quick reports of Sunday’s ethical highlights

April 18, 2007

Motion 166 was a sustainability statement, asking the NEC to carry out an environmental audit of NUJ working practises and sustainable transport should be encouraged. It was hotly debated and Pete Murray from Scotland said that it might stop NUJ members from the Shetland Islands to get to the branch meetings if they could not take the plane as it would take several days to go by ferry. So there was a discussion about re-imbursement of air- and trainfares and if that motion could change this general rule. It was then followed by a receycling argument and if the paper at the conference would be appropriately and sustainably disposed of. Other members asked to remit the motion, but it was carried at the end.

Motion 170 draw out some New Labour sympathisers asking for Jack Straw not to be called a rascist. The delegate from the South Yorkshire branch replied that he would call his policy rascist, but not Jack Straw himself.

The affiliation to StW was also discussed at some time, with one NEC member stating that we would already we doing it, and would not need to call for official affiliation. Pete Jenkins said this would be a rare occurance in that he agreed with the NEC. Someone else expressed worries that if the motion would not get through it could stop Jeremy Dear speaking at the StW rallies if the ballot would be negative. The whole discussion also featured a bit of “how political is our union” debate.

This was continued during the Trident Nuclear Weapons debate. One person stated that the defeated affiliation proposal to CND would incline that the NUJ membership would not want to oppose the replacement of Trident, but it was rightly replied that these were different issues and that many members did not want to affiliate to CND out of other reasons, and not because they would support a Trident replacement.
Anyways, there were some odd rhetorical dance moves practiced at this ADM.

Jeremy Dear closed the ADM stating 163 delegates from 57 branches were present, 65 council members and 303 people in total.

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Quick summary

April 16, 2007

Huh! It’s already Sunday and I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would have liked. First there is so much going on at the same time, and then, it’s true what general secretary Jeremy Dear said at the new media meeting: It’s actually not possible to do three things at the same time, even if you want to.

At least not if you want to sleep occasionally.

So, I have focused on pictures this ADM, as there were many other blog reports from fellow student delegates.

So watch this space, as there will be some late additions to the blog over the next days, such as the edited audio recordings of some fringe meetings and some more in depth reports of the last days.

There are still some audio recordings in the brew, such as of the Latin America fringe events, the Media Workers against the War, and a few of the speeches at the new media event till the batteries died.

The dates for the next ADM have just been publicised on the big screen in the hall.

The ADM deadlines for 2008 are:

Closing date to motions: 26th of November 2007
Closing date for confirmations, amendments and delegate nominations:
1st of February 2008
Registration closing date: 14th of March 2008
Next ADM: 3rd-6th April 2008, Europa Hotel, Belfast


Ulla’s roundup: Friday-Saturday

April 16, 2007

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”.

International

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.

Somebody else states that there would be lots more multinational internet baddies around and mentions google and g-mail as examples of an unclear privacy policy and uncertainty of what they do with the supplied user information.

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

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.


Politicisation of the union?

April 15, 2007

There is no such thing as real objectivity, and journalists are usually the first to point this out. But does this mean the NUJ should sacrifice its neutrality and become more of a political force? Startlingly this seems to be the case. 

I was more than surprised to find a majority vote in favour of a boycott of Israeli goods, based on judgements such as the country’s conflict in Palestinian territories and with Lebanon. With a result of 66 to 54, as well as some turbulent debate, the motion did not pass smoothly – but so it should not. There is no need for such a loud political move to be taken up when the reality is that it will do little good for the union – and possibly a lot of bad.

One thing’s for sure: it is not going to make life any easier for journalists anywhere in the world.  In the current international climate, where journalists’ lives are often at threat despite their own views or neutrality, it is absolutely fundamental that the union does nothing to worsen the situation. We need to strive to maintain our objectivity when reporting and although we have a personal right to express our own views, this does not extend to the union doing the same. We are working together to protect journalists – not to endanger them.

There is another problem with this specific case. As one member mentioned, the union will ineluctably be seen by some as anti-Semitic because of this particular stance against Israel which, despite being a ridiculous misconception, is also one that needs to be taken into account. Not least because such individuals can quite rightly ask, ‘why target Israel? Why not persecute other states with bad records internationally?’ And the union has no answer.

Because, all across the world, from Vietnam to Colombia, men and women are suffering injustices. So now we have called for sanctions against Israel, what next? Do we boycott Chinese goods because of its lack of freedom of press? Do we call for sanctions on the US government because of human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay? There are too many abuses of freedom and rights and no lack of causes out there which the NUJ could stand up and shout about. And I’m not suggesting we should ignore or forget about them. But if we become too far intertwined with such politics then we compromise our principles. It is not the union’s place to be another player on the global political chessboard; if we continue to politicise we endanger the union and our own lives.

