Strike’s timing challenges perceptions of unions

THE first major high-profile strike facing the new Conservative government was in an entirely private sector quoted company – affecting members of three unions at workplaces around England and Wales.

The dispute over pay at ITV resulted in a walkout by members of the NUJ, Bectu and Unite – on the day of the company’s formal AGM this spring.

Although the week’s notice of the 24-hour strike required under UK law meant that executives could undermine the visibility of the action, production was disrupted.

A day’s work was lost on both Emmerdale and Coronation Street, ITV1’s prime time soaps where schedules to produce several episodes a week were already tight.

Arrangements also had to be made for that Thursday’s Loose Women to be pre-recorded the previous afternoon.

The dispute did not involve journalists at ITN, so the channel’s news output was not noticeably affected. As separate companies, commercial broadcasters in Northern Ireland and Scotland were not affected.

Senior executives did nothing to improve union members’ attitudes towards the company by circulating e-mails that morning announcing a 14 per cent revenue increase with timing that was regarded as insulting by some on picket lines in Leeds.

The NUJ’s father of chapel at ITV Yorkshire emphasised that the action was not political.

“It’s about fairness,” said Martin Fisher. “Workloads for journalists have increased at least three-fold in recent years while the pay awards for executives show total contempt for their employees.”

Members of the NUJ’s national executive council joined colleagues demonstrating outside the shareholders’ meeting at Westminster’s QEII conference centre.

Picketing of the main entrance, car park and a vehicle bay at ITV’s Kirkstall Road studios began at 7am.

“The irony of disputes such as this is that the managers who put so much pressure on individual workers to cross picket lines in the name of loyalty are themselves being exploited as greatly as anyone,” said joint NUJ president Adam Christie.

“Loyalty may have had a place in the days of ITV’s regional origins, when the companies had local owners and the profits boosted the nearby economy.

“Now, with US investors as the majority of shareholders, dividend payments crossing the Atlantic are draining local UK economies.

“The NUJ has seen the reaction when another US media corporation – Gannett – drained money from Bradford and York by taking profits from papers owned by its Newsquest subsidiary to Washington.”

Former NUJ president Donnacha Delong said that after Conservative Party and national newspaper favouritism towards private sector media organisations and widespread perceptions that the UK union movement is restricted to the public sector, the irony of the walkout could not be underestimated.

His comments came at the latest meeting of the NUJ’s development committee.

High-profile support for the strike came from consumer finance guru Martin Lewis who was due at ITV’s London Studios. He tweeted: “Sadly I won’t be doing deals of the week on Good Morning Britain … due to ITV strike. As NUJ member I prefer not to cross picket lines.”

First published in News Leeds, the newsletter of the Leeds branch of the National Union of Journalists, July 2015.

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