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Journalists win union recognition victory
JOURNALISTS AT South West Wales Media Limited (SWWM) have voted decisively in favour of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) being recognised by the company.
Mike Evans, Swansea NUJ
In a postal ballot of 92 members of staff, 45 voted for union recognition (57% of those voting and just under 50% of the bargaining unit), as against 34 who opposed it and 13 abstentions.
One senior editor at the company was heard to say the result was "a dark day for management", in contrast to one union member, who has experienced two decades without a recognised union, who said: "At last the dark days are over".
The result is the culmination of an 18-month long campaign by NUJ activists and members - supported by national NUJ officials and other NUJ branches - to overcome the bitter hostility towards trade unions of SWWM and its parent company, Northcliffe Newspapers.
The union was derecognised at the company - which publishes the South Wales Evening Post, Carmarthen Journal and Llanelli Star, among others - nearly two decades ago when individual contracts were introduced.
The intervening years have seen a marked decline in pay and conditions for most journalistic staff at the company.
The final straw came in early 2007 when management ended a Sunday working payment - cutting up to £2,000 a year from some journalists' salaries - and a new sickness policy meant any three instances of sickness in a 12-month period could see a staff member lose all their sick pay entitlement and possibly lose their job, regardless of whether or not they had sick certificates or the nature of their illness.
Union members and other staff realised that any attempt to try and change things individually was futile in the face of a hostile, arrogant and complacent management.
Over the past 18 months over 30 people have been recruited to the NUJ and a stronger effective workplace union organisation has taken root.
Over 50% of journalists are now members of the NUJ and this should have entitled the NUJ to automatic recognition, however management added nearly a dozen secretarial assistants and managers to the bargaining unit, thinking it would make it impossible for the NUJ to win the ballot.
The union approached the company for a voluntary recognition agreement based on this density of membership but management set out to belittle the union's recognition bid as "fanciful" and engaged in bitter character assassination of the three main union reps at the newsgroup and vicious attacks on the NUJ.
At the same time they tried to claim they were a caring management and introduced cosmetic benefits like coffee and cakes for staff on a Tuesday afternoon - one of the busiest production days.
But the majority of staff saw these changes as "fanciful" gestures which were too little, too late.
In the run-up to the ballot, a core of support was built among journalists that held solid throughout months of attacks.
This was particularly because management, while conducting increasingly hysterical attacks against the union, did not at any stage show they had anything positive and concrete to help improve the abysmally low pay of many of the younger journalists and to reduce the workload staff face - where many journalists are expected to do about three times as much work as they did a few years back.
The victory was greeted with joy by many staff - union and non-union members - and has won applause from other NUJ members and trade unionists throughout Britain.
A hard-fought campaign has brought about a significant step forward for trade unionists, despite the complexity and limited nature of the union recognition laws and a vicious union-busting approach from the company.
Management's immediate response has been to adopt the 'Mugabe' approach and pretend that the ballot didn't happen.
The union is busy preparing the next step on the many issues that need urgently addressing. But one of the first priorities will be to throw a celebration party for all those who backed the campaign.
In The Socialist 17 September 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Labour Party conference protest
Privatisation and closure
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review