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Digging for inspiration
Weekly Worker 521 Thursday March 25 2004


I hear on the internet grapevine that the National Union of Mineworkers is going to get its act together where cyberspace is concerned and finally invest in its own site. Before doing so, it should at least take a look at what other mining unions have to offer.

A near perfect example of what not to do is the rubbish site of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers (www.pin-point.org.uk/pinpoint/pinpoint.nsf/0/180a23e6ebb746dc80256dce005975ad?OpenDocument). It is interesting to note that this tiny outfit can afford to pay vastly inflated salaries for its president, Neil Greatrex, and his cronies, but cannot muster funds for even a simple website. This page (hosted on Notts county council’s local information pages) contains the barest information, such as snail mail and email addresses, and frequency and locations of meetings. On the plus side, a quick google search under ‘Union of Democratic Mineworkers’ [editor's note: click here to try it] offers more interesting information, such as UDM bosses pimping miner’s compensation funds, allegations of preferential compensation allocations to UDM members and so on.

Instead, our would-be NUM web designers would be better off looking overseas for inspiration. The United Mine Workers of America site (www.umwa.org/homepage.shtml) does not start off too great, if the prominent stars and stripes and the legend, “The UMWA proudly supports our troops”, are anything to go by. The introductory blurb goes on to make the usual noises about defending members’ rights, etc. What saves this dull opening is the link to a group of striking miners at a pit in Utah. This came about after 74 miners were sacked for protesting against unsafe working practices, and the victimisation of a UMWA activist. An address for solidarity messages and donations is given, but unfortunately recent updates of their struggle seem thin on the ground.

Turning to the navigation panel, it begins with ‘Organizing’ - a piece of corporate-speak emphasising the importance of providing training for union personnel around workplace themes. That the UMWA is prioritising recruitment in conditions of generally low union density is welcome. The UMW Journal link features an archive of the union’s bi-monthly publication going back to 1999. The latest issue is dated September-October of last year, but, as it is a special on the 2003 convention, it does provide an indication of where the union is headed. ‘Press releases’ offers a couple of items for March, and also carries an archive for the last five years. ‘Movies! Books! Music!’ is self-explanatory, promoting a number of mining-related entertainment products. ‘Information resources’ is the final link in the panel, leading to a number of theme-related links, such as health, the economy, legislation and so on.

A better site is provided by the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa (www.num.org.za). Its home page is quite impressive, avoiding the corporate looks unions in Britain usually go for. Subtitled “Members first - today and forever”, it begins with a scrolling photo link featuring former miners’ leaders, rank and file members and of course the ubiquitous Saint Mandela. In the main field, the links are arranged around the militant-looking union symbol. The first is about the union, leading to a series of short pages setting out its aims and objectives, a history that locates the NUM in “the inherent contradictions that exist between capital and labour” (Could you imagine these words ever escaping the lips of the TUC’s Brendan Barber?). ‘Leadership’ offers very limited biographies of the NUM’s leading members, concentrating on when they joined the union and were elected to particular positions. The final page here lists the union’s achievements in terms of recognition agreements, winning affordable housing for miners, etc.

The services the union offers range from the usual workplace bread and butter stuff, to educational facilities for members, death benefits, and an ‘after-care’ service for ex-miners. These certainly beat the dull loan and credit card deals beloved of too many unions in Britain. Sadly, the ‘Publications’ pages are a bit of a let-down because the most recent speeches, press releases and newsletters are six months old. ‘Events’ carries some documentation from February’s Mining Charter Summit, and material from last year’s 11th NUM congress. Other items include an ominously blank ‘What’s new’ page, a copy of the NUM constitution in all its labyrinthine detail, a site map, and an interesting links page to South African political and mining sites, and international union bodies.

The UMWA and NUM have set the minimum benchmark the NUM (Britain) web design team should be aiming for. However, whether it will touch anywhere near Dave Douglass’s superb Miners Advice website remains to be seen.

Phil Hamilton

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