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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 April 2008

National Union of Journalists conference

Members fight attacks on jobs and conditions

The problems being faced by journalists at work and possibly within the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) appear to be intensifying. How the union faces up to those issues will be a key theme of this year's conference (ADM) on 3-6 April.

An NUJ member

Journalists are feeling the chill winds of economic recession. A decline in advertising revenue means management attempting to squeeze wages and conditions.

And in the BBC, economic pressures from the government are resulting in cuts in jobs and budgets.

Pay and conditions in regional daily and local weekly publications are descending to intolerable levels.

At the same time, the super profits and bonuses of the media moguls go ever upwards.

As the Bristol branch resolution points out, Lord Rothermere, chairman of Associated Newspapers (owners of the Daily Mail and Northcliffe) group titles, gave himself a 28% pay rise last year while imposing a 2.5 per cent pay settlement on journalists at the group-owned Western Daily Press and Bristol Evening Post.

The past year has seen signs of a fightback by union members - seeing members take action in Coventry, Milton Keynes, Glasgow and other areas.

Also union chapels (branches) have resurfaced in some key regional daily papers, putting in recognition claims - such as at the South Wales Evening Post.

However, the debate on pay and conditions at ADM does not focus on pay and establishing minimum benchmarks. In particular, the campaign agreed at a previous ADM to fight for a 26,000 minimum for qualified journalists, is not on this year's agenda.

If the national executive (NEC) made it clear that the demand is a central campaigning feature, it would draw a lot more journalists into membership and activity in the union.

The union is facing a financial shortfall, which could become a crisis if not addressed quickly. But attempts to cut costs, such as cutting the number of delegates to ADM and possibly closing down branches are misplaced.

An election for deputy general secretary of the union is now under way and it could be one of the most hard-fought elections inside the union for years.

Left activists, who want to consolidate the shift to the left in the union that took place with the election and re-election of Jeremy Dear as general secretary, will be looking at what is the best way to continue that progress.

Currently, the left is only really organised at NEC level and there is an urgent need to begin rebuilding a vibrant, effective Broad Left at all levels - a body which can exercise accountability on the left members of the NEC and left members in full-time positions.

It is vital that the left gets organised to ensure the union fully establishes its presence as a body fighting for all journalists.

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