I dreamed I saw George Mac last night
ONLY AFTER election in absentia did George Macintyre lean that his colleagues at the Newcastle Chronicle wanted him as their NUJ Father of Chapel. His subsequent protests were as noisy as they were profane; nevertheless he took up the challenge as though born to the role. Over the ensuing 15 years he affected a minor miracle, maintaining a steadfast NUJ presence against a backdrop of derecognition and management hostility. Lesser mortals gave up on the union; George deployed obdurate ingenuity to maintain a vital spark.
George, who died unexpectedly on 21 November 2016 at the age of 62, will be remembered for many things in NUJ circles. He was a popular President who used high office to drive campaigns; a source of numerous Delegate Meeting stories (generally well-lubricated); and an effective national executive member whose ebullience masked a considerable facility with detail. All will be celebrated elsewhere, I am sure.
The role in which he earned his place in our most exclusive pantheon, however, is his long service as a senior officer of the Chronicle and Journal NUJ chapel. With David Baines, he was the union's north-eastern figurehead during a decade when the NUJ was derecognised by nearly every provincial newspaper publisher. At that time managements did their darnedest to unpick every aspect of working practices and contracts that were rooted in collective negotiation. Standard terms and conditions, agreed working hours, annual pay talks and defined pay bands were all in at risk. Quite a few of those, even George could not save - at least not at the time.
It is hard now to evoke how bleak seemed the NUJ's position. House agreements were shredded and new contracts imposed. NUJ Chapels were banned from meeting at workplaces - it is easy to see why many thought the union finished. George's response was two-fold. He made himself a master of company disciplinary procedure and he immersed himself in health and safety rules.
Extraordinary facility with the former provided a highly visible role, defending members when they might have been picked off. He understood procedure better than HR departments and developed a dogged style that might have earned him a living at the Bar.
George promoted safety rules just as relentlessly. Once, for example, he spotted senior managers in the newsroom having their photographs taken with a group of foreign visitors. "Stop, stop, stop" he was soon shouting as he ran to intervene - his Ayrshire brogue adding urgency to his injunction. The photographer had positioned himself on an office chair to capture his shot. George interposed himself in the shot until the snapper climbed on to the more stable platform of a desk.
Some of his campaigns were quirky. For months running up to the Millennium, the Chronicle's management insisted that staff working the new year holiday would be paid no extra. Then clippings started to appear all over the buildings recording the premia being paid to workers in other industries. A trickle of stories pasted to walls became a torrent. Eventually management buckled and promised enhanced payments - so long as George promised to stop flyposting his cuttings.
So effective did George become defending workers facing disciplinary hearings that he was sought out to help in workplaces other than his own. Health and safety work also provided him with national representative positions, even if some from the "other side" would not sit in a room with him.
The Employment Relations Act created a statutory right to trades union recognition. George and David Baines were among the first to regain union recognition for members in Newcastle, and then to negotiate a new house agreement. It was so good that the NUJ subsequently used it an en exemplar when explaining collective bargaining abroad.
George was motivated by a deep concern for the welfare of individual journalists and he was little interested in political abstraction. Not only that, but he was tremendous company and a dependable store of war stories from the back bench and the negotiating table.