Journalists fight back
WORKERS, MAR 2008 ISSUE
As media employers – private and public – look to extract more and more profit from their staff, they are meeting increasing resistance from journalists fed up with poor pay, eroding conditions and demands to work longer and harder. The attacks are nothing new, but the resistance is a growing feature of a profession where union organisation is recovering from the effects of the onslaughts of the 1990s.
Membership is back near record levels even if falling slightly, and though with 38,000 members the NUJ is a minnow by current standards, its craft base gives it a strength and clarity sometimes lacking in the new giants – of which, ironically, it might now form a part if the proposed mergers with the print unions had gone ahead in the 1980s and 90s.
The big battlefield is in broadcasting, the most organised section of the National Union of Journalists. At the BBC, the union is calling for a Yes vote in an industrial action ballot over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions. The ballot, which was due to have closed in mid-January, was extended to allow further talks between the corporation and union negotiators. Those talks have produced agreement in principle, sufficient for a further extension of the strike ballot. NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "We're pleased the imminent threat of compulsory redundancies has been addressed and that all staff required to work unpredictable hours will continue to get a fair deal. These negotiations now give us a basis on which we can address further changes proposed by the BBC." Journalists say quality will suffer if director general Mark Thompson's plans go ahead and, compulsory or not, big job cuts are expected.
On the commercial side, a strong campaign has been launched to save ITV News, which is seen as under threat following a decision to axe local news services and cut regional programming by 50 per cent. The campaign has so far been limited to lobbying activities which have brought the workers at ITV together with their viewers and listeners. In the process, dormant branches have been revived.
Meanwhile journalists at the Reuters News Agency met to discuss the planned merger with Thomson, a Canadian company, and called for a ballot on strike action over Reuters' refusal to hold what the union calls meaningful negotiations over changes to job roles. Myra MacDonald, the NUJ's Mother of Chapel at Reuters, said: "This is a shabby way for Reuters to treat its journalists. Our members are furious that the company's management seems to think it can ride roughshod over its agreements with the union."
And in early February, journalists at the Milton Keynes Citizen suspended a planned third three-day strike over a below-inflation pay offer and concerns about falling quality, to give the company the opportunity to come back to the negotiating table.