Monday, May 26, 2008

Chapel's message: this ain't over

A lively chapel meeting at the end of our five-day strike had one message for Newsquest management: this dispute is not over. After taking such a brave and principled stand, we are determined not to let our hard work be for nought. A full chapel meeting next week will discuss how to step up our campaign, and we already have plenty of ideas. But one thing's for sure: with a huge strike fund behind us and the taboo of industrial action utterly shattered, all options are now open.

Marching on the Minster

On the march in York's Parliament Street

Actors, MPs, councillors, lecturers and shoppers got behind our strike on its final day. More than 20 picketers marched on the city's Minster on another glorious day of sunshine in York to round off the first wave of our action for fair pay.

We were buoyed early on by a visit from Selby MP John Grogan, whose constituency includes part of York and is covered by The Press. He had earlier sent us a message of support but today he spoke to strikers and gave us his backing in person.

Then City of York councillor Dave Taylor dropped by to give us his backing. We had earlier visited by his Green Party colleague
Andy D'Agorne so we now have 100 per cent of the council's Green group on board.

Conservative Parliamentary Spokesman for York Central, Susan Wade Weeks paid another visit to the picket line. She said her daughter, the actress Honeysuckle Weeks, from the TV show Foyle's War, would also be rooting for us.

More celebrety backing came in the shape of Robinson Crusoe. The lead in an upcoming series by American TV company NBC, Philip Winchester, signed our petition and gave us his support. Along with stars such as Sean Bean and Sam Neil, he has been in the city for filming over the last week.

Three NUJ national executive members turned out today - Michelle Stanistreet, Tom Davies and Adam Christie - along with Miles Barter from the Manchester NUJ Branch and our regional organiser Jenny Lennox. They brought with them the branch's banner which we hoisted in front of the building.

The University of York's UCU secretary James Cussens paid us a visit and wished us fraternal greetings, as did a Japanese lecturer in labour relations at York St John University and a trade unionist in his home country.

By noon, we were ready to move off on our march into the city centre. Our demonstration was lively, fun and loud - it surely made an impression on the Bank Holiday shoppers. From Newsquest York's offices in Walmgate, we marched to the Minster and then to Parliament Street.

There we staged an impromptu singalong of our strike song, which saw dozens of members of the public throw money into our bucket. Union members handed out copies of our strike paper The Stress, collected signatures on our petition, and shouted slogans on the megaphone.

From there, we went back to Newsquest York's offices and stood outside chanting our slogan: "What do we want? Fair Pay! When do we want it? Now!" We were certainly loud enough to make our point to the management inside. We rounded off our five-day strike with a chapel meeting and devoured a lunch laid on at a local pub.

Selby MP John Grogan on the picket line

Richard Foster sings his heart out in the city centre

A video of our end-of-strike march and rally

Thanks for 'phenomenal' support

Striking journalists in York wish to thank the thousands of people who have backed them during their five-day walkout.

The NUJ chapel at The Press and Gazette and Herald are striking over a derisory pay-increase offer of 3% - well below inflation, and less than several other papers in Newsquest, the papers' owners.

The journalists have been backed by local politicians of all parties, as well as thousands of local residents and readers of the papers.

Former Press editor Dave Nicholson also backed the strikers, as have many other workers around the city.

Joint Father of Chapel Sam Southgate said: "The support has been phenomenal. Many people have been amazed to learn how poor local journalists are paid, and were shocked to hear that millions of pounds made in York were being sucked out of the local economy by Newsquest and their American owners.

"Donations and messages of goodwill have been flooding in from all over the country, and even as far afield as New York. The support from other employees at The Press, such as advertising staff, and delivery drivers, has also been fantastic.

"The ball is now in Steve Hughes' court - he must decide whether to listen to the people of York and pay their journalists a fair wage, or to continue pandering to the excessive demands of American shareholders."

This is the first strike by journalists at The Press since 1978.

Support for campaign runs deep

Our strike fund is edging steadily towards the £10,000 mark after two significant donations today. We received £100 from Newcastle Branch as well as a £40 donation from a supporter in Tyneside.

Meanwhile, we are on the cusp of smashing through the 1,000-signature barrier with our petition for fair pay. We now have an online version of the petition, so please log on and add your name.

Below are two further messages of support that arrived today:

Lively, imaginative action
To all members on strike at the Press. It was great to meet some of you down on the picket line today. I've been really impressed by the lively and imaginative nature of your strike. This note is just to convey a message of support to you from University of York. Let's hope come round to giving you the pay you deserve! In solidarity,
James Cussens, University of York UCU secretary

Trail-blazing strike
Add our support for your courageous and trail-blazing action.
Gloria McShane, chair, Teesside branch

Robinson Crusoe backs strike

The star of the new Robinson Crusoe TV series has joined our stance for fair pay. American actor Philip Winchester, pictured, who played Scott Tracy in the recent remake of Thunderbirds, took a copy of our strike paper, The Stress, and signed our petition while filming in York today.
Philip, Sean Bean, Sam Neil and other cast members have been filming the 13-part drama for US production company NBC in the city for the last two weeks. Philip took time out to ask questions about our strike, read The Stress and wish us good luck. Extras and crew members have also supported our cause throughout the last five days.

Cost of living is rising

We began our campaign for fair pay with a five-day strike because chapel members feel fed up with below-inflation pay rises eroding our standard of living while our employer - Newsquest - continues to make massive profits.

Living is costly

While the standard measure of inflation (RPI) currently stands at four per cent year-on-year, house prices have gone up by 6.6 per cent, food by 7.2 per cent and energy costs by 15 per cent, not to mention the spiralling cost of fuel. These increases, coupled with below-inflation pay deals year after year, are making life costlier than ever.

In our last round of pay negotiations more than two years ago, we agreed a deal based on RPIX (a rate of inflation that doesn't include mortgages) plus 0.25 per cent. Using the same calculation for this year - just to stand still on our deal last time around - would currently work out at a 4.25 per cent rise.

Yet we have been offered just a three per cent pay rise - in real terms a 1.2 per cent pay cut.

Four other Newsquest centres have been offered a 3.5 per cent deal - Glasgow, North Essex, South Essex and South London. Our management has said an extra 0.5 per cent would be available as "merit money" for the editor to shower on whoever he pleases. But it has become clear both here and from colleagues in Bradford that Newsquest bosses are not in any way committed to spending this cash.

Billion dollar racket

Newsquest's management is pleading poverty but its profits in York alone were £4.3 million last year. Gannett, the American parent company that owns Newsquest - including The Press and the Gazette & Herald - made
$1 billion in 2007.

Newsquest's national chief executive and chairman Paul Davidson received more than
£1.1 million in salaries, bonuses and benefits last year and lives in the exclusive Virginia Water estate in Surrey - the wealthiest village in England.

Yet trainee reporters on The Press - graduates often with a mountain of debt - are forced to struggle by on only £13,500. The most any non-management journalist at The Press or the Gazette & Herald could ever hope to earn is £22,500 - even if they work for the company for decades they will never break through this glass ceiling.

And unless we put a stop to below-inflation pay deals year after year, journalists' standard of living will continue to worsen.