THE SPATE of disputes involving journalists is accelerating, with strikes and ballots for action this week from London to Yorkshire and Scotland.
Journalists at a major magazine publisher will strike for the day on Friday 30 August.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) members at EMAP Healthcare/PSM in London backed action by an 83 percent majority on a 97 percent turnout. The publisher’s key titles include Nursing Times, Health Service Journal and the Local Government Chronicle. The 37 NUJ members are demanding a £1,250 across the board pay rise and £25,000 a year minimum.
At present people on the same job have salaries up to £7,000 apart. Management have offered only a £500 a year rise and a minimum of £21,000 a year.
One NUJ member said, ‘We had a five-year campaign for union recognition, which we won in April. Now it’s payback time. EMAP, which made £30 million profit last year, gave a ‘golden goodbye’ of £927,000 in June to failed boss Kevin Hand. That would have settled our pay claim ten times over.’
TWO OF Scotland’s national newspaper groups face industrial action by journalists angered by bullying managers. The National Union of Journalists chapels (office branches) at the Scotsman in Edinburgh, and the Daily Record and Sunday Mail in Glasgow have both voted to ballot on strike action.
At the Scotsman group, which also includes the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday, editor in chief Andrew Neil is trying to cut more jobs. Andrew Neil is infamous in the industry for his role as an editor for Rupert Murdoch during his union-busting operation at Wapping in the 1980s.
Staffing on the Scottish papers is already at a low level. An NUJ survey has shown that average unpaid overtime among journalists is 31 percent of contracted hours. NUJ Scottish organiser Paul Holleran said, ‘This means the papers are 30 percent understaffed. Andrew Neil has got rid of dozens of jobs over the last few years, mainly through non-replacement of people leaving.’
Neil has also imposed a pay freeze for this year. In July the NUJ chapel unanimously voted that: ‘This workforce declares it has no confidence in Andrew Neil and calls for him to resign his positions as publisher and editor-in-chief of The Scotsman Publications.’
His response was to further anger his staff by saying that criticism by the NUJ was ‘like a gnat on the backside of a hippopotamus’. Meanwhile in Glasgow at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail NUJ members have also voted to hold a ballot for action over management’s failure to agree a house agreement, and over one particular personal case.
The Trinity Mirror owned group agreed to recognise the NUJ last year, but is refusing to extend improved terms to all staff.
JOURNALISTS AT the Rotherham Advertiser newspaper planned to start a one-week strike on Saturday over low pay. The 13 NUJ members on three titles backed action in a ballot after rejecting a 2.3 percent pay offer from owner Garnett Dickenson.
Trainee journalists get £13,000 and qualified staff between £17,000 and £19,000 a year. Workers are demanding a 10 percent rise. A solidarity rally was planned to mark the start of the strike.
A NATIONAL Union of Journalists branch secretary was held for hours under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and had his camera seized and his documents taken and copied. Photographer Stalingrad O’Neill, whose work has appeared in Socialist Worker, is secretary of the union’s Birmingham branch.
On 8 August he flew from Birmingham to Belfast, where he had work as a photographer and was also due to attend a Troops Out Conference as a trade union delegate. O’Neill was stopped at Birmingham airport on his way to Belfast. He was questioned for some time. On his return on 12 August he was stopped again and held by police in Birmingham for more than two hours.
Police officers seized eight rolls of undeveloped film. His personal filofax was taken from him and photocopied. The NUJ has strongly protested over the case, and considers the police action an unwarranted attack on the freedom of the press.
Union lawyers took up the case, and on 14 August the film was returned. The NUJ has now written to demand that Sir Edward Crew, chief constable of West Midlands police, investigates the case as a matter of urgency and deals with the officers in question. NUJ branches should support this move.
Reballots have opened the way to bigger struggle