How to become a life member of the NUJ (just pay your subs!)

Branch member Peter McIntyre has just become a life member of the National Union of Journalists. Pay your subs for long enough and it could be you, he writes.

Pay your subs for long enough and you may become a life member of the National Union of Journalists. It is a long service medal rather than a mark of quality, but I feel ridiculously proud of it.

In 1971 fresh out of University – and full of hope and insecurity –  I became a reporter on the City Press, once local paper to the City of London but by then a mashup of local paper, financial news and apologist for the rich and powerful.

There was no training so I learned on the job and went to PitmanScript evening classes. We were five young reporters headed by John Tulloch who later launched the UK’s first undergraduate media studies programme at Westminster University and in 2005 was seriously injured in the London tube bombings. He recovered to became head of the Lincoln University school of journalism (but died too early in 2013).

We were allowed to do everything including broadcasting financial news for Radio London. I covered the Department of Trade and Industry report into Pergamon Press which concluded that Robert Maxwell was “not… a person who can be relied on to exercise proper stewardship of a publicly quoted company.”  

I was sent as a substitute for the editor to have lunch with Rupert Murdoch and a handful of his executives at the Savoy Hotel.  This was a blunder – I was put in quarantine at the end of the table and happily ignored for the whole of the meal.  I was happier interviewing workers at the Royal Mint angry because their jobs were being exported to Wales.

Wow! They let me join

Head and shoulder photo of Peter in his younger days.
Peter in 1978.

We were lowly paid even by the standards of provincial journalism with part of our wages in luncheon vouchers. The editor and joint owner Richard Lamb told us he did not understand how we could afford to live in London!

In February 1972, John Tulloch trooped us down to Fleet Street where the NUJ had a satellite office with a hatch to the street. To my amazement, they let us join. For the first time, I felt like a real journalist.

The NUJ is the natural home for all journalists.

A sub from the Times who helped get the paper to bed told me I should “fuck off to a real newspaper”. I went to the Luton News as an industrial reporter. They elected me Father of Chapel (FoC) just in time for group wide pay action against Home County Newspapers. I was delighted when an NUJ official arrived to help us – and devastated when I found his main aim was to get us back to work.

I went to the Oxford Mail and Times in January 1974 as a sub-editor (11 subs for the Oxford Mail with a separate desk for the Oxford Times!). There was a letter waiting for me on my first day telling me that due to my poor behaviour, my Christmas bonus had been cancelled.  Welcome to Westminster Press.

Our winter of discontent

I returned to my first love – reporting. This was no golden age, but provincial newspapers provided the bedrock of domestic reporting in the UK –feeding national newspapers and broadcasters. It was a frequent occurrence to find your story virtually unchanged in one of the nationals with someone else’s byline.

I became FoC and was elected to the Provincial Newspapers Industrial Council negotiating with the employers’ Newspaper Society, which specialised in obnoxious negotiations.  Here’s a sample. On paternity leave: “I’m not paying my staff to have sex.” On holidays for junior staff: “We don’t pay them enough to take holidays.”

A mood of rising discontent resulted in December 1978 in provincial newspaper journalists embarking on a seven week national strike. We left the building with 57 members and returned seven weeks later with 58 – having recruited one person on their way in. We ran a weekly bulletin, provided daily hot food and eventually won the largest pay rise any of us had ever had.

The 1980 saw a series of “right to manage” clawbacks. There were continual mini disputes where people were declared to have “sacked themselves” including one photographer who refused to snatch a picture of a five-year-old boy against his mother’s wishes.

I was elected to the NEC in time for the Wapping dispute when almost every vote ended 10–9 and the divisions were demoralising and unpleasant.

I met my partner Lise, who was in the first long NUJ strike at Maxwell’s Pergamon Press, in 1981.  We still stroll through the grounds of Headington Hill Hall, once Maxwell’s home and now part of Oxford Brookes University.

Going freelance

Peter with a video camera in an African landscape, talking to a woman.
Working in Ghana in 2020.

I went freelance in 1989. Now in my 70s I work less but still pay my subs! All I ever really wanted was to be a good reporter, the best job in the world.  But if you try to uphold some values and ethics, you do not have to look for trouble; it will find you. The NUJ is the natural home for all journalists. A sense of independence as a reporter and a sense of solidarity with other journalists turn out to be a really good fit. Joining the union is not about your politics, it is about preserving the DNA of our profession. Thank you for holding my hand NUJ.

