Seeking out stories

Submitted by Janine on 6 April, 2008 - 1:17

Whether you are producing an official union newsletter, or an independent socialist bulletin, here are some ideas about seeking out stories. Below is a long-ish set of tips. Attached is a shorter version as a single-A4 PDF.

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SEEKING OUT STORIES

What are people talking about at work? What are their complaints about management? About their working conditions? Can they tell you of any incidents or issues in other departments, or which have arisen when you were not at work? Don’t just talk at your workmates: listen to them.

What has happened at work recently? An accident, injury or other safety matter? A clampdown on some trivial rules about uniform? A new manager? A machinery breakdown? A problem with a contractor?

What are the big issues about working conditions? This year’s pay talks? A new, harsher disciplinary regime? An attack on the union? Worries about possible job losses?

What issues came up at your last union meeting? Don’t ‘switch off’ during reports from other sections or grades. Note them down and perhaps ask the person for more details afterwards.

Provide updates on previous stories. What was the ballot result? Have you successfully forced management to sort out your safety complaint?

Individual grievances usually arise from more general issues, and need a collective response. Is the employer treating one of your colleagues particularly badly? Unfairly docked her sick pay? Subjected him to racist discrimination? Blocked a transfer or promotion?

Give workers ammunition against their boss. Has a manager been excused for a mistake that workers would be severely disciplined for? Are there agreements that are not widely publicised but which workers can use to assert their rights?

Prioritise topical stories, but do not ignore ‘timeless’ issues. If the discipline policy, or the state of the building, is awful, say so – even if it has been that way for years. We want to convince workers not to accept the way things are ‘because they have always been like that’ – and not just to react defensively to attacks, but to fight for improvements.

Look for good examples of workers taking action and winning. Has the union won the re-instatement of a victimised worker? Have workers in one section forced management to act over safety by refusing to work in dangerous conditions? Has a local strike in another part of the industry won an improvement in workers’ conditions? Spread news like this to boost workers’ confidence.

Tell workers information that no-one else will tell them. Spread important news between different departments. Tell them about the management cock-up that has been covered up.

Any union elections coming up? Tell readers how to stand, nominate and/or vote. In a socialist bulletin, tell readers which candidate you are backing and why.

Is the union running a referendum on a pay offer or a ballot for industrial action? Should members accept or reject the deal that is on offer? If the union recommends accepting a pay offer, for example, an official union newsletter should explain why; but if you as the union rep disagree, you could include a short article explaining why, alongside the official position. In a socialist bulletin, argue clearly for a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote, even – perhaps especially – if it is against the official union line.

Challenge any bigoted, sectionalist or other divisive attitudes that you think might be taking hold amongst the workforce. If there is a problem brewing, tackle it head on.

Look for stories about workers who might otherwise be ignored or considered peripheral eg. catering staff, cleaners, temps or agency staff, contractors. The best source of material: talk to them!

What was discussed at the last union/management negotiating meeting? Perhaps you are the union rep. If not, ask the rep, or check the minutes. Read union newsletters, circulars, noticeboards.

Publish letters and debates. A Workers’ Liberty or other socialist bulletin can obviously be critical of union policy where we disagree with it. But an official union newsletter could also include a letter from a member that questions or criticises union policy, together with a reply from a union rep or official in defence of the union’s stance.

Read the employer’s publications. You may find good stories – and you will probably find daft quotes that you can ridicule.
Monitor media coverage of your industry. Check the papers; set up an email ‘News Profile’ (or similar) that sends you any news reports about a subject you specify.

Expose your fat cat bosses. Research their profits, salaries, bonuses – and compare them with yours!

Explain everyday issues from the perspective of class politics. Pay differences; privileges for managers; how your industry or public service would be better run under workers’ (and users’) control; how the drive for profit compromises safety; how overwork and stress cuts life expectancy; ... All these things illustrate the socialist critique of capitalism, and provide an opportunity to help workers draw radical conclusions from their day-to-day experiences at work.

Any conferences or meetings worth reporting on?

Include reports on campaigns and issues in your local community – an anti-deportation campaign, or the fight against the closure of the local hospital’s A&E department.

Include political education. Perhaps run articles about union history; or the anti-union laws; or an international issue.

Publish articles about current political issues. Workers don’t just go to work: they watch the news, experience life, and – to a greater or lesser extent – take an interest in political matters in the world around them.

Write articles explaining union policy / socialist policy on issues from racism to council housing.

Think about the balance of the content of your newsletter. If you give priority and good coverage to workplace issues, then readers are more likely to take notice of your political or educational articles too. But if the newsletter is all about ‘outside’ issues, most workers probably won’t read any of it.

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