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Union returns to Eddie Shah's Messenger group

6 March 2009

The NUJ has won back the right to represent members at a newspaper group that pioneered union busting tactics in Britain in the 1980s. A bitter dispute at Messenger Newspapers in Cheshire led to the sacking of journalists and printers, sequestration of the funds of one union and scores of arrests and injuries as police attacked pickets.

The confrontation was regarded as a rehearsal for the epic miners strike that started twenty-five years ago this week.

Ten NUJ members lost their jobs in 1983 when they refused to cross a picket line set up by sacked colleagues from the NGA print union, now part of in Unite.

Now, the NUJ has won back union recognition at the group, which is part of Newsquest's Merseyside and Cheshire division.

In the early '80s, the company was owned by Eddie Shah, described on Wikipedia as "the first businessman to confront the power of trade unionism" and "the first person to invoke Margaret Thatcher's Industrial Laws". He moved production of his papers from Stockport to Warrington with the loss of six print workers' jobs.

The ensuing dispute led to the NGA having all of its assets seized by the state and the NUJ planning to send its money abroad to avoid a similar fate.

Colin Bourne, who was the NUJ's Northern Regional Organiser at the time, said today:

"This was the company that spearheaded the tide of anti-unionism and created the conditions for the miners strike the following year. To win back union rights there is extremely significant."

The Messenger Group is covered by a new NUJ recognition agreement that also includes the Warrington Guardian series, the St Helen's Star, the Leigh Journal and the Wirral Globe. The union won statutory negotiating rights when the Central Arbitration Committee agreed that 60 percent of journalists in the Newsquest group were NUJ members.

Jenny Lennox, NUJ Assistant Organiser, said:

"I would like to congratulate the members in Cheshire and Merseyside for winning this campaign. We now have to negotiate a new agreement in the face of company attempts to enforce pay freezes and other cutbacks."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ Deputy General Secretary, said:

"Journalists know that the best way to defend working conditions and professional standards is to be part of the union.
"The victory of this recognition campaign shows that the trade union movement cannot be beaten or legislated out of existence."

Tags: , recognition, newsquest, messenger newspapers, eddie shah, miners' strike, margaret thatcher, sacking, nga, unite, merseyside, cheshire, stockport, warrington, warrington guardian, st helens star, leigh journal, wirral globe, cac, picket