NUJ Annual Delegate Meeting 1999

Freelances where in the NUJ?

After the very focussed "freelances at the heart of the NUJ" conference in Dublin, the union's Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) was bound to be more of a mishmash. We also faced the phenomenon of people who are freelance journalists when they're at work forcefully resisting in the union any move for it to work with or for anyone who doesn't have a "proper job".

Readers fortunate enough not to have been embroiled in the politics of The Decade That Style Forgot (1973-1982) may be puzzled. For the time-poor, the Freelance presents a few key-words: proper-job -> proletariat -> motor-of-history -> actually-existing-socialism -> decayed workers' state. Others among us see a need to invent new forms of trades unionism for the next 20 years. MH

MANY people at ADM expressed concern about the place of freelances in the NUJ. Unfortunately, quite a lot of them seemed to think the present set-up is exactly and adequately right. But, as freelances know, the present set-up tends to make freelance concerns invisible except to freelances.

As one example of invisibility, the camaigning agenda set out in Section 16 of the Annual Report by the union's Development Committee fails to make a direct mention of freelances.

London Freelance Branch challenged this at ADM, which took place in Eastbourne on March 18-21. (For the procedurally inclined: we moved that the section of the Report not be accepted, but did not press for a vote on referral back.)

Our efforts to draw attention to the need to consciously make freelances part of the union's thinking about the future continued. We proposed a motion calling on all relevant union bodies to report on their actions in support of freelance members to Freelance Industrial Council -- the union body which deals with freelance matters for England, Wales and and the EU. This motion (106) met forcibly expressed opposition and was voted down.

We did get a result with another motion (117) which instructs the National Executive to "initiate a study reporting back to ADM 2000 aiming to consider whether the NUJ is allocating resources in a way that takes full account of the Freelance Sector, to examime whether the NEC's own structures give proper representation to freelances spread through all areas of journalism and to identify whether freelances modes of organisation can usefully be adapted to staff sectors."

Amendments from the NEC and Oxford branch added the notion of establishng a profile of freelance members, distinguishing between voluntarily self-employed freelances and those working in casualised jobs.

In other words, over the next year the NEC must address itself to thinking about how the NUJ caters for freelances. Quite probably, it will hand this responsibility over to its Development Committee -- but wherever it ends up it should be a focus of freelance attention.

Over the next few months we encourage any one with any views on the place of freelances in the NUJ -- both individuals and union bodies -- to make submissions directly to the NEC. If you prefer to make a contribution to LFB's proposals to the NEC that's very welcome too.

May/Jun 1999
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