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NUJ Delegate Meeting 2014

THE NUJ's biannual biennial Delegate Meeting (DM, its conference that votes on Union policy and on proposed changes to its rules and constitution) met in Eastbourne in April - regretably just before the arrival of Showwaddywaddy, the Sooty Show, the Military Wives Choir and Hello Kitty, all making later appearances in town. DM was immediately preceded by an NUJ Freelance Sector Conference - a report on which will follow shortly.

Drawing of NUJ Delegate Meeting 2014; Matt Salusbury
Artist's impression of what the 2014 NUJ Delegate Meeting in the Floral Hall, Winter Gardens, Eastbourne might have looked like. (Scroll down for photos.)

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet opened DM by celebrating Union recongition being won for NUJ members at Al Jazeera in the UK. NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley reported that the Republic's Competition Authority are targeting freelance workers in the mistaken belief that giving freelances collective bargaining rights and allowing them to publish suggested rates for the job would damage the economy.

Seamus said Ireland's politicians are pretending that "the [EU] Troika telling us what to do is all the fault of freelance photographers and their 'price-fixing'... in every sector we are struggling to survive" but while this a "difficult time in a difficult country to be a trade union activist," Seamus concluded by saying "we are not taking this lying down."

Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran said five-figure sums had been obtained in actions brought by employees of Media Scotland, and that legal action brought as a result of pay freezes "seems to have focused the minds of employers". A Modern Apprenticeships scheme is now being run by the NUJ in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Government and others, with apprentices "integrated into the pay system of the companies" where they work. And a PR at Faslane nuclear submarine base was reinstated - twice. From Wales, Ken Smith reported that hyperlocal news initiatives had been started by NUJ members.

London Freelance delegation sign; Matt Salusbury

LFB's delegation sat on the row designated "Green 2" for the convenience of the tellers counting votes

The quality of the debate was, in this observer's humble opinion, far higher than the usual dire standard, with some speakers even admitting they had changed their positions as a result of some of the arguments that had been so eloquently made.

Freelance report

Freelance Organiser John Toner gave a freelance sector report that focused on "unpaid work... the curse of the Freelance classes. Where has this idea come from," he asked, "that journalistic work should be provided for free?" John noted that clients prefer to use the term "content" because "to call it work would give it value." We now face the excretions of "a billion egos who believed their opinions are of interest to someone other than their cat."

Publishers, added John, ask journalists: why should we pay you if we can get content for free? Why, then, should we bother to download their "content". But why, asked John, "is this happening in an industrialised country where the rule of law operates? It's because we have "no National Minimum Wage for self-employed people... It is legal to work for nothing."

And freelances also have "no right to collective bargaining... Freelances do not have to right to strike." But as other forms of work diminish, "our industry is rapidly becoming freelance" with "no statutory rights". We need to press for those among our sister unions in the Trade Unions Congress "to enable freelances to learn a living wage."

Delegates queue to speak at NUJ Delegate Meeting; Matt Salusbury

An orderly queue of delegates waiting to speak in favour of Motion 69 on changes to Union subscriptions.

Among the most hotly debated proposals to DM was that to change the Union's subscriptions system. (These were often referred to as "subs", rather confusing in an organisation with so many sub-editors!)

With falling membership resulting in reduced income, the Union faces a financial crisis unless subscriptions can increase. Several speakers, including staff at the NUJ, reminded members that staff had taken a cut in paid-for hours, agreed to take a hit on their pensions, and not had a pay rise beyond one per cent for many years. NUJ Irish Secretary Seamus Dooley commented that "An army fights on its stomach, but you have to pay for the bloody food!"

The subs system is currently based on a member's "grade" and sector, with a cap at one per cent of a member's taxable income and further complications.

LFB was active in a lot of backstage negotiations which separated the original Motion 69 on subscriptions into two. One allowed subscriptions to be raised. A separate motion allowed new members to be put onto a new subs system based on members' income rather than on grade and sector.

The proposal to raise subscriptions passed. The plan to put new members on a new system failed to gain the necessary two thirds majority for a "rule change". Another proposal, to give the NEC the limited power - in exceptional circumstances - to raise subscriptions between DMs to avert a possible catastrophe and to take account of inflation - was rejected.

LFB Chair Dave Rotchelle; Matt Salusbury

LFB chair Dave Rotchelle addresses conference on the need to change the Union's subscriptions rates.

The General Secretary had noted earlier that it's now possible to join the NUJ online, and UK banking regulations have now changed to allow direct debits from banks in Ireland and Continental Europe, considerably easing recruitment and the paying of subscriptions.

Teresa Couciero; Matt Salusbury
Teresa Couciero speaks for LFB, calling on journalists to maintain their independence on Israel. (Staged reconstruction.)

LFB's delegation was two thirds female and 50 per cent were delegates for the first time. One speaking at DM for the first time was London Freelance Branch delegate Teresa Couciero, who urged journalists to retain their independence while speaking against a proposal for some measures in support of a boycott of Isreali goods. The motion was heftily defeated.

LFB's Elizabeth Ingrams also made her maiden DM speech, outlining some of the current threats to copyright that creators face, and which needed campaigning on. The motion to continue lobbying on copyright passed.

Elizabeth Ingrams; Matt Salusbury

LFB delegate Elizabeth Ingrams lists some of the many threats to our copyright.

