JOURNALISTS AT the Telegraph newspapers have overwhelmingly voted for union recognition. The ballot saw 91 percent of those voting support recognition of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The vote was in a formal ballot under the latest union laws and will lead to recognition.
It is the latest step in turning back the anti-union tide which swept the media industry in the 1980s and 1990s. The high water mark of the bosses’ offensive came with the bitter 1980s Wapping dispute, when Rupert Murdoch smashed the journalists’ and print unions on his national titles including the Sun, News of the World and Times.
Journalists at the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Spectator magazine and the Telegraph.co.uk website voted last week by 361 to 34 for NUJ recognition. The Telegraph is owned by right wing Canadian billionaire Conrad Black, an arch Tory who is also a friend of US war criminal Henry Kissinger.
And the Telegraph and its editor, Charles Moore, have been at the centre of the smears against the anti-war movement and George Galloway. One NUJ member said, ‘Pay and conditions were the basic things pushing people to want the union back. But a lot of people working here hate what the Telegraph stands for and voted with a smile for union recognition because it was also sticking two fingers up to people like Moore and Black.’
In common with many of the national papers Telegraph management have pushed more of the work onto people on casual contracts, where people are paid by the shift. Many young journalists, or student journalists, work unsocial hours at rates of pay that have not increased for at least four years.
All these were included in the union recognition ballot, a move which marks an important step in winning union rights for this group of media workers. Malaise One NUJ member said, ‘You’ve got a general malaise in here and things have been intensifying over the last few years. Pay is the issue around which things have crystallised. Behind that is management’s constant cost-cutting lunatic schemes, paring down on editorial staff, focusing on sales and advertising, and new technology brought in without people being properly trained.’
Recognition is only the start of a fight as the Telegraph’s pay review is due in October and it is vital the union is organised to win a significant claim. Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, says, ‘This is a fantastic result – the biggest and one of the most significant recognition agreements the NUJ has won for years. We had to go through more than a year of legal wrangling over the details of the ballot, and the company tried as hard as it could to get people to vote against.
Many of Britain’s national newspapers, including the Independent – which won union recognition last year – and the Telegraph, are now centred in the giant Canary Wharf office complex in east London. The complex was hailed by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory governments as a union-free zone.
Yet now a tide of unionisation is rolling through the media titles there. The Mirror Group is also located at Canary Wharf, and does not recognise unions. But a meeting a couple of weeks ago saw dozens of staff at the Racing Post, one of the group’s key titles, turn up to discuss joining the union. Dozens have now done so. Rupert Murdoch’s titles are just along the river front from Canary Wharf, at Wapping.
Kate Simon is the chair of Canary Wharf NUJ, and union rep at the Independent. She says, ‘The unions are coming back – next stops the Mirror and then Wapping!’
JOURNALISTS across seven Lancashire newspapers are in their fourth week of indefinite strike action for better pay and conditions. Most of the 60 striking journalists are from the Bolton Evening News or Bury Times, where trainee reporters earn under £11,000 and seniors earn less than £16,000.
The journalists walked out over a pitiful below-inflation 2 percent pay increase offered by US-owned Newsquest. They are demanding 7 percent. The pay offer doesn’t reflect increases in inflation, which now stands at 2.9 percent, and the fact that national insurance has increased by 1 percent.
Newsquest’s US parent company, Gannett, made over a billion dollars profit last year. Newsquest Lancashire made savings of half a million in cuts alone. The journalists are determined to carry on and the strike has helped pull them together.
David Thompson, father of the chapel (branch secretary) for the NUJ at Bolton and Bury, said, ‘The camaraderie between journalists, especially the Bolton and Bury staff, is brilliant. It was difficult for them to keep in touch before, but the strike has united us and given us an enhanced collective support.’
Journalists became further enraged this week when bosses offered one-off payments, linking long service with performance. David added, ‘Trying to link the two is an insult, and the fact that we have not caved in and have stayed out will show management how we feel about it.’
The maximum a journalist serving ten years at the paper could get, as long as management rated their performance as A grade, is £350. The union has offered management the chance to go to ACAS for binding arbitration but so far they have not replied.
Join sacked BBC Arabic Service journalists Adli Hawwari and Abdul-Hadi Jiad Thursday 15 May, 12.30pm, outside Bush House, Kingsway, London (Temple or Holborn tube). Called by NUJ
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