I am not long back from gloriously sunny Newcastle, where for a long weekend I attended the Delegate Meeting of the National Union of Journalists as one of four from Lewisham Branch. It doesn’t take much to imagine what happens when several hundred hacks assemble in a confined space with ready access to copious amounts of alcohol.
Like our Mother of Delegation Lynne Wallis, who earlier this week reported on her experience of DM, I have come away from Newcastle with mixed feelings. Lynne’s expertly-chosen adjectives – “interesting, intense, disturbing, stimulating and fun” – encapsulate my own experience of DM.
As a first-time delegate to an NUJ national conference I was similarly bewildered with the complex procedures. However, to its credit, standing orders committee did a splendid job of inducting new delegates, and encouraging them to get stuck in. The problem in my view lies with veteran DMers as a mass, and the way in which they work the system for political and/or egotistical ends.
This blog post is not the place to give a detailed report on proceedings at DM. In any case, there are several areas in which I haven’t a clue what was going on, even though I was there on the field of battle! All I will say in this tale of journalists at play is that the meeting went fairly well, all things considered, with the manoeuvrings of the so-called NUJ Reform faction (mostly SWP) against the leadership and ‘sensiblist’ membership majority largely defeated. In fact, I find it difficult to imagine partisan political militancy taking hold in a collective of individuals who by the nature of their work have been around the block, and would probably struggle to agree with themselves.
Our resident and mostly house-trained trots – in the form of the Financial Times chapel together with a few other odds and sods – may have failed in their core aims, but they succeeded in getting passed by a small majority a motion of censure against the National Executive Council for its handling of the NUJ’s current financial crisis. I voted against the censure motion, but am not particularly upset by its being passed.
Several delegates with whom I spoke informally – the plebs of DM, if you like, being non-office holders, and otherwise non-aligned – voted for the censure motion in order to give the NEC a kick up the arse for the way in which in the view of these ordinary NUJ members it has mishandled the situation. Or at least mismanaged the communication of same.
My understanding is that, as with capitalist economies, the union works on a short-term boom and bust cycle, and, NEC tactical hyperbole aside, only those with either axes to grind or a blindness to history see the current situation as in any way special. That said, I have not looked in detail at the figures. The problem is that the figures can only be made sense of in context, and that requires a deeper understanding of NUJ internal affairs than I currently possess.
Newcastle city itself we saw little of during the conference, bar the 20 minute walk between our hotel and the civic centre conference hall. The Geordies are a lovely people, but with a bevvy down their necks they have a tendency to go seriously loopy. Saturday evening saw drunken fights and paralytic rolling in the the streets around the Bigg Market as early as 19:30. Lewisham town centre is by comparison a scene of genteel bourgeois domesticity.
A big thank-you to my fellow Lewisham delegates Lynne Wallis, Geny Caloisi and Michael Trudeau for their friendly company over a long weekend of motion passing and other stuff. We have got to know each other a lot better, and hopefully this will translate into more effective NUJ activism at a local level. As a delegation we didn’t see much of Comrade Secretary Chris Wheal, who was busy throughout DM looking after his bright-eyed and bushy-tailed journalism students, one of whom goes by the name of “Squid”, but Chris joined us for a few jars at the evening social events.
Thanks also to Lewisham’s very own Michelle Stanistreet, Dear Leader of the NUJ, for marching two stroppy and petulant miscreants outside of the conference hall for a jolly good talking to. This clearly had the desired effect, for apologies were soon forthcoming, and we then heard no more from these troublesome individuals.
Finally, it appears that I have been elected without a vote to the NUJ’s otherwise all-women Equality Council. For the sake of Enlightenment values and comradely respec’ I shall refrain from repeating Whealie’s reaction on hearing this news.