Anton at the NUJ conference
Anton at the NUJ conference

Anton McCabe, Branch secretary, National Union of Journalists, Derry North West Ireland (personal capacity)

A 24-hour strike by BBC journalists in Northern Ireland was 100% solid on 19 May. Workers in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) walked out on one of the busiest news days of the year as the count for local elections took place (see Northern Ireland local elections: Nationalist and Unionist polarisation squeezes smaller parties).

This meant there was no coverage of the count on BBC radio or television. That was despite the BBC announcing coverage on their schedules.

Management could not find a single scab from over 200 journalists to read the news so Adam Smyth, director of BBC Northern Ireland, read news bulletins himself but he did not say who he was!

The strike is against cuts to services, forced redundancies, and the near-destruction of BBC Radio Foyle in Derry. That has produced a huge reaction in Derry. The NUJ organised a public meeting in the city hall in protest which over 250 attended. There has been huge support from the community, other trade unions, and politicians of all parties.

NUJ members have campaigned strongly, particularly in Derry. There, a new chapel (workplace organisation) has been outstanding.

New members

The union has attracted new members – in the week before the strike, 42 new members joined in Belfast. There, too, cuts are threatening journalists. To date, those cuts are not as severe as in Derry but journalists know that management will go for them also.

Because Derry is in the front line of cuts, the picket line at BBC Radio Foyle was very strong. No programmes at all were broadcast from the station and the building was locked.

Non-journalistic staff joined the picket, as did trade unionists from Derry Trades Union Council, Unison, Unite, the INTO teachers’ union and Irish Writers’ Union. Members of the public came to give support. A leading campaigner against the abuse of children in residential homes came to personally thank the journalists for their coverage of his campaign to expose the abuse, and local small businesses arrived with donations of food, soup and coffee. Passers-by honked horns in support.

BBC management is still refusing to move so journalists will have to take further action.

Join the discussion: ‘How we fight the anti-union laws’ at the National Shop Stewards Network conference in London on 24 June.

2023 NSSN Conference – Saturday 24 June in Conway Hall, London 11am-4.30pm –Attendance fee £6. You can register on the day at conference or email us in advance via [email protected]

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree