Socialist Worker

BBC strikes win concessions — but the battle goes on

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1954

Striking BBC workers in Newcastle last week (Pic: Ray Smith)

Striking BBC workers in Newcastle last week (Pic: Ray Smith)


BBC workers, who struck and took many programmes off the air on Monday of last week, have forced management to offer concessions to its plans to slash 3,800 jobs.

Management have offered to put compulsory redundancies on hold until 1 July 2006, provided the unions agree to voluntary redundancies, and not to privatise BBC Resources before 1 June 2007. BBC Resources runs studios and production facilities.

It has also offered to make issues such as pensions a “top priority” in the sell off of the technical and creative division, BBC Broadcast, and to review job losses planned in the final year of its three-year saving plan.

BBC unions — Bectu, Amicus and the journalists’ NUJ — do not believe the offer is good enough, but they called off the strikes set for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The unions planned to meet on Tuesday of this week to get feedback from members and discuss the next stage in the dispute.

While many workers were concerned about the suspension of the strike, everyone agrees that the dispute has helped to build the strength and confidence of the unions in the BBC.

Becky Branford, an NUJ rep at the BBC News website, told Socialist Worker, “The strike has led to a wonderful reawakening for our chapel (union branch). Our union has seen a whole new level of people becoming active.

“Because the joint mother and father of the chapel (branch secretaries) have been away, I and another union rep have been forced into organising and activity. It has been exciting and we have had a very good response from members.

“It was the first time many people had been on strike, including myself. It was a brilliant day. Because it was the BBC, we could see what effect we were having.

“People are so unrehearsed at this kind of thing and tend not to be so confident. But that’s why it’s about building up morale and the solidarity.

“We have been trying to express to members what an experience the picket line was during the strike. Being involved in that was much better than staying at home by yourself.

“After the strike we had a chapel meeting of 25 people, which, considering many people can’t get away from their desks, is very good. The engagement and the discussions in those meetings is great. There is a lot of strength and people want to fight.

“Suddenly the union matters to people. People have been coming up and asking to go for lunch with me so that they can discuss the dispute.”

Somaye Zadeh is a Bectu member at Bush House in central London. She said, “Some sections at my workplace were out on strike for the first time, such as the Arabic and Chinese sections of BBC World Service. The picket line was like a party, involving largely newer union members.

“In BBC Southampton the cleaners came out on strike in solidarity. Many people are new to the idea of being in the union, and that makes them quite militant. They were the people on the picket line.

“Most people I’ve spoken to about the offer aren’t happy about it — it doesn’t sound much better to them.”

Many union activists do not believe that the concessions offered by management go far enough to resolve the dispute.

The concessions offered, if accepted, are more likely to hit those on temporary contracts. Many of those are people who have joined the unions recently and were active in the strike.

Tim Malone, a Bectu rep at News Interactive, said, “If we hadn’t come out on strike, and it hadn’t been so much of a success, management would have just steamrollered ahead with its plans. We’ve made it stop and think.

“Members are proud that we stood up for ourselves. It’s great that we pulled the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, to the negotiating table, but it’s not enough.

“To all intents and purposes the concessions are a stopgap before job cuts. There is a lot of disgruntlement at the strikes being called off. The unions’ position is that the offer is not good enough, but they want to know whether they can get more strikes.

“Some members were saying that if the unions hadn’t called off the strikes that would be much easier. We need real concessions off management.”


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News
Sat 4 Jun 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1954
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