Friday, May 23, 2008
We also featured on the Hold The Front Page website today and at Journalism.co.uk, although the latter article looks at the video journalism angle. In a nutshell, we balloted for industrial action over this issue in December because of a lack of training, a shortage of reporters and there being no extra pay for the new skills. We called off the action after Steve Hughes promised 0.5% of budget towards payments for this. However, in the ongoing pay talks, this changed to become simply "merit money" for the editor to reward who he likes. It seems management are not even intending to spend this money.
Fundamentally, though, this strike is down to low pay and a below-inflation pay offer that we cannot accept.
In his letter to the York strikers, Bradford Father of Chapel, Bob Smith, said:
On behalf of members of the Newsquest Bradford Chapel, I'd like to wish you success with your action in support of better pay and conditions.Thanks very much to Bob and all those at Bradford for showing such wonderful solidarity. Please everyone, keep the donations coming.
Newsquest makes vast profits on the backs of its workers and ships most of it back to its US shareholders. Investment in its companies is minimal and its long-term strategy non-existent. NUJ members' standards of living fall further with every below-inflation wage settlement the company offers. How your managing director Steve Hughes can call a three per cent offer "increasingly attractive" when inflation is soaring above four per cent and food prices are up by more than seven per cent is mindboggling and shows how out of touch our managers are.
Hughes's take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum with the company's offer indicates a Victorian vindictiveness which is completely out of place in the 21st century.
All of which is why we applaud your decision to take strike action, and why I and my chapel members are right behind you. Your fight is for every journalist in Newsquest and is vital at a time when management are set to hack even more resources from a company which has already been pared to the bone.
The story concerning former York City captain Manny Panther's prospective move to Exeter City was entirely missed by The Press. But fans could still find out the news thanks to the strike paper, 1,250 of which were handed out yesterday. The Stress is carrying a mixture of news about the strike and exclusive stories readers only available to the dedicated journalists on the picket line. We are set for another three exclusive stories in Saturday's edition.
Joint Father of Chapel, Tony Kelly, said the support for the strike has been brilliant. He said: "We are overwhelmed by the support we have received from the public, councillors and our colleague inside the building. Countless numbers of drivers are 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 covers the dispute in depth, was also popular on the picket line. We even managed to secure an exclusive story in the sports pages which The Press had not heard about.
"The weather has been perfect with glorious sunshine. The managing director came out yesterday and tried to dampen our spirits by telling us it would rain but he was wrong.
"I give you my wholehearted support in this strike action. The issue of fair pay goes to the heart of any decent society. Life in this country is becoming impossibly expensive. A difference of £1,700 a year in two journalists pay packets amounts to a whole year's council tax . It is simply and obviously unfair that even within the region rates of pay vary dramatically, when the cost of living doesn't. You have my support."The chapel would like to extend its thanks to Susan for her efforts.
Early on Tracey Simpson-Laing, a Labour member of City of York Council, dropped by on her bicycle to give us some chocolate muffins. Shortly after, her colleague and leader of the Labour group, David Scott, visited the picket again to pass on his best wishes.
In mid-morning Alan Hughes, Newsquest York's official chaplain, and vicar at St Deny's Church, a few hundred metres from the offices in Walmgate, wished us well. Although he is unable to take an official line on the dispute, he said he believed the church should take an interest and said he had told management he would not cross the picket line.
Fellow York trade unionists were also out in force today. We were visited by Linda Cartwright, the York PCS Branch secretary; Andy Stainforth, the T&GWU rep for First York buses; and Frank Ormston, a TSSA rep at Network Rail. We also received a call from Paul Clays, the CWU at the city's Royal Mail sorting office. They all said their members and branches are giving us their full support.
Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ National Executive Committee member for newspapers and also Mother of Chapel at Express newspapers, in London, phoned to send solidarity greetings and to see how we were getting on. Hopefully Michelle will be visiting the picket line on Monday. We were happy to see two members of the Yorkshire Post/Yorkshire Evening Post Joint NUJ Chapel - Mike Cowling and Richard Edwards - on the line. Leeds NUJ members have contributed £750 to our strike fund and we are hugely grateful for their solidarity.
