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Subs to go up; membership criteria will be looked at

Delegate meeting 2021

THE MOST crucial motion of Delegate Meeting (DM) 2021 - the NUJ's conference at the end of May - was Motion 25, which proposed increases of union subscriptions ("subs") to stave off financial crisis. See here for a flavour of how the NUJ's first online conference went.

There had not been an increase in subscriptions for seven years. The last attempt to raise membership subs was at DM 2018, where a motion to do so achieved a simple majority but not the two-thirds majority needed for such rule-changing motions to be passed.

Delegates wait to speak on Zoom

Delegates wait to speak to Order Paper 13 at DM. Sian Jones (top, centre) is Chair.

Subs raised

Several speakers, including our own Tim Dawson, speaking for the National Executive Council (NEC), warned that without a subs increase, the future of the Union as an independent entity looked bleak - there was the real prospect of the NUJ having to merge into a more "general" union, as broadcast and theatre technicians union BECTU had to do in 2016.

The NEC argument was, put simply, that after seven years with no rise, in the face of rising costs, the Union's survival depends on having a raise now. It was overwhelmingly passed. We won't go into all the detail here, but if you are paying £18 a month now, it'll go up to £20.50 and then, from next year, £22.50. Get details via this link.

Motion 25 on raising membership subscriptions is carried

Motion 25 on raising membership subscriptions is carried

Speaking at the end of the conference, incoming NUJ President Pierre Vicary expressed relief, saying he had feared that had the motion not passed he would probably have addressed DM as the last NUJ President.

Pierre Vicary

Incoming NUJ President Pierre Vicary at virtual DM

Immediately after the motion to raise subs had passed, London Freelance Branch (LFB) had a motion up (number 29) which proposed a higher band of subs for those earning over £50,000 a year. This motion was taken as an addendum to the complicated subscription-raising motion from the NEC, which had just passed.

Our argument was that if the low-paid were allowed to pay just 1 per cent of their income, higher earners should be asked to do the same.

Some delegates with annual salaries at around the £50,000 threshold spoke either for the motion, and some against. Among those supporting it was Tom Davies of the Guardian Chapel, a former Secretary of LFB. He noted that pay at the Guardian is relatively high because the NUJ has a strong presence there. We got a majority, but such rule-changing motions need a two-thirds majority and we failed to secure that. Too much, too soon, perhaps. (See a short article on LFB's Motion 29).


Our LFB motion on "Amazon Smile" instructed NEC to ask the Union's charity NUJ Extra to cease to be a beneficiary of this system - on the grounds of Amazon's anti-union stance and its poor health and safety record. (Amazon Smile is a system that allows micropayments to charity while ordering from Amazon.) The motion was passed, with the help of Edinburgh and District. As NUJ Extra is an independent charity, the NEC can only ask it do things. The motion was not calling for a boycott of Amazon.

Jenny Vaughan

LFB Treasurer and Delegation Lead Jenny Vaughan speaks to the motion on Amazon Smile

Our motions 80 (EU Directive on Copyright) and 81 (on (Freedom of information), both proposed in conjunction with the union's Freelance Industrial Council, were taken under Standing Order 3 (SO3). This meant that as there were no objections they were passed without a debate.

Motion 103 (proposed by London Independent Broadcasting and New Media) discussed looking into the possibility of changing the NUJ's name to accommodate the fact that we use the term "journalist" to cover such a wide range of work and that we cover four nations and two states (the UK and Ireland). This was carried. Is the name "journalist" a turn-off for those who don't think of themselves as strictly journalists? There was disagreement within our own delegation, which would normally have been sorted out in time - but the limitations of trying to communicate via Signal (rather than face-to-face) meant we weren't able to work out a position in time. Many abstained.

