Thursday, May 22, 2008

General Secretary fully behind fight

We are very fortunate to have the full weight of the NUJ behind us in our dispute; the support from officials has been outstanding. It is reassuring to know we have 30,000-odd fellow union journalists backing us to the hilt. Today, Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary
I am sorry I haven't been able to get to York today for the first day of the strike - I have texted a message of support to you. Just to reinforce that message - you have the support of the whole union in your struggle for fairer wages. It is absurd for the company to argue they cannot afford to meet your claim - they are one of the world's most profitable media companies. The reality is they choose not to meet the claim - they would rather reward shareholders than journalists. Your action is part of a wider campaign to put investment in journalists and journalism back at the heart of our industry. Your action is a vital part of that fight. That's why we're all backing you, why we all wish you success. Your victory is our victory. In solidarity.
Then, we received this message from Pete Murray, the union's vice-president and the deputy FoC at Glasgow Broadcasting Chapel:
I just wanted to wish everyone in the chapel all the very best wishes for your action. A decision to take such sustained industrial action shows determination and unity which is an inspiration to all NUJ members. I'm out of the UK at the moment, so I won't be able to visit your picket lines but please pass on my apologies to the members - and my good wishes for a speedy victory in your campaign.

York MP issues strike statement

We've been appealing to readers, councillors, MPs and other public figures to back our stand for decent pay. Hugh Bayley, MP for the City of York, has given us this message in a letter to the chapel:

Your newspaper plays an important part in the life and politics of York. The public rely on it for information, to enable them to hold politicians and other public figures to account. I am sorry that your dispute has reached the point of a strike, as I am sure you are, because the public will not be so well informed when so many journalists are not available for work. I hope that you and Newsquest (York) will reach a solution soon. It is definitely not in York's interests for this dispute to escalate into a long-term stoppage.

Messages boost line's morale

Many more moving messages of support have been emailed to us at Experienced activists promised us we'd get backing from our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement. But we are simply overwhelmed by the level of solidarity. Thank you and please keep them coming. Here are the latest:

I write to express my support in your plight for a fair pay rise, at least, in line with inflation. I find it appalling that with the long, unsocial hours journalists work that Newsquest are unable to support their staff fairly. I think it is time for Steve Hughes to take his role as MD seriously before he loses a dedicated team. It's hard to make a stand especially with families to support but you should all be proud that you are and stay in the knowledge that friends and family are all supporting you.

The NUJ Chapel at BBC Radio York supports our colleagues at The Press in your dispute.

Best wishes for your action. I have argued for some time that "local negotiations" are a complete sham. Hopefully your action will lead to some changes. Just wanted to send my support to you all. I spent a few days at the Press last year and knew then some journalists were unhappy with pay and conditions, so good on you all for standing up for yourselves. I feel quite isolated where I work as there is no chapel and branch meetings are 70 miles away, so it is good to know there is another group of activists nearby-ish. Looks like good striking weather anyway!

Good luck. Keep up the good work. All the very best from a northern exile in London. (& it's certainly not paved with gold for most of us drones)

Hi guys - all the best for the strike - good luck with getting a decent pay rise!

Best wishes for the dispute. Hope you get some movement from management. ex-Gazette & Herald

On behalf of members at the Oxford Mail chapel can I salute your stand for better pay and true collective bargaining. Your fight can only inspire all of us working for Newsquest to resist the driving down of wages. We will hold a collection for your strike fund today.

Good luck to you all in your dispute. Your claim is entirely justified and I hope you win through.

Just heard about the strike and want to wish all of you well. Journalists deserve pay and respect.

Members of the Doncaster Free Press NUJ chapel wish you great success in your strike action. I know it is a difficult time because our chapel was out for 13 days in the summer of 2006. Although the company (JP) refused to publicly back down, within six months we had a major pay review which took the lowest grades up by 12-18%!

Just a quick note to say congratulations and good luck for the strike. It's fantastic to see the chapel going from strength to strength - you (we, I suppose) should have taken this action years ago! As an outsider looking in, it beggars belief that you can be treated so badly.

Just read about your strike. I think you are all very brave and hope that you get a much fairer deal as a result.

