Lewisham NUJ is no more

Cross-posted with small changes from the website of Lewisham NUJ.

The Lewisham branch of the National Union of Journalists, of which I was the elected chair, no longer exists as a constituent body of the union. NUJ members living and working in southeast London will continue to meet in social gatherings, but we no longer have an organisational structure with officers such as chair, secretary and treasurer.

If former members of Lewisham NUJ wish to contact the union regarding its activities in this part of London, they should do so via the union headquarters, the contact details of which may be found on the main NUJ website.

Despite the best efforts of its committee, together with a small number of enthusiastic ordinary members, Lewisham NUJ has for some time been unable to function as a working branch of the NUJ, the reason being that too few people attended branch meetings. The meetings were largely inquorate, and thus unable to deal with formal branch business and act on behalf of the wider membership. That said, our monthly meetings were appreciated by those who attended them, and featured guest speakers on a number of local and wider media concerns.

The NUJ in London has traditionally been organised on a trade sector basis, with some industrial branches counting their membership in the thousands. Lewisham NUJ, with nearly 600 members, was part of an experiment to promote a more community-centred trade union organisation. In the wake of Lewisham NUJ’s demise, the National Executive Council of the NUJ will look at how best to further such a locally-focused agenda.

Workplace chapels of the NUJ have no problem in attracting interest from members, but it is branches and not chapels which send delegates to NUJ conferences, and thus provide a means through which ordinary union members and not just the activist core can influence union policy. NUJ members who are relatively inactive may not appreciate this constitutional reality, but branch activity is critical to the functioning of the union as a whole.

If physical meetings do not attract bums on seats, then we should look at other ways of engaging union members and drawing them into the internal democratic process. The problem of empty meeting rooms is certainly not unique to the NUJ. Online communities, teleconferencing and electronic voting are possibilities, and these modes of communication and decision-making are used by some of the union’s geographically-dispersed national councils.

There is in my view no reason why such alternative working structures cannot be used at branch level, but it will require debate and approval in the NUJ at large. Whether or not former members of Lewisham NUJ are of like mind, I ask that they let the NUJ leadership know how they feel about the way in which their union functions.