Saturday, 6 November 2010

Broadcasting and Union Struggle: A History in Video

The Battle of the BBC

Other people have blogged on the current industrial action by NUJ members defending their pensions against the BBC management retirement raiders. The Worker’s United has a short commentary here and I would also recommend this one on A Very Public Sociologist in which you can get a list of celebrity scabs.

For my part, the current dispute has prompted some thoughts about the history of trade unionism in the media. Firstly, BECTU is sitting this one out which is a big loss – it has a history of relative militancy in the film and TV sector. One of its predecessors, the ACTT, was at the forefront of industrial struggle in the 1970s. In 1973 they commissioned a report, written by Simon Hartog, detailing plans for the nationalisation of the film industry (which can be accessed from this page, if you’re interested). In 1975 the ACTT commissioned Patterns of Discrimination, the first ever trade union report into sexual discrimination in the workplace, and appointed a full-time women’s equality officer. They were responsible for shutting down much of the ITV network for ten weeks in 1979 – what Glen Aylett calls the “granddaddy of television strikes”. They were also central in negotiating the now defunct Workshop Declaration in the 1980s, which for my money is a landmark model for progressive film-making (Amber Films – the only workshop to survive from that era – have details here). While it was never widely adopted, for those lucky enough to work under it the Declaration provided what are now almost unimaginable opportunities for lefties, women, members of ethnic minorities to make films that represented their interests and visions as opposed to the perceived needs of the ‘market’. 

If broadcasting trade unions have been at the front of progressive union policy, the broadcast sector as a whole has been at the front of neoliberal restructuring. Trade union membership in the film and television industries, as in trade union membership more generally, is less than half of what it was 30 years ago. In fact, the audio-visual industries are seen by some commentators as exemplary of the trajectory towards de-unionisation and the attendant casualisation that has characterised the neo-liberalisation of industrial economies since the late-1970s (see here, for example). If that is the case then the current dispute has ramifications for more than the pensions of BBC workers.

And now a look at some past struggles.

A Random History of Trade Unionism in the Media in Video Format 

Report on current industrial action:

BBC One Strike, 1994:

ITV Strike, 1979:

And finally, Wapping Lies, a video on the Battle of Wapping in 1986. This lesson from history precedes Murdoch’s integration into the fabric of the British economy, British politics and British culture. It demonstrates the sort of issues that are at stake at the current time with downward pressure on the pay and conditions in the public sector part of creeping privatisation. As David Puttnam recently argued, it is Murdoch's control over the British media - not the BBC - that is “chilling”.

Here’s hoping the NUJ do better this time around.

No comments:

Post a Comment