Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fund tops £2k on eve of strike

As the clock ticks towards the launch of our strike action - we officially walkout at midnight - our strike fund has edged over the £2,000 mark. This is thanks to four very generous individual donations and funds from another NUJ chapel.

Our colleague and fellow union member, reporter Mark Stead , has given the fund £100 of his birthday money (for missing so many chapel meetings, he says). Then friends at Doncaster Free Press NUJ chapel pledged £50. The Mother of Chapel at Coventry Newspapers sent in £50 and Viriditas Opera - a York-based ensemble - sent us £50 on account of publicity for a forthcoming show likely being used in The Press during the strike. We also received an anonymous donation of £50.

This takes our total to £2,050 - a fantastic effort. The whole chapel sends its sincere thanks to everyone who has donated. More donations would be very welcome.

Moving, motivating messages

Some of the solidarity messages we've been receiving have been incredibly moving. Thanks to all who have sent their support to Five days is a long time to be out on the line. We'll be checking messages throughout so please keep them coming. Here's the latest:

"Until last week, my proudest moment in trades unionism was when the news came through that union recognition at the then York Evening Press had been secured, after a 20 year gap, by an overwhelming majority. Having been given the honour of jointly leading the fledgling chapel, it was inspiring to know that there was shared belief in trades unionism and the power that the workers can have. That moment was surpassed when I heard that York Press members had voted to strike for five days. That vote showed that the seeds sown by Tony K, Dave S, myself and all the other members had grown into the strong, united and active chapel we always knew they would. As you step into your action tomorrow, do not do so with any fear. Do so in the knowledge that there is strength in solidarity, that the workers have more influence than they often realise and that management - despite the impression they try and give - are hugely wary of an organised and united workforce. Everyone in our industry works extremely hard, a contribution of labour that generates enormous profits for the people at the top of the tree. We have never asked for the earth, only a fair, living wage, that reflects the effort we make, and good working conditions in which to operate. If these are not forthcoming, then the workers' strongest tool is the withdrawal of their labour. It is your right to do this - do not for one second feel guilty, scared, or that you are doing something wrong. Modern industrial action can be placed in the line of a long, British tradition, dating back to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, through the Jarrow Marchers and the Miners, up to modern day actions, such as those seen recently at the Express and Star newspapers. You are far from alone. See you on the picket line."

"All the best from the Herald chapel in Glasgow. A cheque's on the way as a small token of our support. Take heart from the fact that we took Newsquest on last year and forced them to back down over compulsory redundancies. They're back for more jobs this year and we've told them we'll pull the place down round their ears if they try to target a single NUJ member. More power to your arm. Your fight's everyone's fight. The small-minded beancounters who run Newsquest don't deserve to own British newspapers.""

On behalf of Edinburgh Freelance Branch, I'd like to wish you and all your members good luck in your pay dispute with Newsquest. Here in Scotland, we've seen the way the company operates, putting profit before people at The Herald and Evening Times in Glasgow, undermining hard-earned journalistic standards and damaging morale. By standing up against Newsquest, you are standing up for journalists across the country. Have strength!"

"Good luck with your strike action I am fully behind you as a member of the NUJ."

"Best wishes and our solidarity to you for the industrial action your chapel will be taking from Thursday. Our chapel members have had a 3% pay increase imposed on most of this year - apart from a chosen few - because there is no collective bargaining agreement. However, we are hoping to change that very soon as we are in the middle of a union recognition claim and we are hopeful that within a month or two the NUJ will be recognised and will be able to fight for better pay and conditions for the 43 NUJ members at the South Wales Evening Post. Can you pass on solidarity greetings too from the Swansea and District branch of the NUJ"

"Greetings all at the York Press. Just a note to congratulate you on your firm stand so far, to wish you all the best in the upcoming strike action and to send a strong message of support."

"Good luck with your action, it's good to know people are still prepared to fight for what they deserve."

