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What, no politics?

The annual gathering of the Trades Union Congress at Brighton this week should see some interesting developments, if the raft of recently-elected leftwingers is anything to go by. Mindful of his audience, Gordon Brown chose this year to patronise delegates with talk of uniting around the common goal of welfarism.

In the meantime the TUC website at a first look seems a promising source for conference news. Showing that a liberal sprinkle of colour does not have to mean garish designs, the one-screen site packs in a great deal of material. The links bar runs across the top carrying education, publications, links and events pages. Kicking off with ‘Learning’, this page links to TUC education resources for union officers, representatives and staff. News such as the opening of learning centres and notices of upcoming educational modules are also archived. ‘Publications’ turns up a few leaflets in pdf and an engine that allows for a search of books from a series of pre-set topics. ‘Links’ is next, with literally dozens of links organised along thematic lines. Strangely, political links are conspicuous by their absence. ‘Events’ are pretty self-explanatory, providing notice of more forums and seminars not already covered by the ‘Learning’ page. The last (almost invisible) link gives copyright, data protection and disclaimer information.

However, it is the TUC congress bar that immediately attracts attention. Subtitled ‘Britain at work’, this opens a comprehensive batch of links covering most aspects of the conference. The left part of the screen provides travel details, times of fringe meetings (both TUC-endorsed and unofficial), a technical page for wireless internet use and a couple of congress-related stories hosted on external sites. ‘Key documents’ is a useful batch of links that carry the conference agenda, including motions, amendments and the general council’s report. For those comrades keen on statistical information, ‘Congress history’ lists past general secretaries, combined membership and the number of attending delegates from the past 135 years. This section concludes with ‘Pay up for pensions’, a good resource for pension information. Other available documents include a series of conference photos, a couple of pieces on the TUC campaign against long working hours, a media diary and links to blogs kept by Napo’s Judy McKnight and the CWU’s Billy Hayes. Lastly, an archive of older documents is available.

Returning to the home page, the left-hand links bar acts as an introductory menu. ‘About the TUC’ leads to another page packed with hypertext. Firstly there are a number of frequently asked questions with dedicated pages and further links. For instance, ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ links the martyrs’ museum and a number of reports from the annual commemorative festival. Aspiring careerists are catered for too, with the inclusion of vacant full-time union posts. A text version of the In Touch email bulletin can be viewed, though sadly without an archive. However, the inclusion of The history of the TUC 1868-1968 makes up for it (but what about the last 35 years?). Also, the directory of unemployed workers’ advice centres has to be mentioned.

The bar continues with union listings, a page for regional TUCs, a series of special offers (such as credit cards and bank accounts), pdf leaflets and documents concerned with workers’ rights, and a series of links to help students. Finally, a couple of icon boxes finish the column off. These link to the ‘unionreps’ site (a restricted online resource for representatives of TUC-affiliated unions), and the ‘worksmart’ site for rights at work.

The main part of the screen is divided into two columns. ‘What’s new’ leads with more photos, speeches and late composites, and ‘From the newsroom’ repeats some material from the ‘TUC congress’ page. Both are constantly updated, with several new items appearing during the course of the writing of this review. Thankfully, the bewildering array of material here is made navigable by an internal search engine, and an easy to follow site map. Those on the left that maintain weighty sites would do well to take a leaf out of the TUC’s book where the map feature is concerned.

There is no doubt that this site is a very useful resource for the workers’ movement, and perhaps even in ways the TUC failed to anticipate. One particularly eagle-eyed comrade on the UK Left Network discussion list has noted a discrepancy between Brendan Barber’s speech and what appears to be the draft of it on the congress site. Often what is not said is of equal importance to what is said, and the TUC should be congratulated for helping us uncover some of these silences.