Subs rising: the NUJ at Eastbourne

“Welcome to the NUJ – this part of the world’s most successful private-sector trades union”, said union president Barry McCall, welcoming journalists’ representatives to their biennial conference in Eastbourne.  Extravagant as the claim might seem – it appeared to encapsulate a new confidence and bonhomie among the trade union’s activists.

The four-day conference, which ended on Sunday 13 April, was entirely lacking in the bitterness that marred the union’s get together two years ago, and delegates seemed generally willing to back their national executive and general secretary Michelle Stanistreet.

For many members the most significant motion passed was probably the one that will see their subscriptions rising – to £15, £18 and £25 a month – depending on a member’s grade.  A new minimum rate of £10 a month was also voted in.  A majority of delegates also approved a proposal to start a transition to subs levels based on each member’s income.  The motion failed to receive the required two-thirds majority, but given the closeness of the vote, the idea is likely to remain on the union’s agenda.

Delegates to the meeting also decided to scrap the elective post of Deputy General Secretary.  In perhaps the most voluble debate of the entire conference, veteran Northern Irish Trotskyite Eamonn McCann delivered an explosive denunciation of the Executive’s plans, to enthusiastic applause.  With defeat for the proposal apparently certain, however, Coventry’s Chris Youett was next up on at the ‘opposition’ rostrum.  “This proposal is intended to do just one thing – to prevent me from becoming the union’s DGS”, he said.  This argument, from the candidate who has generally polled bottom in the many NUJ elections in which he stood, convinced sufficient doubters for the reform to be voted through.

In another surprisingly heated session, NUJ representatives from the BBC successfully called for the rejection of any pay and grading structure for the Corporation that allows managers to be paid over £150,000.  Whether the NUJ will be successful in pushing director general Tony Hall’s salary down from its current £450,000 level remains to be seen, but agitating for a wage cut will doubtless be a novel experience for the union’s negotiators.

Much of the rest of the conference was spent adopting entirely worthy ‘motherhood-and-apple-pie’ positions, in favour of pay increases, against job cuts and for a more pluralist media.  The leadership will also take heart from the decent sprinkling of young delegates in attendance who are new to union activism.

Tempers nearly frayed in the conference’s closing moments, however, when delegates considered a call for the union to campaign for a Boycott of Israel.  Stanistreet was first to the rostrum to argue that the motion should be rejected, where she was joined by a queue of more than 20 speakers.  After a lively exchange, the motion was overwhelmingly rejected.

Adam Christie and Andy Smith, the union’s outgoing job-share vice presidents were elected to the union’s presidency.