THE ISSUE of pay electrified the first day of the annual conference of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) held in Eastbourne last week. Successful strike action by workers at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus group of papers has been a major boost to the fight against low pay. Conference delegates greeted Sarah Walsh, a leading member of the Bradford NUJ workplace union chapel, with massive applause.
She told Socialist Worker, 'The union had been driven underground in my workplace. We were the first paper to win union recognition. But managers still treated us with contempt. Our bosses were gobsmacked when we went out on strike. On our half-day strike every single worker went to the picket line. Union chapels sent us loads of messages of support and money. We got a great response. But the fight against low pay has to spread. The union must fight to build on the success of Bradford. Many newspapers have trainee journalists earning just £6,000 a year. All the new staff recruited to the paper have joined the union. In Bradford we are still campaigning for the right to hold union meetings on the premises and a decent pay structure.'
The fight for union recognition has seen NUJ membership increase by 4,000. It was against this backdrop that the union elected a new general secretary, left winger Jeremy Dear.
Dear told the conference, 'Bradford has put our union's words into action. Workers there have shattered the illusion that nothing could be done about low pay. By taking action, negotiations and campaigning we will fight against low pay.'
A string of strike ballots are taking place at Express newspapers and in the north of England over pay. A ballot is taking place at the Preston-based Lancashire Evening Post. The result of the joint ballot of workers at the Wakefield Express, the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Evening Post will be announced later in the week. On 6 April a national meeting on low pay will be held in Leeds. It is open to every member of the NUJ.
The conference also called on the British government to stop the war in Afghanistan and to stop military build-up in the Middle East. Delegates voted to support the Stop the War Coalition and Media Workers Against War.
Journalists at the Daily Express, who publicly opposed their bosses' appalling coverage of asylum seekers, were congratulated for their action. Despite an excellent debate on the need to urge vigilance against giving a platform to racist or fascist views, a proposal for the national union to affiliate to the Anti Nazi League was narrowly defeated. Some 20 delegates attended a Socialist Alliance fringe meeting.