Here at Johnston Press we are going through turbulent times to with a number of editorial, advertising and admin staff being made redundant. Most of the weekly papers are going to be left with just a staff of two!!!

Congratulations on your industrial action. We took two days' action last year and it really shook the company. It's the only power you have and you have to use it or we will all be ground down. The more Chapels who take a stand the more the employers will see they can't get away with the rubbish they dish out. It benefits us all. We won above inflation (RPI) pay rises for two years and a few improved conditions. We are still fighting for an extra day's holiday. Very best wishes from us all at the North West Evening Mail in Barrow.

I have just emailed your MD Steve Hughes saying that this dispute was completely avoidable had his local management entered into meaningful negotiations with the NUJ. I also told him that it is utterly unrealistic to expect you to settle for 3% when real inflation is over 4% and food inflation is over 10%. I also reminded him that there was no reason why he shouldn't be paying all weekly and monthly seniors a minimum of £20K a year and all evening and morning seniors a minimum of £26K a year. After all, you're all worth it!

My thoughts are with you, my cash will be with you after pay day... good luck.

Good luck in the Grand Old Dispute of York.

Never forget. You are right and they are wrong.

Just to wish my NUJ colleagues at York all the best in their action this week. Something needs to be done to halt the decline in pay and standards at this company.

Ex-boss backs strikers

It's not only trade unionists and fellow workers who showed support for us - the bosses have too, or at least one former boss in particular.

Dave Nicholson, once editor of what was then the Yorkshire Evening Press (since cut back to The Press by Newsquest) visited the strikers' line today to wish us well. The stories I have heard of Dave's time at the helm was that he was a decent man who cared about his staff, although of course their pay was still poor even then. But he at least recognised that. Today, he dropped by with two bags full of Thornton's chocolate goodies for all the strikers. Dave, we salute you.

£3k to fight for fair pay

Our strike fund goes from strength to strength. On the eve of the strike the total broke through the £2,000 mark. Now - after only one day's action - we are headed towards £3,000. Some of the superb donations we received today included:
  • £300 from the Oxford branch
  • £100 from the South Yorkshire NUJ Branch and Rotherham Advertiser
  • £50 from a much-missed former colleague
  • £50 from the Mother of Chapel at Coventry Newspapers
  • £75 from our NUJ organiser
  • £50 from the Doncaster Free Press Chapel
We also had a pledge of a donation from Bradford Telegraph & Argus NUJ Chapel and members of the public threw about £50 into our collection bucket.

That takes us to a grand total of £2,725 - simply unbelievable. Please everyone, keep the donations coming. Thank you to all who have shown such wonderful solidarity.

Councillors speak out

With today being the date of City of York Council's annual meeting - and the handover for the Lord Mayor of York - there were plenty of local politicians in town. We were greatly encouraged when Labour group leader Coun David Scott and his colleague Coun James Alexander (pictured above with Fathers of Chapel Sam Southgate and Tony Kelly) visited our picket line to express their firm support for York journalists.

Later on, the Green Party group leader Coun Andy D'Agorne stopped by to offer his backing. Then, to complete a hat-trick of political groups, Coun Ceredig Jamieson-Ball, Liberal Democrat councillor for Heslington, visited the picket line and sent us this message of support:

"It is important that employees in York are able to earn similar rates of pay as other workers. It seems to me that Newsquest are trying to take advantage of York journalists. They should be offered the same rate as elsewhere."
While all this was going on, the Lord Mayor of York's limousine drove past our picket, with the civic party on board. The driver gave us a toot. We like the fact one of the new mayor Coun Brian Watson's first acts in office was supporting our strike. Good on you, Brian.

We offer all these councillors our sincere thanks for showing such solidarity.

Help us to press our case

The management of The Press and the Gazette & Herald are trying their best to ignore our action. Of course, the paper has barely covered the strike beyond a four-par "business as usual" story. (How much commitment does that show to bringing the news to our readers?) They have even drafted in bosses from elsewhere in Newsquest - including Northern Echo editor Peter Barron - to act as reporters and subeditors. So there are plenty of Jags in the car park today.

In light of all this, we are appealing to our friends, supporters and fellow trade unionists to make sure this action cannot simply be brushed under the carpet. Please log on to The Press and the Gazette & Herald websites and use the comments facility on stories to post messages of support and this website address.

