President Sian Jones opens DM2021
It was a virtual welcome to delegates, but the full business will go ahead
It’s so strange addressing a computer screen instead of a room full of delegates, visitors and staff by the seaside. But it is nevertheless a huge honour to be here addressing you as NUJ President.
I’ve had quite an unusual tenure as president. When I stood for election for Vice President I was on maternity leave, and I had concerns about how much of a juggle that would be. Little did I know what was in store over the next few years, with my career taking me to work in Westminster, out again and then the coronavirus pandemic. I should have handed the baton over more than a year ago, but coronavirus had other plans and we have all had to adapt greatly in the past 14 months.
The pandemic accelerated the decline of some newspaper titles, led to redundancies and pay cuts, and saw hundreds – if not thousands – of journalists furloughed when lockdown kicked in – no sports to cover, restricted news with just one story dominating. The NUJ was there, arguing that journalists should be classified as key workers and afforded the protection to safely carry out vital reporting duties. And fighting for – and in many cases winning back – the pay that was cut by greedy media organisations.
Our News Recovery Plan became the blueprint for our work over the next year – campaigning, negotiating and lobbying for rights and protections for media workers. Michelle has probably sat in more meetings with government ministers over the past year than any general secretary over our entire history!
We saw engagement with and trust in news increase in 2020, reversing a slow downward trend as we tuned into the government’s coronavirus news conferences and following news packages. And far from the collapse in membership that we feared, we have seen a slight increase over this period, showing the value placed in union membership at times of need.
Our staff were up and running straight away, working effectively from home and giving their all to support our members. We’ve kept our democracy, training, decision making and branch structures going – meeting each other’s children, pets and bookcases along the way. And many of us have experienced higher turnouts at meetings than pre-covid, showing us that there is a demand for new ways of working and some may well stay with us as we emerge from the pandemic.
I’m so proud of the work the NUJ does every day for our members. And the NUJ has stepped up during the pandemic to give truly outstanding representation to journalists and media workers across the UK, Ireland and beyond.
This week has and will continue to showcase that incredible work. It’s there on the agenda for our Delegate Meeting - from news recovery, to international solidarity, equal pay, press freedoms and so much more. We’ve put on training events throughout the week. And the amazing fringe programme of 5pm ‘Talk-in’ events have been an inspiration.
But this level of representation and activity costs money, and our income has been hit by a freeze on subs for over seven years. No-one wants to pay more for anything, but fact is that over the last seven years everything I pay for has gone up. The NUJ’s bills have gone up too, but our main source of income – subs – has not. We’ve made cost savings, brought in rental income from our office space and reassessed our finances, reducing the increase we previously thought was needed. If you haven’t already decided, then I urge you to vote for the sensible subs rise motion being put by the NEC this afternoon.
As I sign off as President – although not until the end of DM – I’d like to wish the incoming President Pierre Vicary the very best. Pierre is a brilliant comrade who will be an excellent President. And I’m delighted that our incoming Vice President is Natasha Hirst, someone who shows such brilliant leadership, strength and empathy. It’s nice to know it won’t be too long before there are two women in the top jobs again… I of course also thank all my colleagues on the NEC and in my branch – Debbie, Anita, Tim, Donnacha and so many more - along with my family – in particular my partner Tony and my parents - who have given me so much support over the past five years. And to Callum and Ellyn – Mummy should be on the computer a little less now. But most of all I thank – and blame – Michelle Stanistreet, our General Secretary, for encouraging and supporting me. Michelle inspires, motivates and lifts this union and I’m truly thankful to have worked alongside her in the limited role I have been able to play.
Thank you comrades. I wish we could go to the pub after this together, but that day will come.