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The NUJ's Parallel Universe

Some people are just s-o-o sensitive. Take one Kyran Connolly for instance. Earlier this month the woefully ill-informed National Union of Journalists Book Organiser queried whether the union had any involvement in running EPUK [please, stop sniggering at the back]. This was during the Emergency National Executive Committee meeting where Connolly and his cronies were busy putting the boot into Irish photographers.

Some people are just s-o-o sensitive. Take one Kyran Connolly for instance. Earlier this month the woefully ill-informed National Union of Journalists NEC member for Books queried whether the union had any involvement in running EPUK [please, stop sniggering at the back]. This was during the union’s Emergency Committee meeting of the union’s National Executive Committee meeting where Connolly and his cronies were busy putting the boot into Irish photographers.

Apparently EPUK headlines such as Fury as NUJ ‘sells out’ Drogheda photographers for ‘closed shop’ agreement and an opinion piece by yours truly entitled The NUJ’s War On Photographers had led Connolly to, in the words of the ENEC minutes, ‘believe the website was anti-union and NUJ and contained unacceptable attacks on staff’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s amazing really: if we publish an article saying photographers are angry at Bristol Rovers and we don’t get called ‘anti-sport’.

If we publish a piece saying photographers are angry at Nikon or Canon for running a copyright grab and we don’t get called ‘anti-camera’.

If we publish an article on the Guardian doing the same and we don’t get labelled ‘anti-newspaper’.

And if we cover the arrest and conviction of a celebrity documentarian with multiple personalities, we don’t get called ‘anti-pap’.

And when we publish a piece objecting to a photographer being served with an injunction by npower’s masked heavies and we don’t get called ‘anti-electricity’.

But if we dare to run a piece saying photographers are angry at the NUJ, all of a sudden we’re ‘anti-union’.

If Connolly or others entertaining similar thoughts could be bothered to do some very elementary journalistic research they would learn that in the twelve months previous to the Drogheda shambles the NUJ is mentioned in barely 10% of EPUK articles. Of those articles, the vast majority are either straight reports of action taken by the NUJ on behalf of members, publicity for forthcoming or ongoing NUJ campaigns such as strikes, reports of activities by individual NUJ members, or were articles that happened to contain quotes relating to the photo business from NUJ officials. To any normal reader all of these would appear either neutral or sympathetic to the NUJ: only a handful could be in any way characterised as critical.

It is only since the union’s recent Irish misadventures that EPUK has published substantial criticism of the NUJ and, given the controversy surrounding the Drogheda fiasco, this criticism should come as no surprise to officials aware of the concerns of members of their own union. Nor should it be surprising that such criticism should surface at EPUK, which has an unusually high number of NUJ members, in itself proof that Connolly’s claim is without foundation.

Connolly’s accusation is a prize example of the sort of kneejerk, knuckle-dragging thinking that leads people to assert that those going on a peace march must automatically be anti-American. What a ridiculous idea! (scroll about half way down)

Still, photographers are doubtless grateful that Connolly can spare the time from achieving Middle East peace and making the trains run on time (third to last paragraph) to, in the words of the NUJ, ‘protect and advance the interests of all members’.

But it’s not just the union’s chief book-shuffler who’s been exercising himself over the opposition to the NUJ’s shafting of photographers. General Secretary Jeremy Dear, fresh back from a five-week holiday, attempted to address the mess in a blog grippingly entitled NEC Unites Around Drogheda.

Disappointingly, although very predictably, Dear’s blog has been dismissed by commenters as a classic whitewash, strong on guff and totally lacking in substance. Apparently Dear and other NUJ officials are unaware of what NUJ members – the people who keep them in business – think of the Drogheda agreement and surrounding issues. Or perhaps they simply don’t care. Compare and contrast to these few comments, all from NUJ members, in response to the recent EPUK photographers’ survey on the Drogheda agreement:

‘After the NUJ took the thirty pieces of silver and sold out the freelance photographers I am contemplating leaving the Union.’

‘My NUJ membership now is simply for my press card. Once I’ve found a suitable alternative they will be losing my £17 per month.’

‘The NUJ is happy to take subs from photographers but obviously doesn’t care about their concerns.’

‘The agreement to let reporters take pics show how highly photographers are valued – as in not at all.’

‘This is not a union that listens to its members: it’s looking more like a dictatorship than a union.’

‘I thought the NUJ was not only there to defend the rights of photojournalists, but to uphold the quality of journalism in Britain. Clearly neither of these aims holds true.’

‘The Drogheda Agreement was a disgraceful display of how the NUJ simply has no intention of serving freelancers especially photographers.’

‘The treatment of NUJphoto and disregard for the union’s own rules by the Emergency Committee has done great damage to the confidence of NUJ photographers in the NUJ.’

‘Press photography as envisioned by this agreement is a dead dodo.’

‘The NUJ has here entirely forgotten its role, principles and duties where freelances and the public need for quality journalism are concerned. It is far the worst misjudgment I can remember in 25yrs of NUJ membership.’

‘The attitude of the NUJ stinks. The Executive are contemptible and I shall not be staying with them.’

But enough of pointing and laughing at the delusions of NUJ officials: what of the Drogheda agreement itself? Surely this groundbreaking accord must be bearing some fruit by now?

Indeed it is, but perhaps not quite what the NUJ expected. Dear’s blog boasts of a motion passed unanimously by the NEC in support of the Drogheda agreement. It opens with the words:

‘NEC notes the decision taken by the Emergency Committee on 2 August 2007 in regard to the Drogheda Independent agreement. It reiterates the Committee’s complete confidence in all the full-time and chapel officials involved in negotiating the agreement.’

What the motion – and Dear – omits to mention is that the chapel official most involved in negotiating the Drogheda agreement has since left his job, and therefore presumably, the NUJ. He’s left apparently because he sought a career with better terms and conditions than he could find in journalism, even with the backing of the NUJ. And he’s found those better terms and conditions in the notoriously highly paid career of teaching.

Meanwhile Sinead Sarsfield, the only contract photographer at the Drogheda Independent, and an NUJ member, has left to be replaced by someone who has never worked as a photographer, is not a member of the NUJ, and is reputedly working for the paper for less than the rates paid before the NUJ’s deal.

So who’s anti union now?

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