A member-led union goes through the motions

SOUTHPORT, Lancashire, was again the venue for the NUJ's festival of democracy and assertion that we are a member-led union - Delegate Meeting (DM). This happens every second year.

The biggest upset was that DM narrowly failed to give the required two-thirds majority to increase members' subscriptions, causing some concern among those who have to work out how to pay for services to members.

Probably the most heated debate on a call for the union to ballot members on setting up a "political fund". Proponents argued that under trade union legislation the lack of one meant that the union was forbidden from political activity in the run-up to an election.

Delegate Chris Wheal declared that the motion was "a smokescreen" for an ambition to get the union to support a candidate or a party in an election. General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet recalled that the NUJ is among the most effective of trades unions in political lobbying: the lack of a fund does not make one jot of difference to that. If we spent £25k or more on a ballot we'd still only get permission to ask members to give to such a fund. "If you want a union that gives journalists and jornalism a voice, please vote no. If passed, it would lead to less discussion not more."

Delegate Barry White, summing up for the motion "said this is not a back door method of getting funding for political parties". A speaker from South Yorkshire Branch attracted heckling on asking "does anyone here believe the BBC is impartial"? The amendment they were promoting, proposing that a fund would indeed allow members to "decide whether to support or affiliate to political parties", was defeated: the motion was sent to the National Executive Committee (NEC).

There was also some controversy over a substantial pay rise negotiated in collective bargaining for the General Secretary, which served to correct a situation in which a female general secretary was being paid less than a male assistant general secretary. The NEC produced an explanation to DM - Nottingham Branch suggested that it could perhaps have emailed such a document to all members at the time; and another member wished they hadn't first read of it in Private Eye. The Head Office staff chapel urged that the motion be "remitted" - sent to the NEC for its consideration without a vote at DM - but NEC could not accept that because it had already decided to oppose the motion criticising the move, which was defeated.

All the motions that London Freelance Branch put forward were passed. They covered: clarifying dealings between Head Office and lay activists' initiatives; opposing the calamitous effects of government "universal credit" policies on low-paid members and those with disabilities; nuclear disarmament (we're for it); work following up on our conference on precarious workers; work on copyright and unfair contracts; contacting members who lapse; supporting members who suffer trauma at work; ensuring that training is available for those working in hazardous environments; and work to support members threatened by the UK leaving the EU.