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Beyond Lockdown – the results of our working from home survey

We carried out a national survey earlier this year on working from home, along with the Oxford Publishing Society and the Oxford branch of the Society of Young Publishers. The results are now in, the numbers are crunched, and some important issues have been identified.

Almost 1,000 publishing professionals took part in ‘Beyond Lockdown – Does working from home work for you?’, representing academic books and journals and schools/educational publishing, through to trade publishing, children’s books and magazines and newsletters.

The majority (87%) of respondents who took part in the survey work full-time but also included were part-time, freelance and short-term contract workers.

There was plenty of scope for respondents to add comments throughout the questionnaire.

This outpouring of comments illustrates a wide range of issues from the blurring of home and work life and lack of suitable equipment and/or space, through to physical and mental health issues.

Our view on the findings

We were shocked by the large volume of responses – a reflection of people’s desperate need to talk about their experiences working from home.

Each of the three organisations who jointly ran the survey has commented on the results.

Anna Wagstaff, branch secretary at Oxford National Union of Journalists (NUJ) branch, said: “The survey showed that not all homes can double up as workplaces; not all communication, learning or mentoring, can be done remotely; and that not everyone separates their professional from their social networks.

“With many publishing companies now looking to transition to increased remote working, it is important to develop best practice so that any changes work for everyone, and don’t further disadvantage those who may already be finding it hard to cope.”

Caroline Guillet and Charlotte Parr, co-chairs of the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) said: “We were shocked by the large volume of responses to the survey which feels like a reflection of people’s desperate need to talk about their experiences working from home.

“It is clear from these results that one of the groups most negatively impacted by the shift to home working are those just starting their careers in publishing. We hope that employers will take this into consideration when constructing their new office policies and make sure that those early on in their career are given the support and equipment they need.”

Polly Silk, chair of Oxford Publishing Society (OPuS), said: “At Oxford Publishing Society, we felt it was vital to be part of this opportunity to give our membership a voice on this topic. The number of responses far exceeded our expectations and there was a huge amount of food for thought that we think will be of significant value to organisations deciding what to do next and how best to meet the needs of today’s publishing workforce.“

Headline findings

  • The survey highlighted a gulf between the experiences and prospects of publishing professionals whose homes have also had to become their office during the past 15 months.
  • Upsides to working from home cited included savings in time and money through not having to commute and the opportunity to live further away from the workplace.
  • Further analysis showed that people with a dedicated home working space were less/not stressed. Conversely, those with little/no home workspace were more/most stressed.
  • Younger and early/mid-level career employees, who are less likely to have a dedicated home working space, were hit hardest.
  • Home working requires space which means those sharing flats or houses were often struggling with difficult conditions such as poor internet access, lack of quiet work space and suitable equipment.
  • Opportunities for informal teaching and learning and networking are lost when working remotely. This affects younger workers most, and worries some managers.
  • Many young and early or mid-career level workers are frustrated that those making the decisions (senior management/directors) have little or no understanding of their situation.

Some questions raised by the headline findings

  • How will companies ensure new working arrangements do not discriminate against people with unsuitable accommodation? There are important diversity and inclusion issues at stake.
  • How will companies give staff earlier in their careers the support they need to learn, develop and progress?
  • How will companies fulfil their responsibilities to monitor and safeguard the health and safety of all their staff?

Join the conversation

The survey responses shine a light on what most respondents regarded as good practice during lockdown. Our task now is to try to define what best practice means in terms of transitioning to different mixes of remote and office-based working in a way that works for everyone.

NUJ Oxford, OPuS and SYP aim to open up an inclusive, national conversation about how those of us who work in publishing want to shape the home/office balance in the future.

More than 300 people have already signed up to take part in this discussion and we’re keen to include many more.

Please contact us on BeyondLockdown1@gmail.com to get involved.

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Oxford says no to fire and rehire at the Oxford Mail

MPs, workers’ reps and residents across Oxford are calling on the Oxford Mail to take back notices of termination of contracts it has issued to its journalists to force them to accept an end to time-and-a-half payments for working on most bank holidays.

