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DM 2012: Fighting for an independent, campaigning union

5 October 2012

Delegate Meeting 2012

Facing the union's financial situation head on is the only way the NUJ will survive as an independent, campaigning union, delegates to DM were told by Michelle Stanistreet in her opening speech.

In a year when the union's profile has been at its highest, as the Leveson Inquiry put the NUJ under an international spotlight, the importance of having a union specialising in the needs of journalists and their industry has never been higher, she said.

"This is not an NUJ-created financial crisis," she said, "this is one forged by the greedy irresponsible media bosses who have brought parts of our industry almost to their knees and who reacted to the global credit crunch with opportunistic cuts, regardless of their impact on quality journalism and content. The NUJ inevitably has not been immune to that.

"Over the past five years we have lost nearly a fifth of our membership – just over 19 per cent – and it's not because they have become disillusioned with the NUJ – no, it's because they've been victims of the onslaught in our industry. Many have left journalism altogether and we can all think of examples of members we have known that fit that bill.
"It is because we are a fighting campaigning trade union, unafraid to take action when necessary, that the drop in membership hasn't been worse – recruitment has been intense in parts of the union, but the reality is that it hasn't happened in great enough numbers to balance out the losses."

She added: "Our strength comes in our clear focus on journalists and journalism, which we are only able to provide as an independent campaigning trade union – it's not something we could achieve if we were a small section rattling around in a large general trade union. Our independence is vital."

That is why, she said, that the conference must back national executive's Recovery Plan and its commitment to rebuilding our reserves with a target of £2.5million over the next decade.

She said: "We need to make ourselves more relevant, we need to encourage greater participation, as that is the only way we'll grow stronger and bigger, and ensure that we are genuinely representative of the broader membership.

"Every single member of the NUJ can play a part in our recovery, working together to see our union through difficult times and ensuring we remain fighting fit for the many battles ahead."

Delegates preparing to vote © Photo: Mark Pinder

Delegates at DM backed her call. They voted to increase subscription rates and move to a biennial delegate meeting. It was agreed that during the non-BDM year there will be a one-day conference. Donnacha DeLong, NUJ president, said the present 18 month meeting cycle caused problems because it does not fit in with the financial year nor the terms of office of the national executive council and other union bodies.

Subscriptions will be increased by 5 per cent (a weekly increase of Grade 1: 15p/€0.19 ;Grade 2 19p/€0.24; Grade 3 26p/€0.33 per week) from November 1. The increase was compared to equivalent to the cost of two packets of extra strong peppermints a month. Read more about the debate.

Speaking for the first time at DM as general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet recalled the recent battles and successes of the union:

"In the space of a few short weeks last summer I stood on countless picket lines, with inspiring and committed members standing up in defence of their colleagues jobs and for quality journalism – in South Yorkshire, where the support from local communities was unwavering; across the BBC, first in the Arabic Service and then across the corporation, as members, showed once again they were prepared to strike to defend the principle of no compulsory redundancies.
"Later, successful joint ballots for industrial action against the cuts within the so-called Delivering Quality First programme, led to u-turns from the BBC and key concessions."

There were 176 delegates at DM – 60 per cent of them men – who discussed 93 motions and 93 amendments, along with 30 late-notice motions. Fourteen students attended the conference as part of a work experience programme. They covered debates and interviewed members of the union and speakers and guests.

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary elect, addressed DM. She said: "We do not have a free press while it is in the hands of a small clique of right-wing press barons.The scandal of what happened at News International shows what happens when corporate power is left unchecked by the unions." Read more of her speech.

International guests included Omar Farouk Osman, general secretary of the National Union of Somali Journalists, who told delegates that 15 journalists in his country were killed this year and Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, campaigns officer at Burma Campaign UK, and the daughter of Ko Mya Aye, who was given a 65-year jail sentence for his part in the 2007 protests. She said: "People think that Burma is now a good news story… Our struggle for freedom and democracy is not over." Read more about the international solidarity at the DM.

Delegates voted to support a motion which congratulated the general secretary's work and performance at the Leveson Inquiry and highlighted the NUJ's submission to Lord Justice Leveson which calls for robust regulation of the press by an independent body with trade union representation. The motion also called for limits on media ownership. DM heard from John Hendy QC, the NUJ's counsel, who quizzed Rupert Murdoch during the Inquiry.

Conference also received heard from John McDonnell MP, secretary of the NUJ's Parliamentary Group, deliver his report. Read the NUJ Parliamentary Group Annual Report Sept 2011 - July 2012.

