On Friday morning, the ADM started. In the main hall we have got 2×13 rows with a path in the middle and 13 seats on each sides. Seating is arranged via branches- on the podium the chair with about four or five people from the National Executive Council.
Two desks on each sides with microphones – the left one is generally used to propose and agree with motions, the right one to oppose.
Speakers queue up for the desks waiting for their turn to speak. Most of the motions are in a green DinA4 booklet and the whole conference centers around going through these proposals and making decisions if to implement the suggestions.
On Friday afternoon, the topics planned are Equality, International and Media Freedom. Equality motions are mainly put in by the Black Members Council, the Disabled Members Council and the Equality Council and strives to eliminate discrimination and disadvantages in the workplace.
One important positive decision was made for section 30, which will in future grant more support to journalists seeking asylum in Britain. The intervention to link this motion to the new Exiled Journalist Network group failed, “because you didn’t come to the horse-trading session yesterday, and at such late stage this addition can’t really be brought up now”.
The International section is introduced by the president of the US American journalist union Linda Fowley. She stresses the happy anticipation of 20th January 2009, which is Bush’s last day in office. Also she is here to congratulate for the centenary, also in the name of the parent union, the Communications Workers Union America. She refers to the kidnapping of Alan Johnston and Daniel Pearl. “It has all too often been our own governments who target journalists”, she says before pointing out the lack of accountability regarding the killing of Terry Lloyd.
I think it was still her who stressed the need to fight for our rights and not to forget that the rights which are current, have been fought for over centuries. She states: “We have to fight for the freedom of the press” and refers to the “Stand up for Journalism” Day in autumn. She refers that we also would have to fight against the media conglomerate ownership, such as outsourcing in Reuters and Newsquest, the digital divide and the Speed-Net, and for basic trade union rights for people.
In this section delegates discuss solidarity statements which condem the killings of journalists in hotspots such as Ethiopia, imprisonment in Guatanamo Bay, oppression of trade union members in Zimbabwe, repression of freedom of expression in Turkey, exploitation of journalists in Pakistan and similar.
Not quite sure how much practical difference these motions make, but it is always good to have somebody thinking of you and trying to make a difference when finding yourself in a crap position.
Slightly more controversial is Section 35 about the Yahoo! Connection which enabled the jailing and repression of a Chinese blogger.
Jemima Kiss from the New Media Council, asks the ADM to support the motion of an official Yahoo! Boycott “moved by” (sounds like a chess game) the Manchester branch.
Lots of speakers queue up to express their opinion, one official says that there were talks the since the original motion made last year, a reenforcement of the boycott would be harmful as they would not acknowledge efforts made by both sides.
There is a call to defeat the motion due to the lack of alternatives to Yahoo! Services and the practical implementation problems, another delegate asks how the union would support the members who would need Yahoo! Services for their job.
The next statement is controversially debated as it suggests the boycott of Israeli goods as a means to show solidarity with Palestine.
Some delegates have actually been instructed by their groups at home to vote against this boycott, others want the union to “step aside from international politics a little bit”, some people associate the proposal with feelings of antisemitism and anti-Israel. The vote is divided – nearly 50/50, when the votes are counted out 66 are for and 54 against a union supported boycott of Israeli goods.
Tony Benn suddenly turns up as a surprise speaker, and is greeted enthusiastically and empathetically by the delegates and the general secretary. He joined Nuj in 1949 when working in the BBC, but they didn’t recognize the NUJ then, as they had their own little union then. His father was also a journalist, he said, and also joked that he would be proud to be a honorary member as he doesn’t need to pay a fee. He was then talking a little bit about why we would need a union, the change in technology, the lack of union recognition and the demand for training.
The use of new technology was always said to be a means of getting rid of people, like in Wapping, he explained, and pointed out the division alongside class, nationality, and similar.
Tony Benn stressed the need of people wanting to feel that some one appreciates them and that empowerment is most important.
He states that: “The government wants to know everything about us, but doesn’t want us to know anything about them” and then lays into the potential restrictions of the Freedom of information Act and the proposed ID card scheme.
“To discover that we are all people is one of the most important things”, he continued rebel-rousing.
Tony Benn finished off with talking a little bit about the danger of nuclear weapons.
There was not much controversy about the next motions, but they featured a bit of a rant against the privacy bill.
Section 55 debated a different process for affiliation of the NUJ to campaigns and other groups. If it would be accepted, the process would change from the balloting and references for checks and safeguards to branches being able to make affiliations of the union to campaigns autonomously.
“This could be open to all kind to abuse as sometimes only few people are at branch meetings”, was one argument versus the ability to trust the decision making process at grassroots level in branches.
Unfortunately, the fear of abuse seemed to prevail as the motion was defeated.
In the evening the 100 years of NUJ history book is launched. The access to the event is strictly limited by tickets, but for a change i am happy to have lost out as I don’t feel that well and have had a headache big enough for a herd of elephants for the whole day.