Union victory

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has won a significant victory at BBC Radio Foyle in Derry. BBC management have announced that North West Today will be broadcast from 8am to 9am every weekday.

A year ago, BBC management announced an effective end to news coverage from Foyle. News programming was to be reduced to one thirty-minute morning programme. Eight of 12 journalists were to lose their jobs.

Earlier this year, management rejected a proposal from the union to extend the morning programme by 30 minutes on a trial basis. The extension now announced has no time limit.

A strong union campaign forced this unbending management to bend.

The chapel (workplace organisation) has struck twice. One strike was on the day when Northern Ireland local election results were announced. Management could not find a single scab from over 200 journalists in BBC Northern Ireland. Thus the BBC’s Northern Ireland director was forced to read news bulletins himself. These were rather thin. There were no journalists gathering news.

The BBC Foyle chapel is young. It was only re-established last year. The members had little experience of trade unionism then. They hit the ground running. Their role has been outstanding.

The campaign received good support from the union centrally. Because of the Radio Foyle journalists’ record of covering local issues, there was an energetic local community campaign. Extremely importantly, there was a very active local branch to help mobilise support. That branch is well embedded in the trade union movement. The branch, with the chapel, organised a packed public meeting of over 250 in Derry’s Guildhall in the first week of January this year. This was not just supported by community activists and the general public. Elected representatives from all political parties gave backing.

In the campaign the union used the strongest weapon, industrial action. The branch and chapel were also tactically flexible. There was highly successful lobbying of political parties, and of local councils. Thus all supported the union campaign.

We recognise this as a partial, not complete, victory. The new proposals still represent a reduction in news coverage from what was broadcast last year. Importantly, though, there have been no forced redundancies.

Extradordinarily, the possible savings from cutting Foyle were minute. BBC Northern Ireland management did so apparently because they thought they could. This management has faced constant controversy. They have been forced into significant retreat.