PAY BATTLES and the mass movement against the war on Iraq shone through the NUJ journalists' union conference held in Llandudno, North Wales, last week. The conference was the largest the union has held for years. Strikes against low pay at around 20 local and national newspapers over the last year and scores of union recognition victories resulted in more branches electing delegates.
Many of those attending were young first time delegates. A fringe meeting against the war was attended by about 80 delegates, and was addressed by NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition and Abdul Hadi Jiad, one of the two journalists recently sacked by the BBC World Service.
Following that, the whole conference passed a motion condemning the war on Iraq as illegal and immoral. No delegates voted against and there were only two abstentions. The union is also demanding investigations into the death of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd in Iraq and into the bombing of TV stations in Iraq.
The NUJ now faces a big test with the campaign for a strike at the BBC over the sackings of the two World Service journalists - Adli Hawwari and Abdul Hadi Jiad. Every delegate at the conference signed letters and petitions urging the 3,000 BBC NUJ members to vote yes in the strike ballot which was to start on Wednesday.
More strikes within the Newsquest group of local newspapers, owned by the US Gannett multinational, were due to go ahead this week at Bolton and Bury following a series of strikes at the company's Bradford centre.
On Monday NUJ members at the Bradford Newsquest titles heard that their ballot for more strikes had backed action with a 90 percent vote, higher than the original strike ballot.
These strikes over pay, and more recent walkouts over pensions within Trinity Mirror, reflect a growing militancy and a willingness to fight back among journalists.
Huge conference votes for a ballot to establish a political fund and the largest meeting of the NUJ left for many years also showed the widespread politicisation. The links between the mood in the union's branches and the anti-war movement are vital if the BBC ballot is going to be won.
It is clearly not a coincidence that the BBC has tried to remove the two leading union activists in a key section of its output in reporting the war. A strike at the BBC during a war would raise the stakes against Tony Blair's government to a new level.
Abdul Hadi and Adli will be touring the country to speak to NUJ chapels (local branches) across the BBC. NUJ activists are also organising mass leafleting sessions, and gate meetings are being planned at major BBC centres such as Manchester, TV Centre and Bush House, as the two are banned from BBC premises.
There were debates at the conference about the strategy needed to win the ballot, however. NUJ officials argue that the focus should be on defending agreed procedures, such as the right to a fair hearing.
Some delegates felt that it was vital to bring in the wider political picture. One BBC worker told Socialist Worker, 'People are angry about the way the BBC has ridden roughshod over our agreements.
'But what really gets them mad is when you tell them that our two sacked colleagues are Iraqi and Palestinian, and that they were dismissed just weeks before the start of the war. The anti-war mood can help us win this ballot.' That is why it would be a mistake if the link with the war and censorship is played down in the BBC fight.
The NUJ conference vote for a ballot of the union's members on establishing a political fund is a real breakthrough. The ballot will allow the union to go to every member with an argument for political campaigning and supporting candidates in elections who back union policies.
The impressive 'NUJ Left' meeting was called on the basis of what to do next following the election of left winger Jeremy Dear a year ago and of control by the left of the union's national executive committee.
It was clear at the meeting that branch delegates rightly put rank and file activity ahead of internal union electoral campaigns. This argument will continue in the run-up to the election of deputy general secretary in a few weeks time.
Jeremy Dear, who attended the 50-strong meeting, in fact urged delegates to 'hold him to account'. A steering committee was elected to organise a NUJ Left meeting later this month before a conference to be held in the autumn.
Many at the meeting also bought and took copies to sell of Better Read, the rank file paper for media workers launched a year ago when the pay campaign took off. The union also now needs to spell out its plans for a national pay campaign involving the whole union.
Phil Turner and Anne Alexander