The NUJ’s annual conference meets at a crucial time for the union. After 7 years of membership growth a wave of redundancies has hit the union hard – both numerically and financially.
There is a stark choice facing the union – retrenchment and cuts to union services or organising to resist the employers’ cuts. Our annual conference should be the opportunity to put organising centre stage and begin to build a wider resistance to the bosses’ offensive.
Over the past two years more than 6,000 media jobs have been lost. Despite industrial action at the BBC, in local newspapers and threatened action in other sectors – which has been successful in ensuring redundancies have largely been voluntary – employers are using the move to multi-skilling and multi-platform working to cut staffing and reduce editorial budgets.
Voluntary cuts are better than compulsory ones – but they are still cuts and those left behind are expected to work harder while companies continue to rake in massive profits. And such cuts pose a threat to the union and members’ ability to protect their terms and conditions – and as such a co-ordinated, union-wide fight must be waged against them.
It is these threats which drove the union to launch its Stand up for Journalism campaign last year and the union’s first national day of action for more than a decade. Now we need to build on that, backing motions that call on the union to co-ordinate pay claims across media companies, put recruitment and workplace organisation at the heart of our policy and plan further national actions to build the confidence of members in their workplaces to oppose job and budget cuts.
And media freedom issues, in the face of police actions against photographers or threats to force journalists to hand over film or sources, will feature highly. It is important they are not just issues strong letters are written about but that professional issues become causes around which members organise in their workplaces.
The conference will also set the scene for the biggest fight the union faces over the coming 18 months – the future of public service broadcasting. The BBC has seen thousands of jobs cut, whilst ITV have axed local and regional services. More cuts are planned. And the regulator and government are allowing them to happen. Reviews into the future funding of public service broadcasting open up the prospect of further cuts over the next few years. Building an alliance of workers and readers and viewers committed to putting public service before either commercial concerns or government-imposed cost-cutting is crucial to building the type of campaign which can force the employers to back-down and the government to ditch plans to top-slice the licence fee.
But our campaign shouldn’t just be about preserving the status quo – it should be about building genuine public service broadcasting – publicly-funded, catering for all and democratically accountable.
It’s time to build the fight-back.