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Democracy in motion

THE LONDON Freelance Branch meeting on 10 May was fully occupied with debating the Branch positions on motions to the NUJ's delayed Delegate Meeting (DM), the decision-making part of which will take place online on 21 and 22 May 2021. As the biggest NUJ Branch by a long way, LFB has nine delegates. They are, precisely, delegates: LFB decides at its Branch meetings to instruct its delegates on how they should vote on particular motions and amendments at DM. Up to 40 members took part in this very democratic exercise.

The meeting on Zoom

The meeting on Zoom

The Branch normally mandates its delegation either to support a motion (vote in favour of it), oppose it (vote against it), or listen to the arguments put forward at DM and decide there and then decide how it will vote, based on what it hears. As policy wonks, we of course give motion numbers for the benefit of policy wonks who want to refer to the DM agenda.

The biggest item on the DM agenda is motion 25, in which the NUJ's National Executive Council (NEC) noted last year that "subscription rates will have remained static for six years at July 2020 and that prices have increased by 11.6 per cent in the same period". Inflation has continued, mild but inexorable.

LFB proposes a motion mandating higher subscriptions for members earning £50,000 a year and above - which will be taken as an amendment to motion 25. The meeting encouraged the delegation to support this principle, through what may be a complex series of votes on various other amendments that propose different subscription scales.

Tim Dawson, Freelance representative on the NEC, spoke in favour of the need to raise subscriptions, as he has repeatedly done. The NEC Finance Committee had run calculations on all those other proposals - and found that none would raise income sufficiently to maintain the level of services that the NUJ now offers to members.

If the main motion were not passed, the NUJ's future as an independent trade union "would not be a long one". Tim doubted whether any of the important work that the union had done, such as supporting Samira Ahmed's campaign against pay discrimination or our legal support for the No Stone Unturned journalists would have happened if the NUJ were merely a relatively-small section of a larger union.

He noted that the revised NEC proposal would cost freelances about £2 a month and that of course reduced subscription schemes continue in place. The Branch agreed to support motion 25.

The Branch is also putting to DM motion 126, which asks for a study of the NUJ's criteria for membership. Jenny Vaughan told the meeting that it is a nonsense that someone who is married to a high earner can be a member while earning very little from journalism - so long as those earnings are more than half their own income - while if the same person supported themselves by working in a shop while earning the same amount from journalism they would not be entitled to NUJ membership.

Perhaps the next most contentious is that the Branch has motion 38 before ADM, instructing the NEC to urge the NUJ's charity NUJ Extra to "disentangle themselves" from soliciting donations through Amazon, as Jenny Vaughan put it. That would not mean boycotting Amazon or refusing donations that arrived earlier. After an explanation, in response to a member's question, that this was in response to Amazon's dreadful employment practices and in particular a campaign by the GMB union, the meeting agreed that the delegation should continue to support the Branch motion.

The Branch also supports motion 48 calling for a campaign on wages; and of course the amendment to it by Freelance Industrial Council extending this to cover freelance payments. Equally we support motion 57 from Dublin Freelance Branch calling for enforcement of minimum wage laws in respect of interns.

Motion 62 calls for action on "invoicing and company payment procedures [that] are becoming increasingly complex for freelance journalists" and LFB supports this, having lodged an amendment that calls for further analysis of the Rate for the Job database.

The meeting felt moved to support motion 17, on the Cairncross review of the future of journalism.

Motion 71 deals with Zwarte Piet, a Dutch Yuletide tradition felt by the NUJ Branch there to be deeply racist. London Freelance Branch will seek to speak in favour of it, probably in the shape of our Chair, "a proud citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands".

LFB also proposes motion 81 on Freedom of Information, calling among other things for the Information Commissioner to have the power to levy fines for "persistent non-compliance by a public body" and for compensation to requestors.

The Branch will support motion 87, which condemns the detention of Julian Assange.

There was considerable debate on our motion 96, which calls for direct support by NUJ Branches for solidarity work with journalists' organisations in Afghanistan. We support instructing the NEC to "explore the many ways it can towards establishing a strategy that will enable the union to actively engage with Afghanistan Journalist Federation" and to "look out for ways to protect Afghan media from attacks and help them mature". Though the mover sought to minimise conflict with the NEC, the Branch cannot logically support the NEC amendment that in essence defers all such activity to the International Federation of Journalists.

The meeting voted to put a "Late Notice" motion to DM instructing the NEC "to campaign within the trade union movement with the aim of ensuring that the UK government participates at least as an observer, if not a signatory, in the first meeting of the signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in January 2022 in Vienna".

Finally, the Branch proposes motion 80, calling on the NEC "to do everything in its power, in collaboration with the Federation of Entertainment Unions and the Creators' Rights Alliance, to implement the policy proposed by the actors' union Equity to Trades Union Congress 2019 and adopted there: that the provisions of the Directive [on Copyright in the Digital Single Market] should be implemented in UK law." How times have changed: when that was drafted it was necessary to add "regardless of what may happen in the UK's relationship to the EU."

This motion also has the merit of introducing the word "eructations" into the DM agenda; despite this, it is entirely possible that no delegate will raise an objection to the motion and that it will be passed without debate under a procedure ("Standing Order 3") that will be much used this year to streamline debate under the possibly-trying online circumstances.

The Freelance wishes the delegation the best possible meeting under these circumstances.