Journalists are one group at the sharp end of bosses’ attempts to cut back on jobs and pay as the recession bites.
But more than 150 NUJ journalists’ union members drew up a plan for a coordinated fightback at a jobs summit in London last Saturday.
More than 5,000 jobs have already gone in regional newspapers in Britain as bosses have shut titles and merged or axed editions.
ITV has slashed its regional news coverage amid mass job cuts. And workers at magazine houses and major newspapers such as the Independent and the Herald in Scotland are facing attacks.
But there are signs of resistance. Some 150 workers at the Financial Times (FT) newspaper gathered to hear Tony Benn speak at a protest rally on Thursday of last week against job losses and a pay freeze.
A journalist at the FT told Socialist Worker, “It was a very successful day of action.
“Journalists are angry that the FT’s parent company Pearson is proposing cuts despite announcing last week that it expects to post a 20 percent rise in earnings in March.
“Benn addressed a packed meeting in the canteen – where he talked about the 1930s, fascism and war, and the need to run the economy on socialist lines.
“Union reps from fellow Pearson chapels (workplace union branches) at Penguin Books and Pearson Education in Oxford, and also significant numbers of non-editorial workers at the FT, came along.
“A statement from the union to Pearson top management said, ‘As publisher of the Financial Times we would have hoped that you would be aware that the big bonus culture and the short-term pursuit of shareholder value rather than long-term growth have proved catastrophic for the world economy.’
“The FT wants to make six compulsory redundancies among reporters in London, but has made it clear that there will be another round of job cuts in production.
“The great thing about the day of action was that lots of journalists got actively involved. There is a real feeling that we can save these jobs.”
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear responded to a summit delegate’s call for instant protests and sit-ins at newsrooms where cuts are announced by pledging the union’s backing for any protest made by members.
This could mean the defiance of anti-union laws that force workers to ballot before taking action.
Strike action has recently taken place at the York Evening Press and the Northern Echo in Darlington.
Staff at the Yorkshire Post/Evening Post in Leeds are among those currently balloting over redundancies.
A packed NUJ meeting at Reed Business Information in Sutton last week voted overwhelmingly to ballot for industrial action over moves by management to restructure editorial production, which will mean a loss of jobs.
Workers have been infuriated by media bosses’ attempts to protect their obscene profits by slashing staff in already stressed-out and overworked newsrooms.
The London conference unanimously agreed a response to cuts, including industrial action, protests and campaigns that expose management and shareholder greed, showing how this affects quality journalism. It also aims to provoke a debate on media ownership.
A series of regional rallies will lead to a union-wide day of action.
The union is also setting up a “whistleblowers’ hotline” – an email address that journalists can use to leave details of how cutbacks are stopping them from reporting properly.
Journalist Nick Davies was a keynote speaker at the summit.
His book Flat Earth News describes how corporate ownership of the media has produced “churnalism”, where reporters rely on regurgitating press releases.
This is a scenario sadly familiar to most of us working in the industry today.
Nick urged a public debate so that people can discuss how this is affecting our ability to hold public bodies to account.
Julia Armstrong is the NUJ mother of the chapel (shop steward) at Sheffield Newspapers. She writes in a personal capacity
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle