NUJ union members in Glasgow took three days of strike action last weekend, crippling the production of the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail. They struck against proposals for 70 redundancies and are escalating their action with a further strike ballot on a change to shift patterns.
They have also put in two legal claims worth £3 million: a protective award for the 24 selected for compulsory redundancy, and a further protective award for all 240 members.
“We are on the brink of a major victory,” NUJ Scottish organiser Paul Holleran told members at a picket-line rally on Friday, attended by over 100 people. NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear also addressed the rally, along with two Labour MSPs and an SNP MSP. A work–to-rule with the potential for further strike action will continue from Monday.
The political pressure on the owners of the newspapers, Trinity Mirror, is mounting. The Scottish Parliament passed a motion condemning the compulsory redundancies with a margin of 82-13. First Minister Alex Salmond has met with Jeremy Dear to express his support for the dispute.
Clearly rattled, the managing director of Trinity Mirror's national newspapers, Mark Hollinshead, wrote some MSPs a few hours after the parliamentary vote to object to the speeches condemning the cuts.
“This is not a failing industry,” emphasized Jeremy Dear. “Last year Trinity Mirror made £400,000 in profit each day, and Sly Bailey, the Chief Executive, had an extra £240,000 put into her pension pot. But that is still not enough.
'The shareholders want a bigger slice of the pie. They want redundancies, which just means a circle of decline as they reduce quality and run the newspapers into the ground.”
Unfortunately, this circle of decline is likely to continue as the government and the Office of Fair Trading are opening the way to allow even more concentrated media ownership. New legislation to deregulate media ownership is likely to be proposed later this year.
The consensus on the picket line was that Trinity Mirror is just using the economy as an excuse to cut jobs in a short-sighted bid to maintain profits. “They are trying to treat us like commodities. They don’t care about the content, or the readers, or the staff,” said one striker. Another explained “They don’t know anything about newspapers, we could be making buttons or tins of beans for all they know.”
Many employees were told they must move to a new shift pattern, which meant work previously done during the day will now take place until 2am. As one woman put it, “I have two young children, and I can’t do that!”
The strike action has hit the newspaper hard. George Galloway MP, Elaine C Smith, Frankie Boyle, and Alex Walker have all refused to submit their columns in solidarity with the strikers.
“They can’t produce the paper without out us,” explained one striking journalist. “They are lifting whole pages from the Mirror. Last Saturday the Record carried only six Scottish news stories where it would normally have 20 pages.”
Striking NUJ members boycotted the Scottish Press Awards dinner last week, leaving four empty tables and no one to collect their awards. When the strike and the boycott was announced by the event chair, the absent journalists were given a standing ovation.
The NUJ has a strong branch at the Record, and a strong sense of ownership of the newspaper. “This newspaper only exists because of us,” explained one picket. “In 1986, Robert Maxwell bought the Daily Record. He wanted to turn it into a Scottish edition of the Mirror.
“We went on strike for four weeks and we occupied the building. No paper was produced except for the ‘Strike’ edition which we published ourselves. I remember distributing it on Argyle Street. We didn’t win everything we wanted with the strike, but the newspaper is still here today.”
Another NUJ member added, “Mark Hollinshead said that he needs to make these cuts for the future. But we are the ones fighting for the future of these papers!”
“The management don’t understand that The Record is a part of the daily lives of thousands of people”, explained another journalist. “They lifted the racing pages from the Mirror, but they covered all the wrong races and the pages were not laid out properly.
'They can’t even get the crosswords right – they put last weeks in again, with the answers right next to it!” The newspapers have received over 650 complaints from readers.
Norman Silvester, the NUJ Father of the chapel (workplace union rep), reported that more people continue to join the union during the dispute.
“This strike has been really uplifting,” said one young NUJ member on the picket line. “Some of the people at this rally are targets for compulsory redundancy, but we are standing shoulder to shoulder and fighting for everyone’s job.”