Around the web: Online derailment

Phil Hamilton continues his journey around the web with a visit to the website of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union

Once again over the last week, Bob Crow of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has been grabbing the headlines for his uncompromising opposition to New Labour. Indeed the ruling class and their Fleet Street hacks have reason to be concerned, when you consider that the RMT has a strategic importance way beyond what the union’s membership of 60,000 suggests.

Logging onto the union’s website, first impressions are dull and colourless. It is not that the site is shabby, but it does come over as sanitised. The home page consists of one screen, a few photographs, a couple of features, and 20 or so links. In other words, a fairly dull but professionally built site that conforms to a standardised corporate design template.

Starting with the features, ‘What’s new?’ is a very brief statement advertising the July 15 ‘Save mail on rail’ lobby of parliament and website. The next box is the latest press release (from June 16, three weeks out of date), dealing with the shambles that is the Strategic Rail Authority and forthrightly attacking “the privateers that have sucked out billions from the industry in profits”.

Turning to the navigation column, ‘Join the RMT’ and ‘RMT home’ are self-explanatory. ‘Tell your friends’ enables you to send a standardised email to a number of addresses. The message itself is an uncontentious outline of who the RMT represents, what it does, and makes the usual inclusive noises around race, gender and sexuality (though curiously, the union is only spoken about in the third person). Leaving out the members-only ‘Pay and conditions database’, ‘About the RMT’ adds a little more flesh to the bare bones of the introductory email. Split into four parts, we are treated to a series of short statements providing vague outlines of union activities, structures and history. ‘Services and benefits’ focuses on the financial benefits accruing to a member (or their family) in the event of accidents, retirement and death; and ‘Who to contact’ provides a national breakdown of regional offices.

Likewise, the news section is split into four. ‘Latest news’ carries RMT press releases from the last year and appears to be regularly updated (the last item being entered on June 30). The ‘Press archive’ holds more items running back to January 2002. ‘RMT news’ and its archive carries 10 editions of the union’s magazine. Unfortunately they are only available in pdf at present.

Skipping the members-only services pages, the links grouped under ‘Your workplace’ are a genuinely useful addition to all concerned with the transport industry. The four specialist sections on rail, tube, road and shipping each contain dozens of press releases and union circulars on latest legislation, recognition battles, changing employment conditions, etc. It is to be regretted that the blank page greeting those who click on ‘Newsletters’ mars this crucial online resource. Nonetheless these pages deserve bookmarking and regular viewing.

‘Legal issues’ offer basic legal advice concerning employment tribunals, police powers and the services available from the union. ‘Equality issues’ take on a similar format, outlining the RMT’s policies, how to deal with cases of discrimination, and frequently asked questions on regulations covering parental leave. These pages could do with updating, as there is a call for ‘harassment representative’ applications, but unfortunately the positions closed last September. ‘Political campaigning’ provides a general account of the RMT’s historical relationship with Labour (but has yet to be updated to reflect its reduction of party funding). Once again, this is another area stuck in a time warp - the March 29 demo to repeal union laws is the most recent action advertised.

‘Health and safety’, ‘Research’, ‘Education’ and ‘Pensions’ contain further FAQs, policy proposals and detailed employment information. Though once more the tendency not to update rears its ugly head on one or two occasions. ‘The constitution’ pages have been static since January, but give a comprehensive run-down of all the RMT’s elected positions. More interesting is a full online edition of the rule book, which covers all aspects of the union, from the general secretary to orphan benefit. Finally, we come to the ‘useful links’ section, which is very much a mixed bag. Tribune and Anti-Nazi League links sit uneasily with Bridge McFarland solicitors and “endorsed” credit card information.

The RMT website is a hit and miss affair. It is certainly an important transport-related resource for the wider labour movement, but the failure to update all its pages consistently amounts to an online derailment.