newsletter eg. sickness; discipline; grievances; refusing to work on safety grounds; overtime; working hours; maternity/paternity/parental leave; flexible working; etc. This enables workers to stand up for their rights and become more assertive.

If one member asks you a question, then probably a dozen others are thinking it. So include it as a ‘question and answer’ box in the newsletter. How do I complain about a manager who was rude to me? Why does the union oppose the new performance-related bonus system? Am I entitled to a day’s leave for my uncle’s funeral? Why does the union have a political fund? Who do you think I should vote for in the local council elections? Is this new working practice safe? Did the union agree to this new promotion application procedure, because it seems unfair to me?

In times of dispute, there will probably be lots of questions, and some doubts. Your newsletter should address these questions and doubts, rather than just being a polemic in support of the union’s stance. You could do a special issue in a question-and-answer format, or perhaps ’50 reasons why you should vote to reject the pay offer’, or something similar. Keep your ears open: perhaps new staff still on probation are scared of striking; or workers have read management’s propaganda that they are better paid than workers in other companies; or they think that the union should be able to win its case at talks rather than having to strike; or they worry about the effect of strike on service users.

Use comments and quotes from members. If the union rep successfully defended a member against disciplinary charges, that member may well be willing to give you a quote about the importance of being a member of the union. Another member may write a short article about why s/he supports the union’s campaign for less anti-social rosters. A new member might give you a quote about why s/he joined the union. A worker might give you a comment about how inadequate the staff room facilities are. Use names if they are willing; allow anonymous quotes if that’s what people prefer.

Remember that wherever there is an individual case, there is a collective issue. You may be representing a member in a ‘flexible working’ application. You might not want to report on the particular case in your newsletter, but you could print an article explaining how to apply for flexible working; or perhaps an article about the benefits and the shortcomings of flexible working legislation.

Use the union’s logo on your masthead; give details of how to join; include the union’s website address and helpline number.

Always advertise the next union meeting – branch meeting, workplace meeting, women’s meeting, social event, whatever is relevant to your particular newsletter.

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official union newsletters.pdf(100.44 KB) 100.44 KB

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