Layla Moran MP said:

“I completely oppose the use of fire and rehire tactics to worsen working conditions for hard-working local journalists. They are the lifeblood of our community, and many are my own constituents.

“I join the NUJ in calling on Newsquest to withdraw these dismissal notices and enter into meaningful negotiations. Local journalism is a vital part of our democracy, and we have to protect that and make sure everyone in the industry, from publishers to sub-editors, gets the fair deal they deserve.”

Anneliese Dodds MP said:

“Labour has called for an outright ban on the practice of ‘fire and rehire’, which has been repeatedly used in recent months to reduce pay, terms and conditions. The government must listen and act to outlaw this practice.

“Until it does so, employers, including Newsquest, should follow the proper procedures…. I know how hard the journalists and other staff at the Oxford Mail work and I am really concerned to hear that they are being subjected to ‘fire and rehire.’”

Union reps from workforces across Oxfordshire are making it clear that they expect their local paper to be on the side of their readers and to hold power to account and stand up for democratic rights. The Oxford Mail should not be siding with the bullies using fire and rehire tactics to get their way.

Many of them have taken the time to send that message in person

A message from Unite BMW car workers

And this from Oxfordshire FBU firefighters

… and another from the firefighters

A message from Oxfordshire PCS Department of Work and Pensions staff

Here’s one from UNISON Oxfordshire health workers

… and one from Unite healthcare workers at the John Radcliffe

A message from Oxfordshire CWU postal workers

… and some more messages from postal workers

A message from Oxfordshire Unite Betting Shop workers

And one from Oxfordshire GMB private hire taxi drivers

And here’s a message from the UCU lecturers at Brookes university

… and one from a UCU rep at St Claire’s Oxford

This is from Unite publishing workers at Oxford University Press

And from the Unite rep at XPO Swindon
… and another Unite rep at Dunelms Oxford

… and this one is from us at the Oxford NUJ branch. Take back those notices of termination of contracts. Nobody wants their local paper to act as the neighbourhood bully!

And talking of neighbourhoods, a member of the Blackbird Leys Parish Council has this message for the Oxford Mail

… and this from Barton residents in the ACORN community union

… and this from Rose Hill

Thanks to everyone who is standing with us to say: Oxford Mail, no-one thinks it is OK to impose your will on your workforce by terminating their contracts and rewriting them as you please. Don’t be a bully. If you want trust and respect among the community you serve then withdraw those notices of termination of contracts.

We welcome further messages of solidarity. You can contact us at OxfordNUJ@gmail.com

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“Withdraw these dismissal notices” MPs tell the Oxford Mail

Oxford MPs are backing the NUJ’s calls for Newsquest to withdraw notices of dismissal issued to journalists at the Oxford Mail. The company sent out 12 week notice of termination of contracts to the journalists to unilaterally force through changes to their pay.

The changes would mean journalists would no longer receive the normal time-and-a-half payments for working on bank holidays (other than Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day). Reporters routinely work many hours upaid overtime to cover for redundancies and unfilled vacancies.

The Oxford Mail NUJ chapel has rejected the pay cut, which means the proposal should be dealt with under the normal disputes procedure set out in the recognition agreement between the Oxford Mail and the NUJ.
Newsquest, however, has taken the astonishing option of issuing notices of dismissal so it can rehire the journalists on inferior pay.

In doing so, they join organisations like British Gas, who have been lambasted by politicians from all the main parties for their use of “fire and rehire”, bypassing agreed negotiation and dispute procedure to effectively say: you work on our terms or you don’t work at all.

The practice of dismissing and re-engaging employees to force through changes to their contracts is banned in countries such as Ireland, France and Spain, and has been widely condemned in the UK across the political spectrum. In a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday March 23rd 2021, Amanda Solloway, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: “We have been very clear that employers threatening to fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable.”

Anna Wagstaff, secretary of the Oxford and District NUJ branch said: “We are horrified to see such despotic tactics being used by a local paper, which likes to present itself as a watchdog of democracy and accountability. For a profitable company to resort to fire and rehire in pursuit of negligible savings and without even going through the agreed disputes procedure shows a level of contempt for dedicated and hardworking staff that readers will doubtless find hard to understand.”

