Yes to a political fund
The NUJ ballot, asking members to vote on whether we should establish a Political Fund will be taking place shortly after the findings and controversy of the Hutton Report.
As a result BBC journalists and their trade union the NUJ have been pushed into a headlong battle with the government. This battle is about the of right for journalists and media organisations to independently report, investigate and expose arguments, policies and actions of governments that are in the public interest and that hold governments to account.
Like many other sections of workers, the NUJ is finding itself having to be able to take on the political arguments of the government, and its big business backers. In order to defend its members pay and conditions, to prevent the attacks on the BBC, to defend the freedom of the press, and to defend the BBC as a public sector broadcaster, the NUJ has to take on a political role in order to win the arguments.
The Blair government since being in power has shown its willingness to stand up and defend the interests of big business against the interests of working people. The government have also shown their willingness to deliberately attack and attempt to break up the power and influence of the trade unions, as well as the pay and conditions of working people. This intention is also partly behind the current attacks on the BBC.
The government can see clearly that the BBC, a publicly funded, independent broadcasting corporation, run by journalists organised in a strongly unionised workplace, is a threat to its ideological offensive against the freedom of the press, the public ownership and control of services and the independent organisation of working people. The government knows that if it is to win this propaganda offensive it has to have a broadcasting corporation and a media it can control and use to put across its agenda.
The attack on the BBC is also a message to other media organisations and publications that this is what will happen to you if you step out of line. A statement of its intentions to radically alter the nature of the media organisations in Britain, and attack the pay and working conditions of journalists working in those media organisations.
As Freelances I believe that we have potentially the most to lose from the ongoing attack on the media. As an atomised, casual workforce, we will be in a weaker position to influence our pay and working conditions, as many of our working lives can testify. We will also be in a weaker position to influence the direction and power of the media organisations we work for. But as a mass freelance workforce, we form an essential part of the production process that goes into producing the end product in the media we work for. Therefore as a freelance workforce organised collectively in a trade union linked together through union branches and networks, our actions and initiatives can have much more influence on events.
But our influence can only be successful if the trade union we are part of is strong and equipped with the right tools to carry out the necessary tasks it needs for the job.
Part of this task will be the establishment of a Political Fund. In a recent article in the journalist, the NUJ laid out its top ten priorities it would address, on the establishment of a Political Fund. These include campaigning on Rights at work, Pensions, Protecting the BBC, the Right to Report, Copyright and Tax at Source. By having a Political Fund, the NUJ will be able to openly campaign and organise its members to take on the Government to achieve changes in the law to the benefit of its members.
This process will involve the discussion and formulation of the political arguments and positions necessary to be able to win the political battles the NUJ will be facing.
The establishment of a Political Fund is not just about going to Parliament and lobbying the government, it is about politicising and giving political expression to ourselves as members of a trade union.
Political discussion, and the development of political ideas is a vital part of enabling trade union members to work out a way forward and a strategy to secure lasting change for the better in their working lives.
By discussing the political ideas and tasks that need to be carried out, a trade union is giving a political role to its members and enabling them to take an active part in deciding the way forward. This enables trade union members to play their true role in a union, that of active participants in the struggle to change their working lives, rather than passive paper members not able to effect positive change and contribute to the strength and influence of the trade union they are part of.
As trade unionists and journalists our working lives are characterised by political events and policies that fundamentally effect our abilities to work as journalists. By de-politicising ourselves we are disabling our abilities to effectively argue for the improvements and changes necessary to our lives as Freelances and media workers.
Both Greg Dyke and Andrew Gilligan in their departures from the BBC made statements that they were shocked by the findings of the Hutton Report and that all parts of the media should be concerned by its implications. As journalists, if we stick to the line that we should not take political positions, and that as professionals we should not engage in battles with the government, then we are opening the way for a major attack on the media we will not be able to adequately respond to.
If we as Freelances wish to ensure the continuation of good quality, professional journalism, delivered by highly skilled, well paid, well looked after journalists, then as first step, I believe we should vote yes in the ballot for a political fund for the NUJ.