BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s plans to slash thousands of jobs took a big hit as staff walked out on Monday of this week.
Thousands of workers in the NUJ, Bectu and Amicus unions struck against plans to cut 3,800 jobs, severely affecting BBC schedules. Reports from around the country tell of deserted studios and determined picket lines. Many workers refused to cross picket lines and many joined the unions.
Peter Murray, deputy father of the NUJ chapel (union branch) at BBC Scotland, described the strike as “a fantastic experience”.
“We started off on the stroke of midnight clearing the newsrooms of members,” he told Socialist Worker. “The flagship BBC News 24 bulletin was pre-recorded.
“Senior staff, such as editors and producers, picketed the Glasgow building from 4am. We also picketed the Scottish soap River City. None of the cast would cross the picket line.
“I also got a text message from the picket of the BBC office in Kabul, Afghanistan—the solidarity stretches right around the world! There’s an enthusiasm to give the BBC the best kicking possible.”
Tim Malone, a Bectu rep at News Interactive, reported similar scenes in west London. “From what I can gather the BBC headquarters at White City is like the Marie Celeste,” he said.
“Management have had to get sports presenters to read the news. People have been picketing from midnight. Union leaders and Tony Benn spoke at a rally.
“The strike has been generally solid, involving all the members. The union has been flooded with applications to join, and a lot of people not in the union have been ringing in sick.
“Spirits are very good and the mood is buoyant. These cuts have been coming for so long, but there’s relief that everyone is saying enough is enough.”
Andy Love, chair of Bectu’s BBC divisional committee in London, told Socialist Worker, “The strike has had quite an effect on broadcasting—the BBC hasn’t been able to provide a standard service. Both the NUJ and Bectu have seen their biggest increase in membership ever around a single dispute.”
Somaye Zadeh, recruitment officer at Bectu’s Bush House branch in central London, said around 70 BBC world service staff gathered outside the building at midnight. “This is very good because management haven’t announced any job cuts at the World Service,” she added.
“The English language news programmes are off the air. All of the different sections are out on strike. One guy joined the NUJ at 11.45pm last night and was picketing until 8am.”
The strikers are far from the stereotyped image of upper crust BBC presenters. “Those involved in the strike are ordinary working people—journalists, engineers, technical and financial staff,” said Beccy Branford, an NUJ rep at the BBC news website.
“Many of them are very low paid. Some are on about £15,000. A lot of people are also on temporary contracts, which are continually renewed.”
Jane Tiernan, a Bectu member at Television Centre, said, “Management keeps talking about negotiations, but it is not interested in negotiations. It wants to grind us further into the ground. This is a dry run to show that we’re serious—next week we’ll give management more of a shock.”
James, an Amicus member in London, said there was a “really nice atmosphere” on the picket lines. “It’s a break from the pettiness of management, who have been looking for ways to make the job harder in the run-up to the cuts. People aren’t worried just about the job losses, but the whole atmosphere of the place.”
Colin Crane said, “The strike was absolutely solid at the BBC North East offices in Newcastle, with only one or two senior managers going in.
“There was good support from motorists driving past. One picket had baked biscuits for everyone on the picket line.
“There was a rally for strikers in the city centre and mass leafleting to get their message across to the public.
“The workforce in the north east of England is not large, but the cuts proposed there will have a severe detrimental effect on the workforce who will have to shoulder the additional burden that these job losses will impose.”
The BBC’s management has called on the unions to “negotiate”—even though the strike was sparked by its failure to negotiate properly with staff.
But other senior figures are taking a hard line. Mark Thompson described the strike as “a price worth paying” to push through his cuts programme.