By John Millington
Journalists at the BBC took a courageous stand yesterday in the face of a potential public backlash to stand up for quality journalism and to fend off compulsory redundancies at the corporation.
With a strong turnout reported by the National Union of Journalists and some high profile names such as Lauren Laverne refusing to cross the picket line, passions spilled out on to twitter causing the #NUJ to “trend.”
Much of the Twitter sphere commentary supported the strike with others posting humorous anecdotes about being late for work because the Today programme (having been cancelled due to the strike) failed to wake up the would-be worker at 6am!
Unsurprisingly the Daily Telegraph report today couldn’t resist trying to besmirch the strike action by highlighting criticism (“abuse” according to the article) of BBC journalists who decided to break the strike and work instead.
The thrust of the article focuses on the use of the word “scab” directed at strikebreaking TV journalists Carol Kirkwood and Jon Sopel.
There are two things to de-construct here; The notion that taking strike action is just about individual choice whether to strike or not.
And whether “scab” is a term of abuse.
As a journalist I have reported on dozens of strike actions across different industries and interviewed both workers and managers to get there take on the issue.
I have heard testimony from workers who have suffered years of verbal and in some case physical threats from managers in the construction industry.
And on more than one occasion seen first hand, abuse dished out by managers during industrial disputes directed at union activists.
One incident during the bitter and now infamous “Sparks dispute” last year where 9 construction companies threatened workers’ with a 35 percent pay cut, one manager lashed out stating: “If it were up to me, I’d pay them one pound an hour.”
Another unforgettable moment was interviewing a shop workers union Usdaw rep who was working at a well known supermarket chain, clearly suffering from mental illness due to the stress of being bullied because she dared attempt to get the union recognised by her employer.
She was not a “union militant.” She just wanted to be treated fairly and was so scared that she would get into trouble and be blacklisted by her boss that she wouldn’t let me print the article, even though talking to someone on the outside had given her some form of cathartic release.
These are all examples of workplace abuse.
Calling someone a “scab” via Twitter when they have decided to break a strike is not a form of abuse.
It is merely stating a fact with implied criticism.
Some may say going on strike is all about personal choice and is none of the business of others.
Unfortunately both the decision and the act of strike action is taken collectively by union members.
In the overwhelming majority of cases it is a last resort.
And by choosing to work during a strike you are aiding the employer in carrying out whatever plans they have.
At the BBC, that means cut backs and compulsory redundancies.
By the same token, strikebreakers are weakening the strength of argument put forward by their colleagues for a well staffed, professionally run BBC.
Freelancers such as myself also have a responsibility not to attempt to cash in on work becoming available due to strike action.
Not only is it a moral imperative, it is practical.
If cost cutting proposals are allowed to go through, there will be less work for freelancers to pick up leading to increased competition and more disappointment.