[Freelance]

Freelances fight for funds

A threat to cut the work of copyright campaigner Carol Lee, the loss of a member of staff in the freelance office, and a 10 per cent cut in budgets: these were the problems that overshadowed the last Freelance Industrial Council meeting in September.

They were all presented as solutions to the financial problems arising from the union's defeat in the RSI case against the Financial Times. The legal costs which will have to be paid by the NUJ have not yet been finalised but may be as much as £750,000. However, since the bill will not be presented to the NUJ for several months, FIC argued that the union should not be bounced into immediate and damaging cuts, and should take a more measured look at what could be done. As FIC Chairman Phil Sutcliffe pointed out in a letter to Treasurer Mike Sherrington and President Mark Turnbull, the Union has many campaigns (he cited, in particular, the Fairness at Work campaign for recognition of staff chapels) which could be damaged at a crucial time.

The absurdity is that, at a time when the union will be increasing its debt, the "fighting fund" is siphoning off £350,000 a year and, after an Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) motion this year, is reserved solely for strikes. So in such a case as the one against the Financial Times, where the interests of members are being fought for, the Fighting Fund is out of bounds. Freelance Industrial Council and London Freelance Branch will be discussing ADM motions to try to correct this.

The threat to the copyright campaign -- arguably the most important work of the NUJ at present -- has only narrowly been averted. Apparently responding to the financial crisis (which is not yet a crisis), President Mark Turnbull proposed a motion at the last Finance Committee meeting to terminate payments to Carol Lee and Irene Gambie Wood (who has been organising picture researchers). After impassioned debate, this turned into a motion to review all retainers and contracts, with a report back to the November NEC

Meanwhile, Freelance Organiser Bernie Corbett, Phil Sutcliffe and myself had a meeting with General Secretary John Foster to discuss the threats to freelance -- and union -- organisation. After a two-hour meeting, it seemed that the copyright campaign with the services of Carol Lee, at least, were to be safeguarded. The problems over staffing in the freelance office remain, and the 10 per cent cut in budgets was subsequently passed by the October meeting of the NEC.

The next important stage in achieving a financial strategy which softens the blow of debt repayment and maximises the union's ability to support action, campaigns and other membership activities is the Annual Delegate Meeting in March. FIC will be putting forward motions at its November meeting-- as will London Freelance Branch -- which will set out the agenda that we in the freelance sector want to see. Let FIC (c/o Acorn House) know your views.


Nov/Dec 1998
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