Thursday, June 17, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Morning Star on strike! Interview with a worker June 16, 2010

As staff at socialist daily newspaper, the Morning Star, prepare to go on
strike this Sunday over pay and conditions, Ed Goddard from
caught up with one worker and found out about low pay and union busting in
the name of "peace and socialism."

1. Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the dispute?
Back in October last year we got an offer of £1,000 for 2010, which was
probably the best in the industry in terms of percentage. The problem was
that this had been hitched to a three year deal, with increases for
following years capped at 4%. That's effectively a pay cut when RPI
inflation is already at 5.3%, and there's very few trade unionists who'd
be happy to sign away annual bargaining rights under those circumstances.

The headline £1,000 figure is also pretty misleading if you don't know
what it represents, which is catchup pay because we remain some of the
lowest-paid people around for the kind of work we do - £19,000 as opposed
to £24,500 which is the industry average (and it's higher in London where
we're based, around £26,000). We certainly aren't demanding that!

But the Star is actually a fairly complicated job even by normal
standards. Our industrial reporter for example has to know about the
situation nationwide covering millions of working people on top of normal
daily news writing, while our subs need a huge range of technical
knowledge because they don't have things like a picture desk, so they have
to find their own pics, photoshop things themselves, deal with a really
variable quality of work etc. Some staffers at the paper who also do the
occasional shift elsewhere reckon it's usually an easy day compared to
working here, even at the Guardian, because you're not trying to do the
job of three people!

So there does need to be some sort of encouragement to keep or hire
high-quality staff even if they're lefties, and we've been asking for ages
now about getting something extra for anti-social hours as a gesture
towards alternative forms of compensation.

This should help put in context our initial suggestion, which was £1,500
over one year, plus discussions over compensation for anti-social working
hours. We were of course expecting to come down from that bargaining
position and have repeatedly dropped it already (I think it's £1,000 plus
some time in lieu for Sundays and bank hols atm).

However management only recently agreed to change their offer, just days
before we were due to strike. After initially telling us it would be £750
for one year instead, they said they simply wouldn't talk about
anti-social hours, even though it wouldn't cost them anything financially.
Eight months down the line they've finally shifted a bit on lieu time and
suggested £900 plus a percentage rise next year as a two-year deal. This
incidentally is despite them having already paid our sister branch Unite
(covering admin, sales, that sort of thing) the £1,000, so we know they've
had the money for that as a one year deal all along.

2. Do you have any idea of the pay that the Morning Star management are on?
It's about a £5,000 difference as far as I know, but I'm not sure of the
exact figures. It was originally flat across the board I think but they
wanted to "provide a career structure" to encourage people to stay longer.
Like treating their workforce with respect might, for example.

3. What has been the level of participation from the workers in this
dispute? What are the feelings of workers on the shopfloor about these
Depends on who you speak to, there's a fairly hefty split into two camps
with one being pro a three year deal and the other being anti. All but two
of the pro-deal group are publicly acknowledged Communist Party of Britain
backers or members (and one of those two is the daughter of a member),
while the other side is made up mainly of left wingers from all kinds of
different groups and theoretical backgrounds. At the moment though there's
a slim but solid majority in favour of fighting our corner.

4. So where can you see these feelings going? Do you think there is a
chance that this could result in staff taking strike action?
We've already been on strike, technically! Having finally confirmed with
the NUJ we had this really odd 10 minute mandatory chapel meeting in the
meeting room, surrounded by memorabilia from the CPB's hey-day, to
initiate the strike period. We're due out for our first full day on June
20th. To their credit, most people have already pledged not to cross the
picket line regardless of their personal views.

5. How have management responded to the organising activities of its
staff? In 'regular' capitalist enterprises we often hear of management
bullying in response to workers organising; has it been any different at a
newspaper dedicated to "peace and socialism"?
Not really to be honest, most of the hallmarks are there, just in a
different form. They're careful not to actively victimise people
individually but as a group we've come under constant pressure through a
variety of different tactics and the atmosphere in the office has been
horrendous – even worse than it was last year.

One of the more noticeable things has been the rising number of CPB
members and sympathisers in staff roles as people have come and gone over
the last while, and some of those have been brought in regardless of their
skills base or the views of their immediate line managers. With one, his
name was included in an analysis we found of who'd vote which way in a
strike ballot - before the job had even been advertised! Such behaviour
amounts to packing the branch with people who are prepared to take any
offer going as long as the boss tells them its a good idea - union
busting, in effect, even if the shell of the branch is left intact.

Related to this, we've had huge problems because various CPB sympathisers
and members in the branch have said they're in favour of passing on our
internal minutes to the chief management negotiator, editor Bill Benfield,
on the grounds he's an NUJ member - an idea so absurd that even Bill
excuses himself from meetings because he knows we wouldn't be able to wear
it. One of our members is currently under an investigation about this, so
I can't talk in full about it, but effectively their attitude means we
can't have meetings in which people feel free to say their piece, because
we don't know what might be given over.

