Monday, October 08, 2007

European journalists face up to Thatcherism!

The fight to protect quality in media, to oppose job cuts, to tackle undermining of staff and freelance terms and conditions and resisting the threat to collective bargaining were all central themes of the European Federation of Journalists conference I attended in Berlin this weekend.

It was fascinating, and worrying, to hear representatives from unions in the Nordic countries, Germany, France and Italy - countries which have traditionally had strong employment laws and superior terms and conditions to those enjoyed by UK journalists outline new attacks on their collective bargaining agreements similar to those we faced under the Thatcher Government 20 years ago.

But it was also inspiring to hear how those same unions are campaigning and fighting back - In Italy alone they have had 17 days of national strike action over the last two years to protect their national agreement. In Denmark they organised a hugely successful freelances strike against the Aller Publishing group. It was also inspiring to hear how unions from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and other parts of eastern Europe are rebuilding independent trade unionism amongst journalists.

We spent two long days discussing the situations faced by freelances, public service broadcasters, print journalists and photographers, sharing experience and best practice and setting out plans for lobbying, campaigning and organising at an international level. As capital (and in particular the private equity companies) becomes more global so must the trade union response. I had some fruitful discussions about closer working with unions in other countries who have members working for employers which operate in the UK. They act across borders, we must too.

I was also a panel speaker in two of the major discussions - on the 5 November Stand Up for Journalism Day of Action and in the session on collective bargaining.

I took a few hours on Sunday to visit some of the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall and the Reichstag and to see the huge transformation there has been of Berlin in recent years.

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