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We're ordinary workers who are all too often the last defenders of simple dignity & fairness - #heartunions


9 February 2016

Bimpe Archer, secretary of the Irish News NUJ chapel

I wouldn't still be in journalism if it wasn't for the NUJ.

No matter how good your employer - and there are a lot of decent, well-meaning employers out there - even the smallest of operations is a behemoth in its own way, slave to the competing imperatives of circulation, advertising, cross-platform competition and, of course, profit.

The contribution of a single cog in the machinery can all too easily be over-looked and an individual either crushed beneath or swept aside by these forces.

Workers may power the machinery, but the behemoth is controlled by employers and if you find yourself regarded as surplus to requirements or an unwanted piece of grit in the process then it can be a very frightening and lonely experience.

And sooner or later most of us will find ourselves overlooked, undervalued or even ousted.

I was lucky, because when my turn came I was a member of the NUJ and when I was feeling at my most frightened and isolated my colleagues were there to support me, to back my pleas to be treated fairly and to show my employer that I may just have been one cog, but I was a cog that mattered.

I have been a rep now for more years than I ever intended. I initially became involved partly out of gratitude and partly because I didn't want to see our chapel fall apart - it was beginning to fray a little at the edges.

In that time it has been my absolute privilege and pleasure to help colleagues in times of distress and frustration to find a way not just to cope but get back to a situation where they can again flourish and hopefully rediscover their love for our great profession.

It's not easy. No matter what the present government would have you believe, unions are not powerful organisations with vast, unfettered powers. We're ordinary workers who are all too often the last defenders of simple dignity and fairness. We must always remember our basic role is to leave no member behind.

We have saved jobs during redundancy rounds, successfully defended colleagues targeted by vile online abuse, secured cost of living rises, prevented forced reassignments and, possibly most importantly, seen hot water restored in the downstairs men's toilets.

Our greatest weapon is our solidarity and organisation.

That is what the trade union bill is seeking to attack. To frustrate organisation and criminalise solidarity until we are broken apart, disparate cogs - easier to control, easier to crush.

But no one will benefit from this. In my workplace a strong NUJ chapel has helped the newspaper weather storms that industry analysts predicted would blow us away.

There is is still much work to be done to protect the profession we hold dear and make sure that, when the dust generated by the lightning pace of change settles, it is still one we can be proud of.

Employers need a strong partner on this journey. 'Taming' unions may seem like a good short- term fix, but it will only further demoralise workers and ultimately affect your 'product'.

Remember, any machine is only as strong as its weakest link.

The NUJ is supporting the TUC week of action #heartunions to celebrate the work of the trade union movement and to campaign against the government's divisive trade union bill.

Tags: , heartunions, tuc, trade union bill, northern ireland, irish news, chapels, belfast and district branch