Beyond that there's things like the "Rock and a Hard Place" document
they've been sending out, basically painting us as a bunch of crazed
greedy paper-wreckers who are going to bring down the last left-wing paper
in Britain. It's very similar tactics to those used in charities, where
the workforce are told "how dare you ask for decent conditions when every
penny goes to starving kids/puppies/blind people." It's rubbish there and
it's rubbish here, if you expect people to do a job then you have to pay
them for it properly.

There's also definitely been a concerted effort to spread around this idea
that we're being totally unreasonable to try and undermine us in the trade
union movement, despite them being the ones who have repeatedly made no
effort to compromise or even talk seriously about how to reach an amicable
settlement. At the People's Press Printing Society AGM1 meanwhile Bill
officially branded us "irresponsible adventurists" to a crowd of hundreds
of people – which gives you some indication of the attitudes we've had to
deal with.

This has come on top of a number of informal complaints being made about
our chapel officers which are yet to be substantiated. It's very
unpleasant for them being the subject of nasty rumours like that.

Most damaging though I think has been the constant threats of going into
liquidation if we go on strike - the exact same thing BA has been
threatening its staff with during their recent dispute and which we have
criticised in the paper itself.

6. Isn't there a possibility that the Morning Star could go bankrupt as a
result of the strike?
Over a weekly Sunday strike? Unlikely and we've been careful not to throw
too heavy a body-blow at them. However what we do know is that they've
been setting up for going into administration for months on the off-chance
they can't beat us into submission. If you have a look on the Companies
House website you'll find a company called Lextra Ltd, an "off the shelf"
concern registered at Unity House (the RMT headquarters - yes, we found
that interesting as well) on April 20th. This company has apparently been
incorporated to try and save assets in the event they close it down.

We're not sure of the legalities of all this but it seems weird they'd
need a whole new company to do that - more usually you incorporate a
limited company to, well, start or restart the selling of something. If
they were to restart the Star under a new company like that, it would
amount to them using the absolute worst of the anti-trade union laws to
break an independent trade union, which would be an astonishing fall from
grace even for the CPB.

7. Has there been much contact between the Morning Star and the trade
union movement about this dispute?
Interesting question.

If you define the Morning Star as its management and CPB backers, then
yes, lots. They've been whinging about us for months to anyone who'll
listen, sending out missives, collaring people at the various headquarters
- we've even heard from some sources that CPB members have been turning up
to Trades Council meetings and conferences with a specific agenda of
slagging the anti-deal side off.

However if you define the Morning Star as the shop-floor professionals who
actually do most of the work in putting it out, then no, not really. It's
notable that pretty much nobody from the top of the tree at the TUC has
asked us our side of the story. This interview is part of an attempt to
rectify the problem, because to be honest we were unprepared for the sheer
spite which would be thrown our way and we're only just starting to get
our running shoes on to counter it.

1. 1. The People's Press Printing Society is the readers' co-operative
which nominally owns and controls the Morning Star and its direction.
In practice its activities are signed off by the paper's Management
Committee, which in turn is largely directed by four CPB stalwarts,
Tony Briscoe, Bill Benfield, Liz Elkind and Carolyn Jones.

Morning Star journalists plan to strike in bitter pay dispute June 15, 2010

Morning Star - 6 May 2010 The Morning Star's general election front page

Journalists on the Morning Star, the left-wing pro-trades union daily
tabloid, are planning to go on strike from next Sunday in an increasingly
bitter pay dispute.

Editorial staff represented by the National Union of Journalists want an
extra £1,000 a year to supplement their current £19,000 salaries plus some
form of recompense for working anti-social hours.

In November 2009, the paper's management - representing its co-operative
owners, the People's Press Printing Society - offered £1,000.

But it was part of a three-year deal that staff believe will lead to very
small rises in the second and third years. There was also no recognition
for anti-social working hours. So the offer was rejected

According to one of the staff planning to strike, management initially
refused to negotiate with the NUJ chapel any further. Then, with
industrial action looming, a new offer was tabled earlier this month.

Staff were offered £900 in a two-year-deal and some form of recognition
for anti-social hours. An NUJ member said: "This is a step forward, but
it isn't enough, and we have asked them to continue to negotiate... they
have refused to do so, so we will have no option but to strike."

He also claimed that staff were subjected to "a vicious campaign of
smears" that "would make Murdoch proud", and that certain Communist Party
members loyal to management acted as spies. (You couldn't make this stuff

It is further alleged that management has bought an off-the-shelf company
that could conceivably be used in strike-breaking activities or to enable
the firing of staff.

My call to the Star's editor, Bill Benfield, had not been returned at the
time of posting this item.

There are echoes in this dispute of a similar one more than a year ago
when Star journalists originally secured their £19,000-a-year minimum pay

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