NUJ leadership pushes through subs increase but left lands blows at conference

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) held its online delegates meeting (conference) on 21 and 22 May, with mixed results for the left. A key debate was over a proposed rise in members’ union subs. The national executive committee argued that “without a subs increase, the NUJ will be left with no choice but to seek to join a larger, general union – the fate of several other small craft unions”.

There is no doubt that the union faces a serious financial situation, but the thrust of the leadership’s argument is that members, most of whom get low-medium pay and are in precarious work, have to stump up more subs. These are already among the highest subs levels for unions. The leadership rejected an addendum to their motion that called for higher-paid members to pay higher subs.

The left of the union argued for years that a serious campaigning drive was needed to recruit new members, particularly from new areas of media and the freelancers. This is the key to sustaining the NUJ, along with the union fighting strenuously for its members’ interests in the workplace.

The national executive committee proposals barely mentioned recruitment. Instead, they conducted a months-long scaremongering campaign and succeeded in getting their vote through at conference.

Their allies from the Irish executive committee put forward a motion calling for the removal of a two-thirds majority needed to change subs levels. Speakers against included Niall Mulholland (London Magazine branch and Socialist Party member), who argued that this was an attempt to make raising subs a matter of routine, and marked a weakening of union democracy.

Like the executive committee’s motion, it would not end the crisis of the NUJ’s future viability, as many members would leave the union, unable to pay rising subs, and potential lower-paid members would be put off from joining. Importantly, delegates rejected scrapping the two-thirds rule on raising subs.

Moreover, delegates also agreed to do away with the need for a proposer and seconder to allow people to join the union, which is antiquated and unnecessarily bureaucratic. It is vital that the union opens up further in order to recruit, and not put up barriers.

National executive committee member Anton McCabe, a Militant Left supporter (CWI Ireland), spoke on recent threats against journalists in Northern Ireland: “This union will not accept attacks on or abuse of our members. That was shown by the response to the killing of Lyra McKee and the response of our members in Northern Ireland to threats before Christmas.

“Women journalists are particularly under threat. There have been vile threats to Patricia Devlin and Allison Morris in Northern Ireland. That poison is also crossing the Irish Sea, with Amy Fenton in Cumbria having to flee her home.”

Niall Mulholland moved a similar motion from London Magazine, seconded by Felicity McCall’s (Ireland North West) powerful testimony of attacks against her during the ‘Troubles’. It called upon the NUJ to support initiatives by trade unionists in the north of Ireland “against intimidation and attacks, including from paramilitaries, and from state coercion; and for a society based upon the common interests of all working-class people.” This was passed overwhelmingly.

Some progress was made at conference regarding anti-racist campaigning. But the leadership successfully argued against amendments to its motion on Palestine/Israel, which would have committed the union to taking more concrete solidarity action without illusions in capitalist right-wing politicians and establishment institutions.

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