JOURNALISTS IN Bradford fighting for better pay and conditions began an indefinite strike last week against their Newsquest bosses. This is the second indefinite strike to be launched by journalists against Newsquest Media Group, and its owner US media giant Gannett, which made £69 million last year.
A week before journalists in the Newsquest Bradford division began their strike, journalists in Bolton and Bury at Newsquest Lancashire ended their indefinite strike after five weeks. The journalists are members of the NUJ union. The Bradford dispute is a key battle.
If the journalists win it will be a signal that the union can win back what they lost during management's assault on unions across the print industry in the late 1980s and 1990s. But if they lose it could encourage companies like Newsquest to dig their heels in and refuse union demands.
One journalist from the Bradford-based Telegraph and Argus said, 'Management have utter contempt for the staff and treat them like infants with their ridiculous crappy rules. Every bit of time off has to be agreed with the editor personally. If you phone in sick you have to speak to a named manager yourself and explain what's wrong with you. Putting something on the notice board without permission is a sackable offence. There have been more disciplinary hearings here than anywhere else I've worked.'
Bosses disciplined mother of the chapel (workplace steward) Sarah Walsh for handing out a leaflet about the strike. The bosses plan backfired as 'The leaflet they tried to ban' became hot property in the Newsquest buildings and staff clamoured to read a copy. This sort of incident has helped to steel the Bradford journalists' resolve. When bosses offered a derisory two-year deal it was unanimously rejected.
Journalists at the Bradford-based Telegraph and Argus daily newspaper are on indefinite strike along with weekly titles - the Craven Herald, Keighley News, Ilkley Gazette and the Wharfedale Observer.
The indefinite strike action began on Monday of last week and was reaffirmed in a vote on Thursday. Journalists in the Bradford Newsquest division have already taken 31 days of strike action this year.
They went on strike for half a day last year winning pay increases of up to 14 percent. Their action inspired strikes throughout the NUJ and many chapels (workplace branches) won pay increases from bosses. At the beginning of the pay dispute there was only one NUJ member at the Craven Herald. Eight more have joined.
One journalist from the paper said, 'It got to a point where we were all complaining about wages and walking past the people on the picket lines. 'We just couldn't do this anymore. We had to support them. So we called a meeting with David Coates, the managing director. He told us if we went on strike it wouldn't change his point of view and that we didn't need the union. That was it - we all joined the NUJ en masse. Coates was the best NUJ recruiter yet.'
Newsquest has offered a miserly 2 percent, below inflation pay increase across most of its newspaper titles. A starting salary on one of the weekly titles for a graduate journalist is £12,000. Fully qualified staff can expect £15,500 regardless of their experience or length of service.
Graduate journalists on the Telegraph and Argus start on £13,000 and when fully qualified can get up to £17,000. Newsquest Bradford made £8.7 million for Gannett last year. The company awarded its 'top' director a salary of £500,000 and threw £2 million to nine of its executives to divide among themselves.
The journalists have strong support from NUJ chapels, local people and trade unions throughout the country. The NUJ should throw its full weight into supporting the strikers and increase solidarity by organising speaking tours. Every NUJ chapel should organise collections.
E-mail the Bradford strikers at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0161 834 0240. Send donations to Newsquest Bradford NUJ Chapel, c/o NUJ, 22 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JQ.