View From The Picket Line


For only the third time in fifteen years of broadcasting, today I’m going on strike.

As a “bit of a lefty” (as many of my colleagues might describe me) perhaps that’s not much of a surprise. But actually, as I get older I feel less inclined to go on a march, support an “any cause will do” demo or suggest that I donate part of my subs to the Socialist Workers Party.

Now that might upset a few of my union mates, so let me tell you where I am and why we’re on strike today.

The National Union of Journalists has a long standing policy of no compulsory redundancies at the BBC. Totally unrealistic in the face of 20 per cent cuts over the next few years. Or is it?

Today we’re on strike in support of around 100 colleagues who stand to lose their jobs by compulsory means either immediately or fairly soon. Much of the spin has said that these posts are only in the BBC World Service or BBC Monitoring, the department that scans and analyses global broadcasts. But there are others involved too. Around 30 in Current Affairs – that’s the dvision that makes programmes like Panorama. And over 50 involved in the move to Salford are under threat too.

The most galling part in all of this is that the NUJ has offered to talk to the BBC at ACAS, the independent mediation service, to work through what we know are the alternatives. For instance, we know that around 200 BBC staff had volunteered to take redundancy but had their requests turned down. The BBC has refused to even discuss these alternatives.

But, you say, you can’t expect to continue with this mad policy of “no redundancies” for much longer. Well, the fact is that in recent years the BBC has cut thousands of jobs. Yes, thousands. Previous efficiency drives and savings programmes mean the Corporation is a much slimmed down affair these days. And guess what? All of this was achieved without a single compulsory redundancy.

So if today’s strike looks like a union digging its heels in, I’ll hold up my hands and say guilty as charged. The NUJ represents thousands of journalists in the BBC and many other sectors in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. We’re not the biggest union in the world, nor are we blessed with the resources of some of the others. But we fight for the jobs of working journalists who simply want to provide the best possible product to its audiences.

Overnight the BBC News Channel was forced to broadcast from the United States because no presenters were available in London. Radio 2’s news was read and compiled by senior managers. Other programmes may also be affected today. As Trade Unionists we’re sorry about that, just as the BBC has apologised to its audiences. But there is an alternative. To sit down and talk.

We’re ready for that.

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