The successful two-day strike in November by members of the National Union of Journalists working in the BBC had been entered into with solid backing. A majority of more than 9 to 1 had voted to strike. Anger had been roused, as the NUJ stated, by the “BBC management preparing a cocktail of arrangements which would effectively destroy the final salary scheme and replace it with one in which our members would pay much more to get less”. Pickets were out at BBC headquarters around Britain – and at news centres around the world.
This worldwide action alarmed BBC top management so much that they announced disciplinary measures against NUJ members overseas who took part in the various strikes and pickets. But the NUJ has now forced the BBC to cancel its threatened actions. This allowed the second round of strikes, planned for the middle of November, to be temporarily suspended (the BBC NUJ reps voted 51 to 1 to do so) – which in turn will allow talks to proceed. The possibility of a repeat of the successful strike action remains – as an NUJ spokesman said: “If the BBC fails to engage in a meaningful way, further strike action will be called. We are going in, with all the other unions, with the intention of seeking real improvements to the proposals.”
One example of the enthusiastic picket lines mounted by the NUJ was at the doors of the new BBC Scotland building on Glasgow’s Clydeside. Addressing the 100 or so assembled, the NUJ President, Pete Murray, pointed to the fact that there were pickets out in more difficult circumstances around the world (indeed laying themselves open to disciplinary measures) at news centres such as in Washington, Kabul and Beijing as well as in the northerly offices in Orkney and Shetland. He emphasised the growing union representation in the BBC – the NUJ now has more than 4,000 members, 85 per cent of the eligible membership in the corporation. He also pointed out that although BECTU had accepted the pensions deal at the moment, that union would reconsider its position if recent research proved that the BBC pensions deficit is in fact much lower than the BBC had estimated. This could lead BECTU to take strike action as early as March next year.
Other unions spoke in support. Dave Moxham from the Scottish Trades Union Congress pledged all round backup. Speakers from the FBU, Unison, PCS and Musicians’ Union spoke of similar struggles with “your fight is our fight”. The musicians’ speaker noted the support network the NUJ can expect from the Federation of Entertainment Unions – a sub section organised by the TUC and the STUC. The NUJ had also built its support on the STUC anti-cuts march a fortnight before when 20,000 marched through Edinburgh calling for mobilisation against cuts and attacks on wages and standards.