How to organise against a rights-grab
WHAT CAN journalists do when confronted by the sort of "all rights and your firstborn" contract described overleaf? Negotiate individually, certainly, but collective action is stronger!
- Contact the NUJ, tell them what's happening and discuss the way forward. This will probably involve at least some of the following:
- Contact other freelances you know who work for the client/company involved, NUJ members or not, and ask for help in doing what comes next. Check if it's clear whether the contract has gone to both writers and photographers. Form a steering committee of the willing and set up a committee joint email.
- Compile a list of freelances who might be affected.
- Set up an email network to contact this longer list and involve them in open discussion.
- In your first message, state the problems of the contract as pithily as you can, with emphasis on the practical effects first, high principles second.
- Ask for questions to help with the collective struggle to understand the legal terms used. Any terms that are uncertain can be explained by the union.
- Ask for views on what might be done as a group.
- Stress that the contract must be rejected by each freelance. If you do not respond and continue to provide work then you may be deemed to have accepted the contract.
Give people the option as to whether they wish to remain on the list.
- Put together a letter/email signed by as many freelances as possible rejecting the contract. This should state the reasons for rejecting the contract and ask for a meeting to discuss the issues. Occasional or just feasible contributors should be included.
- If the company agrees to a meeting elect reps to attend.
- Call a meeting of freelances, if practicable, for brainstorming and possible decision-making. It is always advisable to elect a committee at a meeting?- if that's not possible the committee could be extended by volunteering or voting in email.
- Follow this with a mass mailback of the contracts with everything unacceptable deleted. As an option, you could put together your own version of the contract and send it to the company.
- If the company has an NUJ Chapel (workplace-based unit of organisation) invite the Mother of Chapel or Father of Chapel (its head) to the meeting. If that's not possible, try to arrange for committee members to meet them informally to discuss the problems, what support if any the staff can give, and to establish that any freelance action, such as refusing to sign the contracts, isn't directed at them but at the company's policy.
Contact other freelances and other freelance networks for support.
- If talks are refused or break down, consider using publicity (media columns, mags, radio and blogs). Remember that the press will see freelance resistance as a story, and you will have to decide early on how to deal with this.
If there is support at this point, organise a day of action.
- Throughout, stay in touch via the network or by issuing bulletins. Keep the staff updated on what's happening and sustain freelance discussion and democracy via the network.