Support from motorists, bus drivers and council workers was again high - with almost constant honking of horns on the street. Friends inside the building have told us all the noise can clearly be heard inside the editorial floor, which one staff member described as "a cross between a cemetery and Sainsbury's at midnight". We're determined to keep on making our point to the bosses inside the building.
During the day we received a chocolate egg from York City Football Club's mascot, Yorkie the Lion, and text messages of support from the following:
- Tim Lezard, Gloucestershire NUJ Branch and South West TUC
- Richard Simcox, NUJ London Press & PR Branch
- Tom Davies, NUJ NEC member and London Freelance Branch
- Richard Edwards, Leeds NUJ Branch
- and NUJ members and supporters in West Yorkshire, York and Leicestershire
Another great day on the picket line. Everyone had fun, and enjoyed the sun and solidarity. We'll be back again on Saturday, bright and early to continue our campaign for fair pay.
Outside the Walmgate offices of The Press and the Gazette & Herald, strikers and members of the public were of one voice thrilled by an al fresco concert by The Press subeditor and NUJ member Richard Foster.
He opened his pavement gig with the self-penned Things I Learnt This Year, written as part of the five-day campaign against a derisory three per cent pay offer from Newsquest (York). Click on the video panel below to see some footage of the performance (apologies for the quality).
As strikers joined in, Fozzy, backed by the Fozettes, had Walmgate jumping, pictured. The concert continued with equal gusto and a flurry of favourite tunes including Redemption Song, Quinn The Eskimo, Snoopy And The Red Baron, Joe Hill and Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, before launching into an even more rousing reprise of his heartfelt strike ballad.
His song was first aired in public at a special folk concert given by star American folk singer Dana Robinson. During the gig at the Black Swan Folk Club, Robinson dedicated a protest song in tribute to the striking journalists and photographers whose newspapers belong to the Newsquest empire, owned by American parent company Gannett, which made $1 billion profit last year. To hear the song in full, log on to our YouTube site here.
York Respect/Left List fully supports your strike. It's a scandal that employers are pleading poverty and offering "rises" that amount to pay cuts at a time when prices of life's necessities are rising much faster than the official inflation rate. The looming recession was not created by workers, and we should not be made to pay for it through pay cuts, job cuts, or attacks on our public services as companies try to boost their profits at our expense, and government slashes social spending to subsidise its wars. The fantastic support for your strike from all over the country gives the lie to the idea that recent elections demonstrate a mass shift to the right. In fact, strikes are becoming more popular as ordinary people look for ways to resist the impact of attacks from bosses and government.
York Respect/Left List
Bookshop behind us
Good luck with your fight for a living wage. The fact that you have taken a stand should inspire other journalists and private sector workers to take on the corporations and stand up for fairness and respect at work. Unity is strength!
Jonathan Maunder on behalf of Bookmarks - the UK's biggest socialist bookshop and appointed bookseller to the TUC.
Cutting to the bone
Good luck with the strike. It is sad that journalists have to take this kind of action to secure a wage that doesn't even keep up with inflation and still remains appallingly low by anyone's standards, especially for what, people forget, is a professional job. I congratulate you for standing up to the bosses, who, like ours - Trinity Mirror - are using the downturn in the economy as an excuse for more pitifully poor pay offers and cannot even ensure parity between employees on different titles. It's shameful that management plead poverty yet splurge millions on director's salaries, and that they only try to compound what advertising income they have retained rather than investing to increase it, like good businesspeople would. Journalism will continue to suffer if ruthless companies like Newsquest wear away at the integrity of its editorial staff and its titles by trying to batter and exhaust its employees into submission with low pay, increasing workloads and a deplorable and embarassing lack of investment.
Ian Proctor - FoC West London and Bucks NUJ Chapel
Admire chapel's courage
Just wanted to say that I wholly support your action and admire your courage for taking it. You are sending a very powerful message to Newsquest and your example will give confidence and hope to other journalists in a similar position. I will join you on the picket line over the weekend!
