NORTHCLIFFE owns over 100 papers, but the only NUJ chapel in its empire is at two Bristol-based titles, the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening Post. Last year Northcliffe began cuts to raise profits with a view to putting the group up for sale, a sale that was eventually called off this March. Some staff came out with freelancers for a day of action outside the offices last August. Christina Zaba, Freelance Officer with NUJ Bristol Branch, told the freelance sector conference she and other freelances started going to chapel meetings: it "became clear we had been badly used".
After a 50-signature petition by freelances to management was ignored, freelances worked with the chapel on a 6 per cent pay claim to match the chapel's. "First we had to find freelances: none of us knew the subs, some commissioning editors were too ashamed to admit what they were paying them. We got names out of editors - not easy... The Northcliffe meltdown brought a lot of solidarity". The fact that some staff faced the prospect of becoming freelances themselves "concentrated staff minds wonderfully". Lesson: get involved with chapels.
Rates of pay with Northcliffe remain very low, and "this is not going to be redressed in one go, it's very doubtful the freelances will get anything this year. But the groundwork is done, and it has changed what goes on in paper". Freelances have become visible. The staff are working in practical solidarity with the freelances. Editors find that now that that it is harder to use freelances as potential competitors with staff, they cannot so easily "pick up the phone and rip someone off". Branches and chapels should elect freelance officers because that's where processes like this begin.