Go West Country!
THE ACTION at Bristol Northcliffe is gathering pace every hour, as the public, loyal readers and fellow trade unionists wake up to what's going on, galvanised by the demonstration two weeks ago which was reported on local TV and radio, and in the new Clifton Chronicle, a title recently launched by the sacked ex-deputy editor of the Bristol Evening Post, Stan Szecowka.
Almost all staff at the Bristol Evening Post (80+) are now Chapel members and two weeks ago another Chapel was created at the Western Daily Press, the other Northcliffe title housed in the same building, whose 71,000 circulation covers Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and parts of Dorset, Wiltshire and Devon. Again, almost the whole of the staff have joined the Chapel.
At time of writing the ballot is imminent, but no date is yet set - partly because people are still joining the Chapels. Meanwhile morale is high, with two Chapel meetings in the building every week, each open to the other and attended by upward of 100 journalists. NUJ mugs and mousemats are suddenly being used everywhere in the building! The lunchtime demonstration outside the BEP building two weeks ago had nearly every journalist out of the building, joined by representatives from SW TUC, Public and Commercial Services Union and Branch activists with banners - upwards of 80 people. On Tuesday 22 November there's going to be another lunchtime demonstration, fronted by Massive Attack frontman Robert Del Naja, NUJ President Tim Lezard and Fathers of Chapel Derek Brooks and Paul Breeden, and attended by Chapel officials and members, Branch officers and members, and fellow trade unionists. We expect upwards of 100 people, and again, local TV and radio will be reporting on the events.
Feelings are running very high locally and right across the West Country about the dismemberment of these papers, which for more than 100 years have been part of the West Country scene and key players in local democracy. Messages of support have come from Jilly Cooper, chef Keith Floyd, Massive Attack frontman Robert Del Naja, every Bristol MP (including Tory Liam Fox), Ian Liddell Grainger MP, and many more. An unlikely alliance is building up of NUJ members and activists, other Union activists, local celebrities, local and national politicians and the public. Questions are being asked in Westminster.
We expect the campaign to keep building over the coming weeks. The freelances who work for the two titles are being encouraged to come to their own meetings - the first to be headed up by John Toner on the evening of Tuesday 22 November - to agree what action they should take, both to support the Chapels and to make their own possible pay claim. Although the BEP Chapel, the first at any Northcliffe title, didn't include freelances in its bargaining unit, there's a good relationship between the Chapel and the freelance representatives and both Chapels have voted unanimously in support of a Northcliffe freelance pay claim.
Go the West Country! We're confident that by working together, by sending the message loud and clear that this isn't just about journalists but about readers, the community and freedom of speech, and by activating the support and loyalty of our public, we'll force the Northcliffe bosses to think again. If that happens, we'll have helped not just Bristol but staff at all Northcliffe titles everywhere. So there's everything to play for.