Donnacha DeLong said:

"When I leave here, I will be heading the union's recruitment strategy. I'll be seeking volunteers to help with mapping,planning and doing the hard work of getting out to talk to the people we want to recruit.
"There are some fantastic examples of great practice. Recently members of the London Photographers' Branch recruited 100 new student members at Westminster University's Fresher Week. I want to hear about these successes and how we can build on them."

Succeeding Donnacha DeLong as the next NUJ president is Barry McCall, who has served as vice-president since April 2011. Adam Christie and Andy Smith will job-share the vice presidency.

Conference round up

NUJ Newcastle branch banner at DM 2012Broadcasting:
NUJ members at the BBC and ITV are preparing to take action before Christmas over cuts to broadcasting jobs and threats to terms and conditions (see here). Sue Harris, NUJ Broadcasting officer, said the BBC's Delivering Quality First programme to cut the corporation's budget by 20 per cent should be called Destroying Quality First. She said: "Mark Thompson's deal to freeze the licence fee when all other prices and utilities were going up has led to a situation where the BBC is being broken apart by the cuts imposed."

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said that he was spending a great deal of the union's time with members at RTE, Ireland's national television and radio broadcaster, and Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser, described the problems at BBC Scotland and why the union was in dispute with the corporation over redundancy criteria.

Asian Network:
DM instructed the NEC and relevant councils to conduct a campaign to reverse the cuts to the Asian Network. The motion noted that its budget has been virtually halved and around half of staff will go. The newsroom will move from its birthplace in Leicester to London. It said:

"The Asian Network is a renowned training ground for journalists from under-represented sections of the community who go on to work in other areas of the BBC and the wider industry."

New councils:
A NUJ Photographers' Council will now represent photographers, photojournalists and video journalists. Conference also agreed that NUJ 60+ will be a national council to deal with equality issues such as ageism for older union members. The council is to have a similar budget, powers, size and responsibilities to the existing equality, black and disabled members councils.

Bye Bye Sly:
The Trinity Mirror group chapel was congratulated for its campaign over boardroom greed which culminated in the resignation of chief executive Sly Bailey, who amassed £14m in pay and bonuses while cutting hundreds of journalists' jobs. Conference called for a law stipulating that each company remuneration committee should have a least one elected employee representative on it. Read about the debates on future of the media.

Welsh Press Card:
The union is to urge the UK Press Card Authority to allow NUJ press cards to be made bi-lingual in Wales.

Honoured by the NUJ:
John Barsby, BBC veteran, and Roy Jones, Morning Star industrial correspondent, were made NUJ members of honour and received standing ovations for their contribution to the union.

Perfomance pay: The union is to organise a training seminar for chapel reps
to equip them to resist an increasing trend towards 'divisive and demotivating' performance-related pay. Steve Bird, Pearson chapel, said PRP was unfair as it singled out the individual and created tension and affected morale.

The NUJ's Public Relations and Communications Council held an open meeting with the CIPR, the organisation for PR practitioners, to discuss the impact of lobbying regulation. Grant Thom, CIPR's Scottish treasurer and Barry White from the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency highlighted the importance of transparency for the industry. Phil Morcom, NUJ PRCIC Co-Chair, said:

"The NUJ is the largest union representing PR workers. We want to work with others in the industry to make sure any regulation reflects the importance of transparency, professional ethics and is at the same time practical and proportionate."

Women's conference:
DM congratulated the organisers of the NUJ's 2012 Women's conference for "an inspiring and practical event". A motion from London Photographers noted with concern,  "women photographers' reports of sexism and bullying in the industry".

DM noted the recent report which exonerated the Liverpool fans and vindicated the families' claims that the police had lied. The motion called for the police officers behind the lies and corruption to be prosecuted and for the stripping of the knighthoods of former MP Sir Irvine Patrick and West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison.

Tom Davies, for the NEC, said the Hillsborough Independent Panel report had shone new light on to an already disgraceful and tragic scandal. It was one of the most shameful episodes in British journalism history, with The Sun's notorious "The Truth" front-page smear of the victims.

Pickles' code:
DM passed a motion that noted the effect of the closure of the Central Office of Information, causing more than 1,000 job losses, plus the attempts by Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, to "slim local government publications to a minimum". The NEC was instructed to fight the cuts.

Tags: leveson, picket, membership, dm2012, recruitment, finances