Arcane Delegates’ Meeting

TO A FIRST-TIMER, the NUJ's Annual Delegate Meeting (ADM) initially seems arcane. There was compositing of motions and designated horse-trading areas to do it in; a display of Apple computers at the back of the hall but no internet access; delegates to the national conference from the Continental European Council and branches in the Netherlands and Paris. Soon, though, it all seemed to make sense.

In the context of a deterioration in workplace conditions and job security the Branch's motion on low pay, seconded by the General Secretary, was supported by conference. So too were the branch's international initiatives: the campaign for a public inquiry into the death of Ukranian journalist Georgy Gongadze now that action at a European level has stalled; and pressure on Iran in relation to press freedom, women's rights and the murders of journalists and intellectuals between 1999-2000.

The General Secretary of the Zimbabwean journalists' union, whisked to the Conference at short notice, spoke of the threats to journalism in his country, with printing presses blown up and 42 journalists badly beaten. Perhaps the most sobering and poignant moment of the conference was the acknowledgement of murdered journalist Martin O'Hagan with an award. His wife and children were there to receive it. Our Branch's contribution to the motion on Marty was to call for increased training and safety for journalists.

However the rest of our motions were "remitted" - hopefully to resurface again, not to be quietly abandoned. One of the key issues for the freelance sector is how we ensure that our pay demands are recognised alongside those of staff members. We want to be included in staff negotiations and to have demands specific to freelances addressed. But this can be a tall order.

How do you galvanise people to claim something they've never known? Staff journalists, for example, are excluded from the moral right to be identified as the author of a piece and protect the journalistic integrity of copy. Such things can seem like non-issues to them.

Staffers argue it's difficult enough to achieve agreement without a whole extra tier of complexity added binding their hands. But if it's not discussed then, then when will it be? And how do we ensure that agreements are made that do not backfire and work against the interests of freelances? The mood was that no decision was going to be made there and then. For someone used to London Freelance Branch it is quite shocking to realise that despite our being the biggest branch, the union as a whole seems to be made up of mainly staff members, with their own history and expectations and sometimes a sense that we are latecomers to the party.

So freelances are there to remind our colleagues at ADM of our existence and interventions were made by the Branch Chair in that vein. The separate sector meeting for freelances emphasised sticking to principles in the ongoing negotiations with the BBC. Andrew Wiard explained the importance of e{mail for bringing people together in collective action as has been the great success of the EPUK mailing list.

Headland House staffing was always going to be controversial - with more demands made than could be paid for. Our two motions for increased staffing were both remitted pending the General Secretary's comprehensive review of where money can be best allocated given demands across the entire union. One was a call for restoration of freelance office staff level to three from 2 (or 2.5 from 1.5 according to how you count). The other was calling for an in-house legal assistant to help with specialist stuff, copyright in particular.

Our proposal for direct elections of national officers was side-stepped because a general motion was agreed which allows ADM instead to continue to elect the national officers while keeping within the letter of the law. In my view, it was a missed opportunity to belatedly introduce one person-one-vote.

Our non-controversial motion on oral history was remitted - inexplicably it seemed at the time - but this is something the Branch can and has agreed to get on with independently.

Last modified: 12 April 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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