Part-time journalists; nukes; Afghanistan

Our motion 126 covered membership criteria and the eligibility of "part-time members" - or, more accurately, members who are doing NUJ-eligible work only part of the time. There were several motions around this; eventually all were withdrawn except ours, which instructed the NEC to find a way of recruiting "part-timers" as near-as-possible full members. This was accepted under SO3. We have strong support from London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch on this one - but our Branch shouldn't let it rest. We now need to keep a watchful eye to see what happens to the the proposal in terms of practical outcomes.

This was followed by DM passing other tweaking motions, such as introducing a lower-cost variation of student membership called "developmental" membership and dropping the requirement - so often bypassed - for potential members to find proposers and seconders to name when filling in the NUJ application form.

The motion on climate change (motion 141) wasn't one of ours: it originated from London Magazine Branch and was eventually taken as a "composite" - several motions rolled into one. In summary, it sought to commit the union to campaigning and educating on the issue of the climate emergency. Gareth Simkins of London Magazine Branch, putting the motion, told delegates "I need not elaborate what we all face." He added that in tackling the climate emergency, "we have to throw everything, and I mean everything at it."

Stuart Smith

LFB Committee's Stuart Smith joins DM from Brussels to second the motion on climate change

LFB, in the person of Stuart Smith seconded this climate change motion, and drew conference's attention to our forthcoming Freelance Salon on the issue and LFB member Susi Arnott's work round the issue. The motion passed, Gareth thanked speakers "for the brevity of their speeches... saving all that electricity". Again, something we need to keep on top of.

The Journalist magazine was the subject of motion 158, originating from Dublin Freelance Branch.

This instructed the NEC to do a cost-benefit analysis of continuing to publish the Journalist or replacing it with a daily online publication. Tim Gopsill of LFB (a former Journalist editor) spoke to this, noting that the Journalist's editor could easily maintain their editorial independence from the NUJ communications team and have a daily online presence too. This motion sits oddly with a subsequent Late Notice Motion (see below) in which DM voted to have a printed Journalist once again.

LFB's motion on solidarity with journalists in Afghanistan (96) was taken at the end of the conference, and out of sync, while NEC's contribution was haggled over. LFB Equality Officer Safiullah Tazib has been working away at this for months: it was eventually amended by the NEC, after much to-ing and fro-ing. In summary, we got our way in asking the conference to support our solidarity work in Afghanistan, and it was passed, after excellent work and an excellent speech by Safi.

The NEC will now carry out its solidarity work with journalists' unions in Afghanistan via the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in "liaison with London Freelance Branch.". And thanks also to Tim Dawson, of both LFB and the NEC, for his patient diplomacy around motion 96.

Late Notice Motions

Late Notice Motions (LNMs) are last-minute proposals in response to events that arise after the deadline for submitting normal motions. Because DM 2021 had been postponed from last year, leaving a gap of three years, there were over 30 LNMs this time.

Of special relevance to us was LNM 20 from London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch, which sought to find ways of resolving the problem of non-unionised technical staff, on whom our members depend -€“ possibly widening our own criteria to recruit some of these workers. A proposal to remit the motion to NEC (send it to NEC for them to decide what to do with it) was rejected. LFB's Tim Gopsill proposed that the motion be taken "seriatim" -€“ that is, that DM should vote on chunks of the motion, point by point.

This happened, and DM thus voted separately on controversial sections of the motion that proposed establishing a sister union for non-journalistic media workers, or negotiating "binding" agreements with other unions. These was felt to go against existing deals that have since 1939 bound unions not to "poach" workers from each other. Both these parts of the motion fell; the rest was (our notes say) passed.

LFB had previously voted at a Branch Meeting to support Late Notice Motion 35, put by Black Members' Council, and we formally seconded this motion. This covered the Council's response to the fallout over the Society of Editors' statement denying that there is institutional racism in the UK press, in the wake of the Meghan Markle interview with Oprah Winfrey. After a long debate an amendment to the motion calling for an examination of the NUJ's own hiring practices fell. The motion was carried.