"I'm a freelance journalist from Scotland. As someone who worked for Newsquest in Glasgow at The Herald until recently, I understand your grievances against a company who's practices are doing nothing to enhance quality journalism and, furthermore, are detrimental to democracy. I congratulate all of you for taking this stand and I fully support your cause.""Congratulations on a superb campaign. The insulting pay offer you have received shows just how divorced from reality Gannett bosses really are. Having lived in York for five years and having worked with Press journalists on an almost daily basis I know what a committed and talented bunch of people you all are - making the Press a vibrant community newspaper that serves the city very well. I also know though how expensive it became to live there and how the recent economic troubles have added to those costs - so the pay claim you are making is a very modest one. So good luck with your strike and respect and solidarity."

"We are just about to start pay talks in Sheffield, so it is especially good to see someone fighting for a living wage! None of us can afford to settle for derisory pay 'increases', especially with the credit crunch and cost of living price rises. It's about time our bosses felt it in their pockets, rather than the workers having to pay for their share dividends yet again. Best wishes from Sheffield; let us know what we can do to help."

"Good luck with your strike. I've found, as a previous Glasgow Newsquest employee, it's the only action Newsquest listens to!"

"All the best for your strike at the Press and the weekly Gazette & Herald. Although working in a separate sector, and a different geographical area, the outcome of your action will have huge implications for us and every other member of the union. With the financial situation worsening, employers across the publishing world are going all out to cut costs, staffing levels and reduce our pay and conditions. Not a week goes by in London's magazine sector without more bad news on redundancies and below-inflation pay increases. But there is also growing resistance. A victory for you will boost confidence to increase that resistance."

"As a life member of the NUJ - and a former provincial journalist with the Bolton Evening News for over 30 years, all the very best of luck for Thursday. I remember being out on strike for over 8 weeks during the big provincial newspaper dispute in the 70's, and running as it did thru' Christmas. It's hard but worth it. You are drawn closer together and gain great strength for your cause. I hope to be able to pop down to your picket line sometime during the strike."

"We'd like to express our solidarity with editorial staff at the Press, who are doing our profession proud by standing up to their greedy bosses. We don't have a chapel here in Northamptonshire, but we do have a growing NUJ membership of journalists who are fed up with poor pay offers and terrible working conditions. I do know some of your contingent from my time at the Selby Times, so I know you all do a grand job and deserve a decent salary to reflect the great standard of journalism at the Press. All the best with the strike. I do hope you will get the positive outcome you are hoping for. NUJ members at the Northants Evening Telegraph."

"I am a freelance member of the NUJ in Dewsbury. I am writing to let you know that as your strike action begins my thoughts and support are with you. I have been a journalist for 19 years and understand fully that pay and conditions have deteriorated to a level that is not right. I hope fully that as a result of your strike action the managers and directors will wake up and realise the value of your work every day. We live in tough times and our democratic and free country is facing more and more challenges than ever before. I fully support your strike and hope that managers and directors at Newsquest in York will stop the hoarding of cash and profits and become willing to pay and reward you better for the work that you do. I'm sorry that I do not have the cash to support you during your strike action. But I trust that you will gain some moral support from my email. I shall also be writing to the directors of Newsquest to cast shame upon them. Our industry of newspaper journalism is one of the most important industries in a free society and yet in recent years journalists have tolerated hardship, low wages, long hours and have landed at the very bottom of the pay scale in some cases being paid less than supermarket checkout staff. I know that you will all be losing money for your strike but have hope as you are all doing your bit to improve pay and working conditions and your strike has to be applauded as you are sending a clear message out to companies that you deserve the fees and the security for the work that you do at Newsquest. With best wishes. I hope that the sun shines for you over the days of your industrial action and that you received plenty of backing. Also I hope deeply that as a result of your strike action that you achieve the results and improvements in pay and conditions that you are looking for. I shall be rooting for you."

NUJ president backs strikers

We're happy to report the full weight of the NUJ is behind our strike. Our officials have been outstanding and the help and support we've had so far has been immense. Now James Doherty, the NUJ's President, has got behind union members in York, by sending this message of support to the picket line:

"The NUJ fully supports the action taken by members in York who are standing up for quality journalism against the destructive profiteering of Newsquest and their American paymasters.

