It helps to have a political compass
For the last 20 years socialism has been a discredited creed, but the new recession has brought back the idea of the state controlling the economy to protect citizens from the ravages of the market. But socialism is more than that, argues the NUJ’s Vice President PETER MURRAY — it’s about working people controlling their own lives
CRITICS would have you believe that socialism equals grey uniformity and crushes diversity and individualism — yet modern capitalism has given us city centres filled with identical stores, selling identical goods to individuals and families drowning in a swamp of debt owed to banks and building societies which have themselves collapsed or merged into a handful of companies. Hardly a model society.
In our industry it’s doing exactly the same. The crisis for shareholders and boardrooms has become a crisis in our newsrooms and studios — fewer journalists hounded by more and tighter deadlines.
In print and broadcasting a combination of poor management, redundancies, hastily introduced and poorly planned technological changes have substantially increased stress among our members and made our offices less healthy and more dangerous places to work.
Our members’ pay and pensions are under attack, as are their jobs and the quality of the work they produce. Take pensions, for instance: the crisis has haemorrhaged the pot of defined contribution pensions from £552 billion this time last year to £395 billion now. Final salary schemes have lost £226 billion in value during the last year. This is a direct result of the squandering and speculation by the croupiers of the City. The employers are sure to expect us to pay, not them.
It’s often a terrifying prospect to take on huge challenges like these when what we and our fellow trade unionists are used to doing is arguing with management over rotas and paid overtime.
To fight these battles it helps to have a political compass to guide you and a network of comrades to advise and support you. All of us could agree a list of basic pro-trade union policies — opposition to privatisation of public services and returning privatised sectors back to public ownership, scrapping anti-union laws, eradicating low pay, a commitment to equality legislation, equal pay, promoting health and safety at work, sustainable environmental policies, ending the Iraq war, fighting for global justice. We put people before profits, hospitals before guns, classrooms before boardrooms.
There are journalists and other media workers who reject the ethics of war and greed but who also feel isolated within their workplace and locked out of a wider support network.
When it comes to a campaign to defend jobs and journalism — at The Herald, for instance — we know that the parent company Gannett takes almost three times as much profit per journalist working at the Herald in Glasgow as it does from its people working in the US. But as socialists, we need do more than just get angry about that and demand better pay, more jobs and a better working environment. We should raise the wider issues of who controls our media, and in whose interest. Those questions are very firmly in the public mind at the moment.
There is no shortage of radical sentiment against Britain’s foreign wars, the attacks on asylum seekers, Nazis trying to kick and stab their way into communities, and now the almost universal sense of public outrage at waste and profiteering by the banks and spivs. There is no shortage of anger and fighting spirit in the newsrooms and studios. It should be our task as socialists in the NUJ to engage directly with those chapels and bring socialist ideas to them.
There is no denying a new public interest in socialist ideas — nationalisation is back on the agenda, for instance. But at the same time, there’s fear of the consequences of taking action over wages and in defence of jobs.
We’re about embracing the agenda within the working class and trade union movement for change from below. The NUJ, other trade unions, each of the organisations we separately belong to, can help create a new movement for socialism. Not just to make the workplace better, but to make a better world.
This is an edited version of a speech given by Peter Murray to a forum of the NUJ Left on November 16.