Reading some recent articles on EPUK you’d be forgiven for thinking the NUJ never did anything for its members – especially photographers.
And yet in just the past couple of months the NUJ has:
- Secured a 5.43% pay rise for photographers at the Irish Times
- Helped ensure that photographer Marc Vallee’s case against the Met police gets to court by providing financial support as well as backing Alan Lodge in his battle against Nottinghamshire police.
- Successfully challenged npower’s injunction to prevent photographers working at Radley Lakes
- Helped prevent compulsory redundancies amongst picture desk staff at the Herald/Evening Times through industrial action.
- Secured agreements from several police forces that they will distribute and abide by the guidelines governing police/media behaviour drawn up by the NUJ alongside the BPAA and CIoJ. ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities are just the latest.
- Been part of the coalition fighting the restrictive contracts issued by major sporting and entertainment companies around the Rugby World Cup and for rock concerts
In addition, during the past twelve months the NUJ has:
- Organised a major photographers’ conference – and committed the finance to making it a regular event
- Provided advice on dozens of copyright legal cases
- Helped secure tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid fees
Add to that the publication of the NUJ’s Freelance Fees guide, the NUJ Freelance Directory, the establishment of a Photographers Sub-Committee, the development of training courses in new skills and software packages used by photographers, our dogged year-long pursuit of Adobe to get our photographer members access to their directory. And this week our Freelance Organiser John Toner will meet the Met to take up our concerns over recent uses of the Terrorism Act (and batons) against photographers.
These are hardly the actions of an organisation “simply has no intention of serving freelancers especially photographers”, as one of the respondents to EPUK’s survey said.
Punching above their weight
Compared to their numbers photographers punch above their weight in the NUJ. There’s no problem with that – it just shows good organisation.
Indeed membership among photographers, thanks largely to the work of photographers themselves getting better organised has risen by more than 7% at a time when general union membership has remained static and issues relating to photography and photographers have never been higher on the union’s agenda.
And yet that there remains a perception that the NUJ doesn’t care about photography or photographers.
I don’t believe that’s true – but I accept it is a perception held by some, by too many from my point of view, and it is important the union tries to address it.
The Drogheda Independent agreement has undoubtedly played a large part in helping to create that impression (some of the inaccurate, slightly hysterical and at times simply untrue reporting of it hasn’t helped either) and the NEC at its recent meeting recognised that and is working with the union’s Commission on Multi-Media Working, which has consulted with photographers, to draw up model clauses for use in future negotiations.
Following on from Drogheda a draft agreement has been drawn up covering the Trinity Mirror titles in Merseyside and consultation with freelances and photographers has been a central part of that process.
Stand Up For Journalism
I spoke to members of the NUJ Photographers Sub-Committee in April about integrating a Stand up for Photography element in the Stand Up for Journalism (www.standupforjournalism.org.uk) campaign we launched at our conference. I met again with Committee members in the early summer to ask them to draw up plans to integrate such a campaign of educating editors, the industry and some in our own union about the importance of quality photography and skilled photographers.
To date there has been no response but if they come up with plans it can (and should) still form an integral part of the day of action on 5 November and the ongoing campaign.
None of these are the actions of a union which – as one survey respondent put it – “is happy to take subs from photographers but obviously doesn’t care about their concerns”.
But the reality is for many Drogheda has reinforced not created the impression. For some the advances mean nothing. Their enemy is not the employers who unilaterally tear up agreements or the agencies who undermine rates or the companies who steal copyright or the police who restrict the right to work or editors who undermine skills – it is the union.
Those who would rather burn effigies of me on 5 November than picket a company currently involved in sacking staff or stealing copyright or refusing to increase rates or who are demanding more work for less money speak volumes about their priorities.
The reality we all have to face is that the only people who gain from such disunity are the very employers who are at the root of the problem.
We can argue over Drogheda (and the debate and discussion will continue I have no doubt and it is right we should all understand the concerns and learn the lessons) but what we can’t do is allow that to enable employers to divide us – especially at a time when the very future of skilled photography in some parts of the media is under serious threat.
In local newspapers and in many online operations – with or without agreements – reporters are carrying cameras and photographers are writing copy. The union has more ‘reporter-photographers’ as members now than it has ever had before. The relentless march of technology means the widespread use of stills from video cameras is not far away. In some cases we have been able to win concessions for agreeing to changes in working practices, in the majority they have been imposed against our will or in some cases they have even been readily accepted by staff against the advice of the union.
If we are to be able to tackle this deskilling of our industry it will not be by fighting each other – it will be by uniting and fighting the employers who, driven by a desire to increase their profits at our expense, seek to bring in new technology not to enhance journalism but for purely economic reasons.
Eye of the storm
Drogheda today is in the eye of the storm on this issue. The company has been forced to sign up to take account of NUJ policy in implementing new technology. If when they sit down with union reps to discuss it under the terms of the agreement they say they want to do away with their contract photographer or they are cutting back on using professional freelance photographers I for one will be arguing union members should be taking action to defend quality journalism.
I’ve no problem with reporters or photographers being trained and upskilled to be able to be flexible – I have a problem if such training is not given or is used to reduce jobs or freelance opportunities. Union policy does not, nor should it, prevent multiskilling but it does unequivocally oppose deskilling and job cuts.
These are the issues on which photographers and reporters, staff and freelances should be united. We have nothing to gain by stealing each other’s jobs (it just means everyone has to work harder for the benefit of the employer) or undermining each other’s skill base (it just means a general decline in journalistic standards).
November 5th presents us with an opportunity to all be saying that loud and clear. Among the dozens of activities organised in the UK, Ireland and Continental Europe in the biggest show of force of journalists across Europe we will be lobbying the Society of Editors conference in Manchester – come and join us and let us together tell editors that quality journalism matters, that quality photography is an integral part of that and that as a union we will stand up to them.
Or alternatively you could join those who are planning to burn an effigy of me.
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