#heartNUJ: The NUJ has lots to offer
9 February 2017
NUJ rep and member Mike Jempson
I have learned much from my forty years as a member of the NUJ. I was immensely proud to join an organisation that contained many brave and principled journalists and media workers who expose crime and corruption and hold the powerful to account.
Soon after I joined I found myself out on the cobbles for seven long weeks in the depths of winter, during the national provincial newspaper strike. Many great friendships were made and lessons of solidarity were learned during those difficult days.
It was particularly important for me as I was victimised after the return to work, rescued by a BBC colleague Vince Hanna who got me work with Newsnight. Soon afterwards my former employers bought the next paper I worked on and I was out on my ear again - this time onto a blacklist. For 18 months I could not get a job. The union’s hardship fund kept my head above water.
Members of my East London branch then came up with the idea of a new type of local weekly, the East End News, run as a readers' and workers’ co-operative with shares held by NUJ members, trades union branches and tenants associations as well as the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) and the TUC. I was the first editor, and we made a particular point of bringing in young journalists from black and minority communities, some of whom became NUJ activists. We also published tabloids celebrating the 1981 Peoples March for Jobs and campaigns by the Gas Board unions.
Having first broken the story that Murdoch was planning a new print works in Wapping, where I lived at the time, it was inevitable I became involved in the dispute.
My 3 year old son and I joined Olly Duke, one of the brave band of NUJ refuseniks, on the first picket line. I attended most of the midweek and weekend demonstrations, and encouraged local residents to join in. Along with former docker turned writer Johnny Quarrel, who later became an NUJ member, we provided useful intelligence from 'behind the lines' about the movements of the 'white mice' (delivery vans) and the TNT trucks - one of which killed my friend, local teenager Michael Delaney.
When the dispute ended I moved to Bristol and for some years, it seemed, I lived and breathed NUJ policy. I represented the union on the CPBF national council and its right of reply campaigns; produced briefings in defence of public service broadcasting and trades union activity in the film and TV industries, and on the Broadcasting Act 1990, and the first bids in the auctioning of commercial TV franchises. I worked on the right to know campaign challenging the Hurd Broadcasting Ban, and alongside the print and broadcast unions in defence of public service broadcasting.
When in 1993 I helped to set up PressWise the NUJ was very supportive. Now known as MediaWise Trust, we promote ethical journalism and provide support for those harmed by inaccurate, unethical or intrusive media coverage. And we campaign for more equitable and independent print and broadcast regulation. It has always been gratifying that NUJ members support our work, though many might have expected journalists to turn their noses up at a 'poacher turned game-keeper'.
The union has also been enormously helpful in our work with exiled journalists, bringing them into membership and supporting their asylum applications. Numerous branches have played a key role in this important task, my own Bristol branch and Manchester in particular.
For the most part my experience of trades unions (I have also also been a member of NALGO and the UCU) has been inspiring and educational. They are not just about wages and conditions. They take an interest and have a part to play in all aspects of society.
Not enough members appreciate the real benefits of union membership nor realise how comprehensive the scope of union activity can be.
Now more than ever we need unions to engage with the needs of their members, and members to get involved in union activity. Like they used to say about the now defunct News of the World - 'All human life is there!'.