Journalists in the Oxford Mail NUJ chapel said: “With a severely depleted newsroom, we have all worked well beyond our contracted hours for the past year, resulting in the Oxford Mail’s print circulation figures holding up better than any other regional daily, and the Oxford Mail website attracting among the highest levels of subscribers of all Newsquest titles. It was therefore disappointing to have the company respond to this by proposing to cut our bank holiday working pay. To then have new contracts imposed on us in this way is highly stressful and demotivating.”

NUJ national organiser Laura Davison said: “It’s sickening to see these journalists who slog their guts out every day covering local stories, treated in this way. Many of our members haven’t been with Newsquest very long and for the company to act in such a cavalier and uncaring way towards them is appalling; especially when they go above and beyond in terms of long hours each and every week. Newsquest should immediately withdraw these dismissal notices and enter into meaningful negotiations with the union to address the toxic working culture that’s affecting the health and wellbeing of our members and turning Newsquest into the employer no-one wants to deal with.”

The union’s call has received backing from Layla Moran MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East.

Layla Moran MP said: “I completely oppose the use of fire and rehire tactics to worsen working conditions for hard-working local journalists. They are the lifeblood of our community, and many are my own constituents. I join the NUJ in calling on Newsquest to withdraw these dismissal notices and enter into meaningful negotiations. Local journalism is a vital part of our democracy, and we have to protect that and make sure everyone in the industry, from publishers to sub-editors, gets the fair deal they deserve.”

Anneliese Dodds MP said: “Labour has called for an outright ban on the practice of ‘fire and rehire’, which has been repeatedly used in recent months to reduce pay, terms and conditions. The government must listen and act to outlaw this practice. Until it does so, employers, including Newsquest, should follow the proper procedures…. I know how hard the journalists and other staff at the Oxford Mail work and I am really concerned to hear that they are being subjected to ‘fire and rehire.’”

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet has joined a long list of trade union General Secretaries and MPs and others in calling for an end to Fire and Rehire. She said: “This exploitative and abusive treatment of workers has to stop. Trading on people’s fear to strong arm them into taking pay cuts or accepting poorer contractual terms is disgraceful behaviour that the Prime Minister should kick into touch.”

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How does homeworking work for you? Take our survey to make sure your voice is heard

Photo of a library, with text superimposed saying: "Beyond Lockdown Publishing Survey. Have your say."


Three Oxford-based groups of publishing workers are launching a survey to explore the experience of working from home and how work patterns might change after lockdown. Branch secretary Anna Wagstaff explains why we needed to do this.

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Working from home: strategies and rights to stay sane and healthy

We know that the lockdown and working from home are impacting heavily on many members’ physical and mental health. If that is how you are feeling, then “Keep calm and carry on”, may not be the best advice, we are told, because it can store up problems which become harder to resolve. To learn about out what members can do right now, our branch Welfare Officer, Bill MacKeith, attended a webinar organised by the NUJ’s Magazine and Book Industrial Council, which focused on the specific challenges faced by publishing/media workers during this period, and offered strategies and advice on members’ rights that could be useful. The webinar was delivered by Caroline Holmes on 16 December 2020. We publish his notes below. Please share this post with anyone you know who may be in need of support.

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Rerouted not derailed

Branch secretary Anna Wagstaff reports on our activities during the year of the pandemic.

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ADHD – a matter of attention and focus

October is ADHD Awareness Month. Branch chair Lynn Degele was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as an adult in 2012 and has been learning about her strengths and challenges since then. This blog post is based on a piece she wrote for a new colleague-led forum for staff with visible and hidden disabilities.

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Reader Comments: is it time to shut them down?

nathan-briant

Freedom of expression is a human right. But freedom to offend and abuse under cover of anonymity is not. Nathan Briant, a former Oxford Mail reporter now working at BBC Oxford, argues that it’s time for newspapers to think of more efficient way of interacting with readers. Continue reading

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We’re joining forces to defend jobs, pay and conditions in book & journal publishing

NUJ book branch

The Oxford branch of the NUJ has been teaming up with the NUJ Book branch to highlight issues of concern to members working in the sector. Most recently, we have joined forces to profile how publishers’ responses to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is impacting on the pay, hours, and job security of our members. This report, which was published in edited form in the June edition of the NUJ Branch News, was compiled by Catherine Brereton, (NEC Books rep job share), Helen Weir (Book branch committee), and Eleanor Connor (Oxford branch committee). Continue reading

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