Sandra Geere, York NUJ Branch member
No overtime paid
As a fellow Newsquest journalist, I wish you all the best in your dispute. It's not as though we are well paid. A rookie police constable earns more than many highly experienced journalists with years of service. Unlike the police, we do not get overtime.
Trade union tradition
For the first time in twenty years teachers took national strike action three weeks ago. Your stand in favour of true journalism as opposed to profiteering garbage is in the best traditions of trade unionism. Solidarity greetings from Leicester NUT.
Peter Flack, assistant secretary
We'll move mountains
Wishing all success to the chapel their strength is our strength; with it we can move mountains and will.
John Fray, retiring NUJ deputy general secretary
Teachers support strike
Best wishes to you all in your struggle.
Howard Stevenson (UCU & NUT)
Greetings from Manchester
Greetings from the NUJ chapel at the Manchester Evening News - don't let them grind you down, you have a valid case and deserve better. Best of luck.
Judy Gordon, MoC
During their gig at the Black Swan Folk Club on Thursday night, Dana said: “The journalists in York are very brave to go out on strike. It really does seem to be the right thing to do. Inflation keeps going up and when people don’t get paid more, they get restless.”
As a tribute to the strikers, he played a song he composed about the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie entitled What Would Woody Do? The final verse starts: “He’d say when you find a thing that’s wrong, put your finger on it. ‘Cause you don’t have to be a poet to write a song about it. You’re gonna get your point across if it’s anywhere near true. What would Woody do?”
Before the duo sang their tribute to the strikers, one of them, Richard Foster, went to the front with his guitar to sing his protest song about the strike. Things I Learnt This Year (Strike Version), based on a Show Of Hands song, was well received by members of the audience who admired the stand taken by the striking journalists. Many read copies of the strike newspaper, which were distributed at the Black Swan pub, in York, and voiced messages of support.
Dana and Susan Robinson are touring the United Kingdom to promote their latest album Round My Door. Go to the website for more details.
Below are two letters that have been sent to Steve by supporters:
Local community will suffer
Dear Steve, I'm emailing you to express my support for the journalists currently on strike at the Press and concern that a once much valued local paper has been reduced to treating its staff so badly. As a York resident for over 14 years I have always relied on the journalists working for the Press to keep me informed about what is happening in my community in an informative and relevant way. As a charity fundraiser and musician I am only too aware that without coverage in The Press the cultural and social life of York would be greatly impoverished. Without sufficient properly paid and committed journalists covering local issues and events you simply cannot produce a paper that should properly be seen as a keystone of our city and as such the relevance (and readership) of The Press will disappear. As an employer I feel it is demeaning to your staff to offer a 3% pay rise when real inflation is over 4% and food inflation is over 10%. We in the charity sector have recognised that you really do get what you pay for in the end and it is both exploitative and self defeating to expect staff to work in these conditions. As a company that makes a considerable profit off the hard work of your employees I can see no reason why you feel the need to adopt your current position other than sheer greed. I therefore very much hope you will recognise the legitimacy of your employees position and revise your pay offer, allowing the journalists of the Press to return to what they does best, providing relevant local coverage and comment on all aspects of York life. Yours sincerely
Journalists worth more
Steve, Like many journalists, I am shocked that members of the NUJ at the Press are being forced to take strike action in protest at your refusal to meet their claim for a fair and decent pay rise and recognise the challenging, but incredibly important, work they do to make your newspaper what it is. Having worked for Newsquest in the past, I guess you will be telling the local reps that there's nothing you can do and that your hands are tied. I also imagine your bosses are claiming this is a local dispute that must be settled by local negotiation. This is a disgrace and an insult to hardworking journalists who give their all to earn respect and standing in the communities they serve, not to mention the profits they help to generate for Newsquest and its parent company - profits, I might add, which are for the most part taken out of the local economy in York. I urge you to reconsider your position and pay your journalists what they are worth.
NUJ Press and PR