Singing up for the strikers

As previously reported on this site, one of our members, subeditor Richard Foster, has written and recorded a folk song to mark the strike by NUJ journalists at The Press. You can now view this video and hear Richard's explanation about his reasons for recording the song on YouTube by clicking here or on the video panel below. We have also made a CD of the track. This is a wonderful statement by Richard. As he himself admits, he voted against strike action but was inspired by the collective passion shown by members in fighting for a fair wage.

Richard will also be performing this song at the Black Swan pub, in Peasholme Green, in York, tonight at 7.30pm.

Pizza for pickets

Picketing is hungry work. But we we've been replenished throughout the day by two friends of the union. One delivered a batch of 25 muffins and doughnuts for elevenses. Then a supporter in Newsquest York's advertising department brought us four pizzas donated by Dillons Bridge Fisheries, in Burton Stone Lane, in Clifton, York. There was further solidarity from fellow workers. One department brought out two boxes of Heroes chocolates, while another good friend in advertising supplies sausage rolls. Thank you all for the solidarity.

Another MP backs our actions

Selby MP John Grogan has got behind our chapel and has issued a statement of support. John supported us in a similar way on Stand Up For Journalism Day, in November, issuing a statement, writing to the editor and signing up to the NUJ's Early Day Motion in Parliament. So thanks, John.

Here's what he has to say on our strike:

“I fully support the NUJ chapel in York in their action. The quality of journalism at The Press is high but it will be under threat if staff are not offered decent terms and conditions. In order to retain talented journalists who can cover stories in North Yorkshire with flair and insight for the benefit of The Press’s loyal readership, Newsquest management has a responsibility to negotiate a decent deal which provides adequate rewards.”

What the Dickens?!

While we are on the picket line battling for decent pay and conditions, we are keen to pay tribute to the trade unionists of yesteryear who made so much progress by fighting for working people.

We are particularly keen to honour those heroes who took part in the NUJ's first ever strike - at the York Herald in 1911 - over Dickensian conditions that saw them working 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

In this vein, four of our members borrowed Edwardian costumes from York Theatre Royal to press home the point that nearly 100 years later trade unions are still fighting on these issues.

Despite scorching temperatures, our four intrepid members trekked around the centre of York handing out fliers and talking to shoppers about our strike.

Pictured in front of York Minster, the four also gatecrashed the Lord Mayor's Procession (the city's ceremonial leader was handing over the baton today). The support from councillors there was massive, with many members of City of York Council and their staff backing our stand.

Multi-media is working for us

The strike has enjoyed tremendous coverage on Radio and TV today. Pre-recorded interviews with Minster FM and BBC Radio York have been running throughout the day on the stations' news bulletins.

Both Calendar - ITV's news proggrame for Yorkshire - and the BBC's Look North visited the picket line today to capture footage of the strikers and record interview with chapel members. We were featured on both programmes' lunchtime news slots. Management declined to speak to either station so it was left to us to put across our view. So much the better.

We're thrilled with the coverage, es
pecially given The Press's management's decision to virtually ignore the fact that about 25 of their staff are camped outside their office protesting at their deplorable pay. According to the weasel words on The Press's website, it is "business as usual". You could have fooled us, guys...

All out for fair pay

It has been a brilliant first morning of action at The Press and the Gazette & Herald's headquarters in Walmgate, York. More than 25 union members and supporters turned out on the first day of our five-day strike over pay.

We started early - at 7.30am - and we were early enough to wave our placards at management as they slunk into the car park. Later colleagues in the (non-unionised) advertising and circulation department expressed their support as they arrived at work.

The backing from members of the public was immense, with countless drivers responding to our "Honk for fair pay" placards. There was much interest in our stall - more than 1,000 people took leaflets before lunchtime - and our strike paper The Stress, which covered the dispute in depth, was also popular on the picket line.

