The NUJ at the Trades Union Congress

Last week’s TU Congress (12 – 14 September) was a ‘dumbed down’ affair. It was held in London with reduced delegations from the unions – the NUJ had three instead of five. The idea to hold it in London with reduced delegations, was an attempt to stop moves to make the congress biannual (a move favoured by some in Congress House – to save money). So we trooped into the basement of Congress House in central London for three days (actually two and a half – usually it’s over four days) at a time when our movement needed a really high media and public profile. Media coverage was scaled down and most of the headlines were about the frosty reception Ed (‘I don’t like strikes’) Miliband, the Labour leader received on the second day, and the decision taken on the last day to support united industrial action on 30 November against the coalition government’s plans to for many of our public sector members to pay more for reduce pension benefits. Ballots should be held next month.

The NUJ got full backing of Congress on a range of media and related issues. Delegates voted unanimously for journalists to have a conscience clause enshrined in law, following on from the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World. General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Journalists at Wapping have been denied the collective protection and representation of an independent trade union. There is a clear parallel between the effect of union-busting and the moral vacuum that has been allowed to proliferate at News International. Collective trade union representation is a moral, human right and it’s high time Murdoch was forced to let the NUJ back in.” The NUJ code of conduct was also highlighted because it is at the heart of what the union stands for. The debate also heard calls for a legal challenge to the UK government’s alleged breaches of international labour conventions, in relation to the ‘in-house staff association’ at Wapping (which keeps the unions out) and to campaign against the ‘anti-union’ legislation which permits this.

On Tuesday afternoon I moved the NUJ motion on media regulation. It welcomed the Leveson inquiry into media ethics and said that genuine investigative journalism, freedom of expression, diversity and plurality, limits on cross-media ownership and trade union recognition must be key principles underlying media regulation. Congress also agreed that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) should be wound up and replaced with an independent body which had the respect of readers, the general public and journalists alike. It should have clear powers to order meaningful recompense and ensure that the right of reply is established. A copy of the motion may be found on the TUC web site at: http://www.congressvoices.org/2011/67-media-regulation/ Further coverage at: http://union-news.co.uk/2011/09/unionnews-reports-live-from-tuc-congress/ My five minute speech can be seen at: http://vimeo.com/29039867 and forward 1hr 43 minutes when it starts.

NUJ delegate and Press and Public Relations NEC member Anita Halpin moved a successful emergency motion about the events in East London on Sunday 3 September, when journalists came under attack by the English Defence League (EDL). She explained how working journalists had been abused and assaulted by members of the far-right organisation. She further highlighted how NUJ activists had been identified by the fascist web site Redwatch and the dangers this placed them in. The motion was seconded by Bob Crow, RMT general secretary who said that transport workers had refused to carry EDL members across the city on the day of the planned rally.

The motion that split the Congress (most are carried by large majorities) was one from the Professional Footballers Association (the PFA). Moved by Gordon Taylor, the association’s chief executive, motion 69 called on the General Council to support a united Great Britain football team in next year’s London Olympic Games. It referred to the opportunity that the Olympics presented in bringing together all four home nations to compete as one as a tremendously exciting prospect that has not been replicated in over half a century. After a brief ‘for’ and ‘against’ debate, to which Gordon replied, Congress voted by a reasonable majority to support his motion (and so did I!).

A total of 79 motions (including composites) were debated together with five emergency motions.

On elections, Michelle was elected, first time, to the General Council, coming fourth in the ballot. She replaces Jeremy Dear, former NUJ general secretary, who stood down from office this summer, and keeps an NUJ presence on the Council.  The Council (some 56 members) oversees the TUC’s work programme and from time to time takes policy initiatives.

Next year’s Congress is back to normal (size wise) and will be held in Brighton, where the NUJ delegation will be five.

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