The last fortnight has seen a new buzz among journalists who have started to stir in many countries. Perhaps it was just a matter of time before our member unions started getting involved in the mobilisation in their own countries against austerity and job cuts. They have for many years now endured jobs losses in their hundreds and cuts in budgets with catastrophic consequences for newsrooms. The recent action is significant and may be a sign that journalists and their unions are not prepared to take it any longer and started fighting back.
This may not be as strong as it should be when you look at the walk out on October 8th at the New York Times organised by the Newspaper Guild of New York. Some cynics derided the action as too feeble as journalists walked out from one door of the building in 40th street, stood on the pavement for a while, strolled around the block and walked back in another entrance in 41st street. But it had also its strength. It involved 375 staff members who wanted to register their protest at the stalemate in negotiations over contracts. They all wore stickers that made them feel they speak with one voice which strengthened the hands of their negotiators.
Over a week later, journalists in Greece embarked on their umpteenth strike on 18th October since the beginning of their country’s financial crisis. Only last September 24th, journalists went on a 24-hour all media strike followed by a 4-hour stoppage on 26th September, in support of a call by the General Confederation of Greek Workers along with Civil Servants Union to protest against new austerity cuts being demanded by Greece ’s lenders which are bound to cripple Greek society and further depress the economy.
This time journalists led by their union, the Journalists Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (JUADN), struck for 24 hours one day prior on 17th October and only for 4 hours on the following day, the actual day of the strike, so they can cover it. This action, also involving other media workers, broadcasting technical staff and press distribution workers ,was part a wider mobilisation involving hundreds of thousands of workers but journalists had their own concerns ranging from the end of collective work agreements, to the collapse of state social provisions and journalists’ pension and health funds, the dramatic increase in dismissals and the introduction of personal contracts that provide earnings below the standard of living as well as drastic cuts on salaries and work benefits.
On the same day, journalists and other staff at Portugal's national news agency Lusa started a four-day strike over government plans to cut state funding for the company by 30 per cent next year. The 300 staff are protesting at government plans to reduce the agency’s public service contract from €19 to €13 million and they fear this will result in huge cuts in budget, less of jobs and quality.
But it was in Tunisia that journalists on strike managed to bring the nation’s media to a stand still on 17th October. On its website home page, Tunisian public radio posted the station's logo with a black band running though it and the slogan: "General strike by journalists: the freedom of the press and the rights of citizens." The official TAP news agency sent a message to its subscribers saying it was restricted to offering a "minimum service, covering only very urgent news." Most newspapers ran front page editorial in support of the strike and the journalists’ demands. This nationwide spectacular action by journalists brought to the attention of the nation the attempts by the Islamist-led government to curb press freedom, seek to control public media groups, and manipulate content by appointing loyal directors.
If you take all these actions together they represent only a modest ferment but they are important as they point out that the spread of protests, strikes and electoral upheavals started involving journalists and their unions as the burden of the crisis began to load on to the majority demonstrating that pressure for real change had begun, and rejection of corporate power and greed had become the common sense of the age. Our unions have been for many years at the forefront of the revulsion against discredited corporation and their failed economic models which have thrown journalism in turmoil. Now they could be on the cusp of the fightback.