Colleagues from York Unison came and joined the picket line early on and at lunchtime, while the postal workers in the CWU gave us their backing. Messages of support have also been flooding in by text to the picket line. Thank you to everyone who is supporting us. We've had solidarity greetings from:

  • Brent Trades Council
  • The Guardian's media desk
  • Irish NUJ members
  • Manchester Mental Health Branch Unison
  • NUJ members at Northcliffe in Bristol
  • British Association of Occupational Therapists members in Manchester
  • Manchester trade unionist Karen Reismann
  • NUJ East Yorkshire Branch
  • Kyran Connolly, NUJ National Executive Committee member for books
  • NUJ South Yorkshire Branch and the Rotherham Advertiser Chapel
  • NUJ Newsquest Bradford Chapel
  • NUJ Newsquest Darlington Chapel
  • NUJ BBC Lonndon Branch
  • NUJ Book Branch members
  • NUJ members at Minster FM
  • Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ National Executive Committee member for newspapers and Mother of Chapel at Express Newspapers
  • Members of the PCS union
  • NUJ Coventry Newspapers Chapel
  • NUJ Sheffield Newspapers Chapel
  • NUJ London Press and PR Branch
  • NUJ News Shopper Chapel
  • Ian Allinson, Unite executive council member
  • Miles Barter, NUJ Manchester Branch
  • NUJ Scottish office
  • Kate Carr, NUJ BBC and Wales Council
  • Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary
  • LexisNexis NUJ negotiating team
  • NUJ Scotland
  • NUJ Evening Echo/Irish Examiner Chapel
  • NUJ Bolton News and Bury Times Chapel
  • and NUJ members in Cardiff, Manchester, York and Leeds

Commons motion for strike

MPs from the NUJ Parliamentary Group sent messages of solidarity to the 34 NUJ members at Newsquest York who are embarking today on a five-day strike following on from management’s refusal to match pay offers given to journalists at other Newsquest centres. The below-inflation pay-offer comes as journalists are already struggling with increased workloads, understaffing and attacks on their pensions.

John McDonnell MP, Secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary Group, said: “Journalists have demanding and high-pressured jobs. Their hard work provides us with information about the world around us – this is vital to any democratic society. Poor conditions, increased workloads, understaffing and inadequate pay threatens the quality of journalism and therefore threatens the quality of public debate.

“I offer my solidarity with the NUJ members at Newsquest York striking over pay and conditions and urge the management to listen to these concerns by entering into meaningful negotiations with the NUJ and initiate fair pay immediately.”

The NUJ Parliamentary Group will be tabling an Early Day Motion (EDM) in support of the strike as soon as Parliament is next sitting and will use every parliamentary mechanism available to raise this issue with the government."

The full text of the EDM reads:

That this House notes with disappointment the below inflation pay rise offered to journalists at Newsquest York; further notes that Gannett, Newsquest's US parent company, made a profit last year of over $1 billion; is concerned that the journalists at Newsquest York work hard to deliver good quality local news to the community in difficult circumstances of increasing workloads and understaffing; believes that high quality journalism is essential to any democratic society and recognises that poor conditions and inadequate pay threatens this provision; supports the strike action taken by NUJ members at Newsquest York and urges the management to enter into meaningful dialogue with staff over pay and conditions.

Edwardian strike over 'Dickensian conditions'

The 34 NUJ members at Newsquest York are today starting their first of five days of strike action about pay at the Press and Gazette & Herald newspapers. The strike is due to end just before midnight on Bank Holiday Monday.

The dispute comes nearly 100 years after the first NUJ strike in York in 1911, where members at the York Herald - now amalgamated into the weekly title - took action over Dickensian working conditions. The chapel will be wearing Edwardian costumes on the picket line to commemorate the previous struggle, which took eleven years to resolve!

Joint Father of Chapel, Sam Southgate, said: “NUJ members at Newsquest York often feel as if we are still working in Dickensian conditions, our pay is certainly something which is stuck in the past. Currently staff at The Press and Gazette & Herald are paid considerably less than the average wage in York of £30,000. Trainee journalists start on just £13,500 a year.

"Our members feel they have been pushed into taking this action by management's refusal to negotiate. We only hope that we don't have to wait eleven years to reach a settlement."

Members are particularly angry that management will not match pay-offers given to journalists at other Newsquest centres. The below-inflation pay-offer comes against a background of increased workloads, understaffing and attacks on members’ pensions.