"Time after time, quality journalism is being squandered to satisfy US shareholders greed. We must stand united against the savage attacks on our industry and I am sure that by taking this stand, we
will send a clear message to Newsquest that enough is enough."

MP stands up for journalism

Phil Willis, Lib Dem MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, has given a statement in support of NUJ members at The Press, which covers part of his constituency, and the Gazette & Herald. He had this to say:
“As a local MP and resident of York I have relied on the professionalism of the
journalists at the Press for over 25 years. The standard of copy and accuracy of
reporting often complex stories is due to the high standard of journalism. The
speedier this unnecessary dispute is settled and local journalists are treated
with respect and parity the better.”

On song for the strike

Organising for the strike has been an inspiring experience. We've received tremendous support from other journalists and trade unionists. Everywhere we go, people are saying: we back your stand. It has also been a chance for chapel members to get together, discuss ideas and work collectively in the battle for better pay.

One of our members has been moved to write and record a song to mark our five-day action. Here, Richard Foster, a subeditor on The Press and the paper's folk music reviewer, explains how folk music dovetails with the history of people's struggles in England. Below are lyrics to the strike song; a recording and video will follow.
I have never been on strike in nearly 30 years as a journalist, although I’ve reported on quite a few, most memorably the miners’ strike between 1984 and 1985 when I worked for local radio in Lancashire.

So the decision by members of the National Union of Journalists at The Press, in York, to strike after eight months of fruitless pay negotiations had a big impact on me. It really churned me up. I could not settle until I had written some lyrics about the strike. I had voted against industrial action and writing this song helped me to come to terms with what it meant to go on strike.

Show Of Hands are an acclaimed folk band based in Devon. Their songwriter and main vocalist Steve Knightley wrote a song called Things I Learnt This Year. His chorus seemed to me to sum up the situation faced by those involved in the dispute, so I set about writing new verses about the York strike.

Throughout England’s history, while peasants and workers were marching, striking, fighting and being
punished by the state, radical ballads and songs have been written so the stories of particular struggles could be passed on to future generations.

For example, The Cutty Wren was written during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, the Diggers Song was written in 1649 when the Diggers tried to build communities on waste land, Poverty Knock is a factory workers’ song inspired by dark, satanic mills, Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire is a First World War
marching song while Coal Not Dole was written during the miners’ strike of 1984 and 1985.

Now there’s a song about this year’s NUJ strike in York. If it helps to get our message across and lifts spirits on the picket line, then it will have served its purpose.
Things I Learnt This Year (Strike Version)
(by Steve Knightley, of Show Of Hands, with additional lyrics by Richard Foster)

Don’t tell the world about the deal, ’til the contract’s signed and sealed.
It’s always those that didn’t pay, who cross picket lines and work all day
Drink to the fortune of your friends. Don’t waste time predicting trends.
How strange the boss who let it slip at the bar and lost his grip

Chorus: You can be right – standing in the wrong place. You can be wrong – footed in the rat race. You can be tight, drinking ’til your head’s clear. Here’s another list of things I learnt this year.

Swap your pens for placards by nine. Hand out leaflets on the picket line.
Broadcast news on cyber space. Keep the union on the case.
A hundred years of low pay, now’s the time to win the day.
Three heads that shine in the noon-day sun leave their mark on everyone.

Chorus: You can be right ­– standing in the wrong place. You can be wrong – footed in the rat race. You can be tight, drinking ’til your head’s clear. Here’s another list of things I learnt this year.

Buy your food from family firms. Say goodnight on friendly terms.
Filling The Press with PR guff simply is not good enough.
Sing it out loud and clear: “Come on readers, join us here”
Remember those who have no voice. We’ve a strike to win, we’ve made our choice.

Chorus: You can be right – standing in the wrong place. You can be wrong – footed in the rat race. You can be tight, drinking ’til your head’s clear. Here’s another list of things I learnt this year.

Repeat chorus and end with “You can be right”

Yesterday, once more

We've been rooting through the archives stored in The Press's library to learn about the NUJ's very first strike, which took place at The Yorkshire Herald, in the city, in 1911.

