The strain of it all is everywhere to see. Not just in the rising unemployment figures and wider economic gloom, but the whole of the western world seems to be running on near empty and heading to a double-dip recession. In the middle of the gloom and doom, some of our unions are feel the double pressure of voracious employers who have invariably taken advantage to put the boot in but also from the press freedom industry NGOs who have been seeking all along to outflank unions and speak on behalf of journalists.
Last week saw two momentous events that boosted our union’s legitimacy in representing their members. In Ohio, unions succeeded in delivering a splendid victory for workers when they convinced voters to overturn a divisive anti-union law and defeat Republican Governor John Kasich. Ohio voters rejected by 61 to 39 per cent Issue 2 in a ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, a legislation framed to restrict collective bargaining rights for public employees. Faced with an intransigent Kasich, workers did what that can do best, campaign, mobilise, educate, march, petition, and in the end they won.
In the UK, IFJ member, the National Union of Journalists, confounded its enemies and even surprised its own members when it took by storm the Leveson enquiry into the future of the press regulations in the UK, following the phone hacking scandal. First it won the status of core participant which put it in pole position speaking with authority on behalf of journalists. Most importantly it gave a lesson to the vast army of silks and QCs hired for the occasion by media corporations by depicting the lives of journalists in today’s newsroom.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet made one of the most powerful opening speeches that made headlines and was transmitted live, as the enquiry got under way.
She exposed the cynicism of News International and its boss Rupert Murdoch in creating and funding their own proxy union -- the News International Staff Association – to keep the NUJ and other unions out. She berated the Press Complaint Commission as a “self-serving gentleman club” that failed and called for new models that have teeth.
She unraveled today’s relentless pressures on journalists to deliver without even the resources to do the job well which often leads to short cuts and explained in details the reality of newsroom culture something that only a union, and no other NGO, can deliver on behalf of its journalists members.
The NUJ is coordinating the testimonies from journalists and will feed dozens of cases of bullying at a senior level, all key factors which led to the scale of hacking. Again only a union, and no other NGO, can do this on behalf of its members.
For quite a while now, the IFJ has been collaborating in good faith with all the alphabet soup of press freedom NGOs. In the end they only represent themselves or their funder. But now that they act and speak on behalf of journalists, the time has come for the IFJ to re-evaluate some of these relationships. I hope that events such as the Ohio vote or the Leveson inquiry will give confidence to our unions to reignite the flame of trade unionism as the only organisations that can represent and fight for their members.