The Journalist and the Freelance

The Journalist went online-only as a PDF as an emergency cost-cutting pandemic measure. LNM 23 called for a return to print and was passed. This has implications for us at LFB1, as it effectively opens the door to us returning to a printed Freelance. We don't have to return to a printed Freelance - it's just that that option, closed to us for the past year, is now open again. Sending a printed Freelance to members in the same mailing as the Journalist saves a considerable amount on postage, which is basically what keeps a print Freelance feasible.

Elizabeth Ingrams

Elizabeth Ingrams speaks on nuclear proliferation

Our own Late Notice Motion 34 on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons (TPNW) was moved by Elizabeth Ingrams in an excellent speech. She pointed out that we owe such basic ideas as "civil society" to the anti-nuclear movement. The motion was seconded by London Independent Broadcasting and New Media Branch. It passed. (The present author wonders whether the 14 per cent of NUJ delegates who voted against want to fry in their beds in the next world war.) Elizabeth is in talks with NUJ Campaigns about a possible special NUJ meeting on nuclear proliferation.

Covid was inevitably covered, especially the slow progress toward an inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic. The conference expressed a view, in Late Notice Motion 15, that the long delay sought by the UK government will diminish any inquiry's usefulness. NUJ President Sian Jones noted that our General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet "had probably sat in more government meetings" than any predecessor as a result of Covid, while we were reminded that "the NUJ ensured we are "key workers" under covid regulations.

There were several motions on dangers to journalists and the increased number of threats - particularly in Northern Ireland. The issue of Palestine was covered, too, with something of a tightrope being walked over the issue of how far the union should go in making statements about the overall political situation in Israel/Palestine rather, as against taking positions strictly relevant to journalists there. Motions were also passed on solidarity with journalists in Kurdistan and Kashmir.

The conference welcomed the International Federation of Journalists White Paper on Global Journalism, and expressed its intention to continue to support campaigns to protect journalists worldwide.

Members of Honour

The Union named its Members of Honour for this DM:

  • Mary Curtin strikes fear into the hearts of management as a tenacious negotiator on behalf of colleagues, especially at Irish national broadcaster RTE.
  • Award-winning Guardian journalist, broadcaster and academic Gary Younge is a former NUJ Father of Chapel (workplace-based Union rep) at that newspaper. He played an important role in setting up the George Viner Memorial Fund, which gives bursaries to BAME journalism students.
  • Aidan White was prominent in the national strike of provincial newspapers in 1979. A young, handsome man at the time, he became known as "the Donny Osmond of the Left". He later transformed the "Cold War afterthought" that was the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) into the truly global organisation it is now, as well as founding the Ethical Journalism Network.

There's more via this link.

In memoriam

On a sadder note, an In memoriam slideshow remembered NUJ members who had passed away in the last three years. As LFB's Tim Gopsill, veteran of many DMs noted, "a few old pals - this is a sad sequence". Among those remembered were: freelance activist Guy Thornton of the Disabled Members' Council who set up what became NUJ Netherlands Branch; photographer and LFB member Philip Wolmuth; freelance music journalist Fred Dellar and LFB's former Chair Dave Rotchelle.

Dave Rotchelle, 1952-2020
Philip Wolmuth, 1951-2021

The late Dave Rotchelle and the late Philip Wolmuth, both of LFB, featured in DM's In Memoriam slideshow

Breaking - BBC

In her closing remarks, Gen. Sec. Michelle Stanistreet referred to the then-breaking story of the fallout from revelations that Martin Bashir had used forgery to secure the BBC Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. She noted that the freelance who was instructed to fake the bank statements that helped secure the interview was subsequently blacklisted. She observed that once again the BBC thought it could do no wrong. She added that Prince William, while criticising the BBC's conduct, had praised public service broadcasting. She warned of "opportunistic attacks by enemies of the BBC".

Michelle Stanistreet

General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet at the end of DM 2021

  • This article was updated on 07/07/21 to add a link to an article on LFB' Motion 29 on subs increases for members with higher incomes.