Apparently the genealogy of our titles goes something like this. Most of our members work on The Press, which was founded as the Yorkshire Evening Press in 1882, and first dropped the Yorkshire and then the Evening parts of its name. The latter was ditched after the switch to overnight publishing and a round of redundancies by Newsquest in 2006.

Some of our members work on the Gazette & Herald, a weekly for Ryedale in north Yorkshire. This was formed in 1954 - originally as the Yorkshire Gazette and Herald - after the amalgamation of The Yorkshire Herald (founded 1890), pictured, and the Yorkshire Gazette (founded 1819).

The Yorkshire Herald's previous incarnation was the York Herald, which was published from 1790 to 1889. The paper's title can still be seen carved in stone on the river-facing side of York's City Screen cinema, which formed part of The Press's offices until the move to its current base in 1989.

Now that's cleared up, let's return to the strike of 1911. We turn to the excellent Journalists: 100 years of the NUJ, by Tim Gopsill and Greg Neale:

The NUJ's first strike was also its longest. It began in 1911 and went on for 11 years.

It was not about pay, but working hours: the reporters at the York Herald, a morning paper, were 'the hardest driven of all the daily papers in the country', working from 9.30am to midnight or even 2am, seven days a week. The chief reporter, Clifford Nixon, was sacked for 'misconduct' after two years of cautious NUJ attempts to alleviate the Dickensian conditions; his offence had been to suggest ways of doing this. The union-approved plan included allowing each employee one day off a week and employing two new reporters; by now so many had become ill from overwork and had left that there were only four to cover the whole of East Yorkshire. No formal NUJ chapel had been formed, but Nixon had been acting as a spokesman for the staff. He became the union's first 'martyr' and it looked after him, quickly finding him a better job in Fleet Street.

All the other reporters quit - one of them even offering the company his month's notice money to get out; it was accepted. The union then blacklisted the paper, announced that any journalist who took work there would be expelled, and went to some lengths to stop young reporters filling the vacant jobs. It was only in 1922 that the ban was lifted. Henry Richardson later wrote that the action was 'both effective and ineffective. It did not improve conditions in the office at the time but it improved them in many another bad office'.

To buy Journalists: 100 years of the NUJ, by Tim Gopsill and Greg Neale, log on to the NUJ's online shop here

Support goes global

News of our strike has spread far and wide. We've been inundated with messages of support from as far afield as New York, where a former Press reporter is now based, and posties in Bristol. These have been a great boost for our morale, so please keep them coming. Email

Here's a selection of the latest messages:

"Just wishing you good luck for the strike - we're heading in the same direction with Johnston Press as they aren't budging from a 3% pay increase either! I'm part of the South Yorkshire NUJ chapel who are fighting for the same thing - respect for what we do. It's totally unfair and ridiculous how they are treating journalists - even working in a mind-numbing factory to get paid more and work less sounds more appealing at the moment!"

"We at Bristol North Delivery Office have heard of your struggle for fair pay and conditions, and are greatly encouraged by your determination to fight. Last year we took strike action against a bullying management set on wrecking our jobs, and we have emerged successful from our own dispute. We were always grateful for the support we received, and now offer our support to you in your struggle. We are sure you will be successful, a victory for you would strengthen the trade union movement. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you need our support, be it solidarity, financial or how you see fit. Please keep us informed as to any developments. Yours in solidarity. Unit Rep and the Bristol NDO CWU Committee."

"Message of solidarity from London. It is time that more journalists and especially NUJ members took strike action against worsening conditions and pay as employers try to squeeze the last little profit out of us."

"Good luck. Having been at the Press when the Union was formed six or so years ago, I wish you all the best. Going to be a hard struggle but you are right to stand together."

"Good luck guys! I'll be sending you good thoughts from New York. As a former Press reporter, I know what an amazing job all of you do. You put in 100% and more, and it is ridiculous how little Newsquest value their staff and quality journalism. I was proud to be part of the forming of an NUJ chapel in York and even prouder to see you all stand up for what you believe. Go for it!"