Jan 2009 - Comms solution: Let's talk

01 June 2013

YOU will see in this edition a report of an informal ASLEF members’ forum we held over a weekend in Nottingham last month. It was something of an experiment, but it was part of my on-going search for better ways for the union to communicate with our members.

This is not a criticism of the people who work on ASLEF’s internal and external comms, but every time ASLEF members get together, communications features high up the grumbling list. It is our most common complaint: ‘I wasn’t told. I didn’t know.’

Since I’ve been general secretary I have done my utmost to improve this. Since I took over the hot seat, the union has developed a facility for central text messaging, updated and improved our website and provided a members’ discussion area. We’re working on a common system of ASLEF emails, we’ve tried to broaden the appeal of the Journal, we’ve improved the quality of our campaign literature and whenever possible we’ve responded to individual branch requests for publicity material.

I’ve also looked at what other unions are doing, including recent ventures into trade unions having their own television channels. This is not something I’ve pursued, because I don’t believe enough of our members would watch it to justify the expenditure.

The key to good communication is not to provide every new technological facility on the market. It is to define what you – the members - want to know, and to work on finding the best way to get it to you.

Our traditional and basic communication method – the branch meeting - increasingly has its critics. To be honest, I accept that it is not always the first place you’d choose to spend an evening or a Sunday morning. But when there is a burning issue like pay or industrial action on the agenda, people make the effort. So I don’t think it is always a failing about getting the information out about when and where the meeting will be. It is a problem about how to make them interesting and involving – or to find an alternative.

I don’t accept that we are yet sufficiently technologically advanced to be talking about ‘on-line’ or ‘virtual’ branches, and I don’t want to spend money on something that isn’t going to be used.

But there is a positive side to all this - when members want to know something they find out. You have only to ask the people who organise our socials, those events that bring drivers together and prove that ASLEF is ‘more than just a union’. The message gets around by means of the finest communication tool ever invented: which is people talking to people.

That is what we were trying to resurrect in Nottingham last year. It was a useful trial and we may try it again next year in a slightly different format. We don’t want our communications criticised – we want to provide what you want. But I suspect that if I knew how to do it, I’d be Brain of Britain rather then General Secretary of ASLEF!

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