We're a subversive democracy
THE OCTOBER LFB meeting invited
Journalist editor Tim Gopsill to describe how the union's democracy
JOURNALISTS recognise that they have to defend
their profession and that it is a keystone of democracy. The NUJ
itself is, Tim says, very democratic. A lot of the
anti-trade-union measures of the Tory government were ostensibly enforcing
union democracy. Not one of them affected the NUJ, he said: it was
already doing everything they required.
In the NUJ the content of motions on policy, and the
procedural stuff that governs their debate, is completely uncontrolled by
any central organ of the union. Some unions operate more like
the party conferences which make no pretence to democracy -
no-one can push a proposals through against the wishes of the central
The NUJ, by contrast, has organisational machinery to prevent
such obstruction. Standing Orders Committee (SOC), which governs
the process of the Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) is elected by
that meeting. Members of the National Executive (NEC) and union
officials are not allowed to stand on SOC. It often tells the
NEC to rethink.
All the decision-making bodies of the NUJ are composed of
"lay" members - again, this contrasts with some unions
whose national executives include full-timers. It means volunteer,
elected officers giving up their time to work for the union.
The union has another "tier" of elected
representatives - the so-called "Industrial Councils" for each
industry sector. These include Broadcasting, Magazines and Books,
National Newspapers and Agencies - and, because freelances have
specific concerns and may work in several sectors, Freelance
Industrial Council. FIC is responsible for the union's activities
for freelances in England and Wales. Councils can tell union
officials how to conduct their work for their sector.
This union also directly elects its top two full-time
officials, the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary. And,
uniquely, the editor (Tim) is elected by the membership.
Union democracy starts, though, in Branch meetings. Tim noted
London Freelance Branch successes in making union policy. The
union now has lots of activity on copyright and that, he said, is
entirely due to efforts by LFB. Members of FIC in particular may
demur - but as a full-time official talking to the largest
Branch in the union "I know which side my bread is buttered".
Another motion proposed at the meeting called for action to
reinforce the working of the Press Card. The fact that the NUJ
has a press card at all is due to the actions of LFB a decade and
He concludes that all this democracy makes the activity of the
NUJ subversive, in a positive sense. We are a real nuisance at
the Trades Union Congress. There, he said, the NUJ is always the
union which is making trouble, refusing to compromise or to be
steamrollered into "compositing" its motions into
bland compromises and instead putting in sharp motions telling it
like it is.
About the only thing which unites people at ADM, he observed,
is refusing to affiliate to the Labour Party - something else
which annoys the majority in the TUC. The NUJ's political position
is in permanent opposition to whichever government happens to
be in power.
"Underneath our differences," Tim believes, "is
a great notion of the collective interest of journalists and
the importance that has for democracy in the wider society."