So the NUJ is at risk of going bankrupt. Journalists are leaving the industry, membership is down. But I can’t help but notice that in the recent begging letter from the NUJ, asking members for help, that freelances are only mentioned once and that’s to tell us that our benefits of membership are to be reduced.
I can’t help but think that if instead of focusing on the massively contracting area of the industry (local and regional press) that is pretty much doomed, the NUJ spent more effort on the expanding area (freelancing), it might stand a greater chance of surviving. Instead, as usual, it wants freelances to help those in salaried employment without their giving us anything in return.
I’ve been a member since 1999 and beyond one piece of legal advice, a training course and the Apple Store discount, I’ve not seen anything in return. I’m not expecting it but a lot of people will do, this being a consumer society.
What are the benefits of the NUJ for freelances, beyond the ability to donate money to salaried journalists who usually don’t do a lot to help freelances (for example, giving each other freelance gigs to help boost each other’s salaries, rather than offering that work to actual freelances, isn’t helpful)? If the NUJ can answer that question, maybe it’ll still have a future.
Here’s the letter – what do you think?
The NUJ – A Fighting Future
The NUJ’s ruling body, the National Executive Council, met over the weekend and endorsed an NUJ Recovery Plan to tackle the serious financial problems facing the union.
After detailed discussions and debate the overwhelming majority of NEC members voted to endorse the Recovery Plan, which was put together following a meeting of the union’s Finance Committee last month where a lengthy discussion took place over the pressing issues facing the NUJ, and a series of decisions reached.
The challenging industrial climate facing our members remains hugely difficult. Inevitably this has impacted upon the union’s financial situation. The unprecedented assault on jobs, particularly in the local and regional press, has led to many members leaving the industry altogether or moving to other sectors and paying lower subscription rates.
Despite significant and sustained recruitment we have seen membership drop sharply, down 18 per cent in the past five years, and whilst the union has budgeted for 2 per cent declines in subscription income over the past 3 years, this has dipped to 5 per cent in the last 6months. Despite a number of measures already taken in recent years and months the pressures on our budgets have continued, seeing the depletion of our assets and reserves.
Doing nothing is not an option. If no action is taken the union would face insolvency and the consequential prospect of a merger as soon as later this year. As general secretary and president of the NUJ we believe our independence is vital to the future sustainability of the union. The NEC’s decision to put in place a Recovery Plan now enables us to take action to prevent further financial decline and to turn the problems around.
At one level the solution is straightforward – we need to ensure the NUJ is living within its means, that spending is not outstripping income, and that we are in a position to rebuild reserves to ensure our union is in fighting shape and able to stand up and defend journalists and journalism now and in the future. This is not about managing decline – we have to plan our finances realistically and then put resources and effort into building, growing and organising our union.
But that means taking difficult decisions. Included in the Recovery Plan is a commitment to ensuring that staffing costs account for no more than 45 per cent of members’ subscription income. We have to say clearly that this will mean redundancies, and a consultation process over staff redundancies has been running over the past month and will continue as all options are considered and negotiated with the three staff unions within the NUJ. This will be a fair and transparent process with full involvement of all staff. A consultation with staff to ensure that the NUJ pension schemes are sustainable will also begin.
We will also introduce different ways of carrying out some areas of work, such as the delivery of union-funded professional training courses in England and Wales. However, as part of the plan a commitment has been made to retaining, and indeed improving, the range of current training we make available for members and ensuring that this is available in all nations and regions of the NUJ. The approach of this entire plan is to protect and retain the core industrial support we offer members.
The commitment was also made to rebuilding the NUJ’s reserves with a target of £2.5million over the next decade – a vital part of guaranteeing us a strong and sustainable future.
Some measures will come to you all as members to decide upon directly, through decisions at the Delegate Meeting in Newcastle in October. These will include a subscription increase of 5 per cent, which equates to rises of between 15 to 26 pence per week. This is a difficult “ask” in the current economic climate and we do it reluctantly but, in the spirit of this plan, needing everyone – staff, members and the union’s leadership – to work together to tackle the problems facing the NUJ.
There will also be a motion from the NEC in Newcastle calling for the Delegate Meetings to be held every 2 years, rather than the current “up to 18 month” cycle. The DM would be followed in the next year by either a national meeting, or series of regional meetings, to bring NUJ reps and activists together to tackle topical key industrial issues. The daily Freelance Loss of Earnings payment to freelance activists will also reduce from £50 to £35.
Despite the problems we face there is huge cause for optimism. There are major areas of growth, and opportunities for us to recruit and organise all those journalists and media workers who have yet been persuaded – or even asked – to join the NUJ. Building and organising our union is a key commitment within the Recovery plan with the establishment of a Recruitment and Organising Task Force to get out there and make this happen on the ground.
Every member can help with this. Please speak to your colleagues and friends about joining the NUJ and being part of a campaigning, active trade union which delivers for members in workplaces up and down the UK and Ireland. Remember all the successes your union has achieved. The NUJ has secured payouts and deals for its members worth over £2million in the past year alone, with expert legal advice and assistance. We act for members daily on issues ranging from equal pay, disability discrimination and bullying to unfair dismissal, copyright theft and unpaid fees.
As the voice for journalism as well as journalists, we punch above our weight on issues that matter to you – such as defending the fundamental principle of protection of sources against the increasing use of production orders, protecting pensions, pushing for media plurality and demanding a public interest test when our newspapers are bought and sold, and campaigning for quality journalism.
We’re campaigning hard on journalistic ethics, and as a core participant at the Leveson Inquiry we have been fighting to ensure the voice of working journalists is squarely put at the heart of a public inquiry that could have a major impact on our industry.
We are also campaigning for an end to press regulation on the bosses’ terms and a future regulatory system that includes journalists.
We are calling for the introduction of a conscience clause in journalists’ contracts so that when journalists stand up and refuse to be forced to breach their Code of Conduct they have protection against being dismissed.
We want recognition and genuine collective bargaining rights in those workplaces where journalists are denied that right from anti-trade union media owners.
These are difficult times for journalists in the industry and for the NUJ. This Recovery Plan is a practical package of measures to tackle the problems we face head on, with the collective commitment to ensuring our union not only survives the coming months but continues to flourish for generations to come.
We have been here before, and the way out is by acting together in the collective interests of the union we are all passionate about.
Please do all you can to be part of this Recovery Plan – and if you have any ideas, thoughts or suggestions please get in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org. In Solidarity,
NUJ General Secretary