Also making possibly the shortest ever maiden DM speech, in support of a motion on developing the Journalist's online presence, was LFB's Maureen Paton, who was also elected in a DM ballot to the NUJ delegation to the Trades Union Congress Women's Conference. Most of the motion was passed, with one paragraph regarding the role of the Journalist's editor deleted. If the Freelance has understood the complicated outcome of Composite Motion 167 correctly, the editor of the Journalist is now encouraged to develop the publication's online presence - including possible input of additional online material associated with the Journalist into the NUJ website - while their editorial independence is reaffirmed.

A proposal for the Union to fund good causes it supported via votes at Branches rather than via votes at DM fell, failing to attract the two-thirds majority required for a "rule change". This followed a call for a card vote - rather than accepting the usual show of hands. The doors were shut while the tellers went through the aisles counting delegates' cards held in the air. There was an unusually high number of card-votes this year - so many, in fact, that we lost count of them. This contributed to seven motions (proposals put to a vote) being timed-out, as well as several dozen "composites" - motions cobbled together by agreement between different Branches and Industrial Councils proposing slightly similar things, in "horse-trading". Those votes that were timed out will now go to the Union's National Executive Committee for consideration.

LFB's Arjum Wajid, also on the NEC, spoke to the motion on media stereotyping of people from Essex of the sort seen in The Only Way is Essex (a popular "reality" TV programme, M'Lud). Arjum Wajid noted the diversity of that East of England county, and explained that having lived there much of her adult life, she was a "typical Essex girl".

LFB Secretary Dr Francis Sedgemore, also of the NUJ's Equality Council, spoke to the motion on reporting transgender issues, noting the sensationalist tabloid coverage of transgendered school teacher Lucy Meadows in the period leading up to her suicide, and that while the Guardian quicky adopted Chelsea Manning's chosen identity, with the use of appropriate pronouns, other newspapers still referred to Chelsea as "Bradley Manning", using the masculine pronoun. Guidelines on reporting on transgender people are imminent.

Francis covered DM on Twitter: see also LFB's Twitter feed and #NUJDM14

Freelance photographer Andrew Wiard told DM that as well as proliferating "zero hour" contracts, we are now seeing "zero pay" contracts being presented to creators. Andrew called for the NUJ to denounce the British Library's practice of contacting writers and photographers who'd contributed to feminist magazine Spare Rib, whose archive they were making available for free, supposedly for the BL's "only non-commercial use". But the BL insisted on a Creative Commons licence. It gave Spare Rib contributors only seven days to respond. While it assured them the plan would "not affect integrity" of their work, the particular Creative Commons Licence it wanted gives everybody a "licence to remix" and to "create derivative work." Creative Commons licences are "destructive commons licences" said Andrew, who called on the NUJ to denounce the BL's stand. The motion on the BL and Spare Rib was "remitted" - sent to the NEC for their consideration. [Checking this - ed]

Honouring Mike Holderness

DM was also the occasion for Freelance editor Mike Holderness to be made NUJ Member of Honour, for his quarter of century's work for the Union, particularly in the fields of defending copyright and empowering journalist and trade unionists through new technology.

Mike Holderness; Matt Salusbury

LFB's Mike Holderness, also Freelance editor, accepts his Membership of Honour. (Apologies for the photo, which will be replaced by a proper one donated by a professional shortly.)

Freelance Industrial Council Chair Tim Dawson listed Mike's many achievements - the LFB website, probably the first of any media union in the UK, if not the world - the Rate for the Job engine, the online Freelance Fees Guide, the Freelance Directory.

When Mike speaks to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, said Tim, they "sit up and take notice", such is his expertise. And pro-copyright alliances have been able to influence or mitigate recent UK intellectual property legislation: this has often been due to quiet, patient lobbying by Mike "in the House of Lords tearoom," where, Tim added, it matters to those Lords who have Mike's ear "not one jot" that Mike is "still dressed as if he's going to a squat party."

Jenny Vaughan; Matt Salusbury

LFB Treasurer Jenny Vaughan gathers delegate's credential around her neck at breakfast, in preparation for a possible early "card vote" so the votes of LFB delegates not yet arrived can be counted.

DM also voted to stop having an elected Deputy General Secretary, a post whose rôle has been unclear for some time.

Other motions passed at DM included campaigning for an industry-wide survey on stress levels; threats to the rights of the self-employed in the Welfare Bill; ensuring that money for local TV is spent properly; and deploring Getty making millions of its photos available for free, which "destroys the lives" of many photographers. DM condemned blocks on certain search terms introduced recently by UK ISP providers; the system of up-front charges for requests and appeals brought in by Ireland's current Freedom of Information Act; private companies in the UK being awarded contracts to manage our "digital identities" online. It reaffirmed the need to work on the consultation on the UK Data Protection Act post-Leveson.

Phil Sutcliffe; Matt Salusbury

LFB's Phil Sutcliffe, also a National Executive Council member, describes the iniquity of rights-grab contracts and warranties being demanded by media publishers.

Also passed was Motion 17, which encouraged NUJ members who own companies to employ people properly and fairly. Natasha Robson of Leeds Branch, who remembered her own struggles as an employee and who now has a PR business employing staff, spoke to the motion, as did LFB Treasurer Jenny Vaughan. Jenny noted that in her experience, "the right-on-ness of a publication seems to be in inverse proportion to how they treat their staff."

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