Thousands of BBC journalists have held a 24-hour strike against compulsory redundancies, and the NUJ is accusing the corporation's top management of wilfully avoiding talks which could have averted the stoppage. A further strike is due on Monday August 1.
Programmes were cancelled across the BBC networks, including the prestigious Newsnight and Any Questions, with many guests and interviewees refusing to participate in recordings. Regular output was severely disrupted by the strike on July 15 and one radio service even re-broadcast news bulletins from the previous day.
Radio 4's flagship World at One, PM and The World Tonight were off air and the Today programme was broadcast an hour late, while the BBC1 Breakfast show was replaced by a feed from the BBC News channel. Most of the BBC's best-known radio and television journalists joined their colleagues on strike. "Management has had to draft in some ambitious, but uncomfortable, third division replacements who foolishly believe that undermining their colleagues will help their careers," commented one striker.
BBC journalists reported: 'Members on strike across the UK from Ipswich to Derry and down to Jersey. Massive support in Scotland and Wales. Solidarity from Unison, Unite and PCS in Cambridge; CWU, Unison and PCS in Coventry, and elsewhere."
International Federation of Journalists' president Jim Boumelha declared: “The massive support for today’s strike shows the journalists’ understandable frustration at the management appalling behaviour. There is simply no basis for the BBC's refusal to engage with journalists’ representatives in resolving this dispute and saving jobs. This attitude is not acceptable and we fully support our colleagues’ action.”
Distinguished film-maker Ken Loach told the NUJ: "I have refused to appear on Radio Bristol today to promote a showing of the film Hidden Agenda tonight at Bath City FC. The NUJ is absolutely right to fight compulsory redundancies at the BBC. And the bottom line is: never cross a picket line."
Ken Loach later wrote to BBC director general Mark Thompson: "It is regrettable that the BBC has refused to go to ACAS to negotiate with the NUJ and have instead declared it will make some journalists redundant. I, like others, have refused to be interviewed by the BBC today because we refuse to work with strike breakers. You should cherish those who work at the BBC as it is they who make the programmes. Your own contribution, on current form, is rather less valuable"
Tony Benn and MPs John McDonnell, Dave Anderson, Keith Vaz, Kelvin Hopkins and Katy Clark were among those who gave NUJ pickets their full support.
John McDonnell MP (back row, third from right) was among speakers at a BBC Bush House strike rally
Reports from NUJ picket lines across the UK showed that the strike was solid, with notable stoppages in Manchester, Newcastle, Hull, Birmingham, Leicester, Coventry, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton, Derry and Belfast.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet joined the picket line at BBC Television Centre in London at midnight on Thursday July 14 as journalists walked out to begin their industrial action. NUJ members at BBC national, regional and local centres across the UK joined the 24-hour stoppage.
The general secretary (right) joined NUJ early morning London pickets -- picture Jess Hurd
At BBC offices and centres throughout the UK journalists mounted pickets, and they reported enthusiastic support from the public for the union campaign against compulsory redundancies.
Panorama investigative journalist Murdoch Rodgers had a topical message when he joined his NUJ Glasgow colleagues on the picket line.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Union representatives have tried hard to resolve this serious dispute through negotiation. We have even agreed to use the ACAS conciliation service to try to find a way forward. But BBC senior management has shown no real interest in negotiations. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that BBC management wanted thousands of its journalists to go on strike tomorrow, rather than settle the dispute.
“If that is the case it confirms our members’ worst fears about the management strategy of introducing compulsory redundancy at the BBC. The massive vote for strike action by journalists across the BBC reflected their fear for the future as well as their solidarity with colleagues already being targeted and singled out for the sack.
“Management indifference to settling our dispute suggests that our members’ concern that many more redundancies are planned is fully justified.
“We offered to meet the BBC, and asked management to extend the leaving dates of those individuals immediately affected by redundancy in order to allow the talks to take place. Management refused. We also offered to meet with the BBC at ACAS today. Management refused.
“By the deliberate BBC decision to provoke this strike action, journalists will lose a day’s pay and audiences suffer for a dispute that is so easily avoidable. The BBC stance looks stubborn and provocative. It seems commonsense has been replaced by obstinacy.
“The BBC is a crucial public service yet BBC management has clearly set its face against the negotiation process and is prepared to push through these unfair cuts at the expense of staff, and without caring about the impact upon millions of listeners and viewers. We have given the BBC five simple ways to stop the strike, all of which have been refused:
- Extend the leaving dates of those immediately at risk to allow for further talks
- Agree to release volunteers
- Cut the red tape when it comes to redeployment and make it happen
- Use vacant posts to offset the costs of employing those at risk
- Apply fairness across the BBC and treat people the same - wherever they work
“These cuts and job losses have been brought about directly by a decision to freeze the licence fee for the next six years. This was a shabby deal done by BBC management and the government behind closed doors last Autumn, with no democratic scrutiny or transparent discussion. We know Rupert Murdoch and News International executives were exerting huge influence on key government figures.
"The hastily reached deal marked a watershed in the Corporation’s history and has led to the axing of vital language services at the BBC World Service and the imposition of 20 per cent spending cuts across the BBC. It is vital that the dodgy licence fee deal should now be re-examined as a matter of urgency in light of recent developments. The deal should be undone and there should be the proper transparent and open debate with staff and stakeholders about the future funding of the BBC that was called for – and ignored by the government – at the time.
“The BBC, as a public sector broadcaster, has an obligation to the public to accept its share of responsibility to resolve a dispute which it has created and to act responsibly to seek a resolution.”