Around the web: Virtual promises

Phil Hamilton takes a look at the website of the Transport and General Workers Union

The first leadership contest in the Transport and General Workers Union for eight years marks a further advance for the left as a whole. Deputy general secretary Tony Woodley convincingly won, securing 43.5% of the postal ballot. In contrast Jack Dromey, the left-talking Blairite candidate, could only muster 29.4% - 20,000 behind Woodley.

Looking at the relatively slick tonywoodley.com, it is not difficult to see how his campaign materials struck a chord with the atomised and (for the most part) uninformed TGWU membership. Under the slogan, “Vote for change and make a difference”, we are greeted with a letter from Woodley himself. Featuring a couple of photographs, this letter talks about his record as a union activist, his desire to rebuild the union as an effective organisation and sets out six commitments he asks the membership to judge his tenure by.

The next item on the top page navigation bar is Woodley’s manifesto, Winning at the workplace - an industrial strategy. This is split into eight parts. The first is a preamble, dealing with the kind of philosophy that should be at the heart of union policy. Summed up by Woodley’s campaign slogan, “Members want a union that will do the business - not a business union”, he attacks the Blairite rhetoric of ‘social partnership’ and reasserts the need for organisational independence in theory and practice. Emphases are found throughout the text to highlight both political points and policy objectives, and it is neatly broken up by pithy but assertive soundbites - a format that serves throughout the website. The next item goes into his approach toward the food, manufacturing, service and transport sectors. These are pretty uncontroversial, advocating the strengthening of union rights, the combating of low pay and keeping private money out of the public services - with the possible exception of “carefully targeted protection for industries facing unfair competition” (what constitutes this “unfair competition” is left unanswered).

The remaining sections are more focused on the union itself. ‘A growing T&G’ sketches out the bare bones of a grassroots recruitment strategy to break out of the “culture of decline” the union has been trapped in for so long. ‘T&G in the movement’ discusses the kinds of relations the union should have with the TUC and other unions. ‘A united T&G’ talks about a rejuvenation of internal democracy and makes a number of oblique criticisms of the clique culture that has thrived under the outgoing general secretary, Bill Morris. ‘Politics for a purpose’ makes similar points, and pledges the union to put “members before ministers”. Woodley is also determined to make the union-Labour link work (“breaking the link is a rightwing agenda with which I will have no truck”). ‘A T&G equal for all’ and ‘An international T&G’ both emphasise the need for a dynamic policy promoting equality and solidarity across borders, within the union and at the workplace.

Returning to the navigation bar, we find the following item, ‘Tony’s profile’ - a short, potted political biography with some contact details tacked on. However, quite why he feels the need to stress his “relationship built on mutual respect with Labour cabinet ministers” in light of the manifesto’s tough talking is mystifying.

The ‘Correspondence’ section is somewhat misnamed, but does allow site visitors to view and download the campaign’s nine leaflets. ‘Want to help?’ provides the opportunity to download a poster and gives an address to send donations to. But that is all that is on offer - for a candidate committed to grassroots activism this should really have included a lot more material to assist workplace campaigning. ‘News’ carries some pretty anodyne articles covering the campaign, leading with the announcement of Woodley’s victory and a few militant-sounding comments. Finally, the bar concludes with a slightly better contacts section. There are telephone details for the North West and West Midlands campaign offices, postal and email addresses, and a ready-made form for the submission of comments.

Overall the site design is consistent throughout, which is something lost on too many leftwing webmasters. But despite the appearance, there is very little depth to it: all the material here could be read in less than 10 minutes. Nevertheless, it is better than the TGWU home page (no mention of the leadership election) and at least an effort has been made - none of the other candidates could be bothered to set a site up. As to whether Woodley lives up to his online promises, that remains to be seen.