The anti-Semitic claim has no grounding and is thus vacuous in my opinion, because the issue here revolves around unjust killing, regardless of religion or any other discriminatory variable. But the problem is that Israel’s ‘slaughter’ is not one-sided; there are a number of factions in Palestinian territorities and across the middle-east – and indeed the world – that commit such crimes. And to make such a stand against Israel at the same time as supporting links with the West Bank and Gaza, invariably suggests that we only act selectively against unlawful killing. 

I understand there are times when action needs to be taken. I am glad that the NUJ campaigned feverishly against apartheid in South Africa as it is difficult to stand back and watch such atrocities being carried out by the government against its own people and not act. But this just indicates how difficult it is to know whether or not to speak out – a quandary that humanitarian agencies have particularly had to struggle with to no apparent avail.

Being political as a union, regardless of whether it’s with a big or a small “P”, is perhaps inevitable. The way some members proudly say that we are not affiliated to the Labour party wears thin when the union refuses to be neutral internationally. And evidently if we focus and vote on every issue of this sort that rears its head then we get to the point where we are deeply embroiled in a web of political concerns. The danger therefore is that further politicisation may well have worrying implications: it could not only weaken and fragment the union both internally and externally and threaten the power of the union’s voice, but also detract it from its original purpose of representing and protecting its men and women on the ground.

Olivia Lang, Nottingham branch member


Campaigning organisations

April 15, 2007

A number of campaigning organizations have made their presence at the NUJ centenary conference. Among them were trade union councils, the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity campaign, UN Refugee Agency, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, Search Light 2007 Campaign and Thompsons Solicitors.

The representatives looked very active during the three day centenary celebration at Holiday Inn Birmingham, the birthplace of the NUJ.

Stop the War Coalition organized talks to discuss issues including Islamophobia, the media and the “War on Terror”.

Stop the War brought leading  speakers including Michelle Stanistreet, Steve Usher from Express and Star, Andrew Murray (Chair, Stop the War Coalition), NEC member Pete Murray, and other important speakers during their talks.

Trade union councils, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Search Lights 2007 Campaign , Thompsons Solicitors, War on Want, and UNHCR Refugee Agency messages were taken well by the participants who contributed towards to the fund raising activities of these organizations.

The organizations distributed leaflets and informed participants about their upcoming events.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign announced that a National Demonstration and Rally in London will take place on 9th of June 2007.


More posts to come Monday

April 15, 2007

The conference training room is closing down, so we’ll be posting from the one student’s laptop for the rest of the day – more posts to come when the students get home tomorrow.


Finance roundup: subs go up, Dear quotes Trotsky

April 14, 2007

Members at the N.U.J. Annual Delegates Meeting in Birmingham voted on Saturday morning to raise the yearly subscriptions to the Union.

This will mean that members on Grade 1 will pay an extra £5.68, Grade 2 will pay an extra £7.00 and Grade 3 an extra £9.60. Speakers who supported the motion made mention of the recruiting power of a simple and fair subscription system.

The average wage increase for N.U.J. members is £2,000 per year. When asked to contribute to increased subscriptions, proposers of the motion said, most people say that they are saving for a mortgage or car or other expence. They seem to be unaware, until it is pointed out to them, that unions are responsible for negotiating their better pay and conditions.

General Secretary Jeremy Dear quoted Leon Trotsky, saying “Finances are the sinews of war”.

Other finance motions

A motion that sought to raise the minimum subscription that any individual would pay – to £75 – was defeated.

Conference also voted for a motion which instructed the National Executive Council to give effect to the principle that “…members in New Media departments of established media workplaces should normally pay subs at the same rate as their colleages”.

Delegates further carried a motion which means that students will now pay a subscription of £25 “…contribution to cover the the full duration of their course”, and “…receive a 25% discount on their first year’s full membership if they apply within 12 months of completing the course for which they were granted student membership”.

Speakers passionately refered to students as being the future of the Union movement. These references were generally greeted with enthusiastic applause.

Three other uncontoversial motions were passed without debate. Number 72 dealt with the ease with which it will now be possible for members to pay their subs by direct debit or credit card.

Number 74 instructed the N.E.C. to “…investigate the availability of libel/defamation insurance policies for freelance journalists in the Republic of Ireland”.

Finally, under this Finance Section, motion 75 asked the N.E.C. to provide “…a handbook or electronic guidance for branch treasurers on the effective control of branch finances”.

This proved to be a highly popular idea, as most Union activists are aware of how difficult it can be to elect a Treasurer in their branch. Any help that budding Treasurers can get will be gladly received.

The often controversial Finance Sector of the A.D.M. was was quite swiftly completed with little contentious debate.