The Press Association has been branded an ‘electronic strike-breaker’ as journalists at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post began their four-day strike today.
The strike began in Leeds at 7am today, with Yorkshire Evening Post deputy news editor Tony Harney, the paper’s longest serving journalist, first on the picket line.
More than 2,000 leaflets have been printed for passers-by, and passing motorists have been quick to honk their horns in support.
The National Union of Journalists chapel said more than 140 staff are on the picket line in Leeds.
Staff at district offices at London, Hull, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Bradford, Wakefield, Northallerton, Harrogate, and Scarborough are also on strike.
But Johnston Press has said the papers will be published as normal – and the NUJ said that was mainly down to PA.
According to the union, the papers will receive extra copy from the news agency over the four-day strike.
NUJ northern regional organiser Chris Morley said: “We are not surprised that PA is setting itself up to be an electronic strike-breaker while our members at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post take a principled stand for quality journalism.
“After all, PA has form for this and has been caught out previously touting for business when it last looked like there would be industrial action at Leeds.
“PA management are not noted for their willingness to invest in journalism, as shown by the levels of pay for their journalists.”
Pete Lazenby, the joint father of the chapel at the Leeds offices, said: “We know the company has been approaching PA, asking for more copy.
“We have got members in PA who say they will do normal jobs, and no more, but there are other people who will be under pressure to provide more copy.
“We didn’t really expect anything else from PA. There’s a problem with them strike breaking, and it’s been there for decades. It’s always been there.
“We’re not happy but we recognised it would happen before we came out. We were never under any illusions we could stop the paper coming out – this is a public campaign.”
NUJ deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet urged NUJ members at PA not to undermine the strike.
“The union will support anyone who finds themselves in difficulty for supporting the strikers,” she said.
The NUJ has also urged freelances not to break the strike.
‘Proud tradition of dissent in Yorkshire’
Lazenby said the picket line mood was “euphoric”.
“It’s a very liberating experience,” he told Press Gazette. “We are basically saying: We are dissenters. There’s a proud tradition of dissent in Yorkshire and we are continuing it.
“For 60 per cent of people, it’s the first time they have been on strike.”
The strike was approved by 109 votes to three – 97 per cent, and one of the largest margins in the union’s history.
Staff are angry at 18 proposed job cuts – with threatened compulsory redundancies – and declining quality.
Lazenby said that, when his career began in 1972, there were 1,350 staff at the Leeds office. Now, there are fewer than 600.
“We know printers have gone, and we have had computerisation, but that’s one of the things we feel strongly about – we have accepted every change, and now they throw more at us,” said Lazenby.
“We are very, very worried about the future of newspapers – particularly regional newspapers. The constant cutbacks are lowering the standards, and lowering the circulation.
“It’s a downward spiral and we don’t know where it’s going to end. People are saying enough is enough.
“We don’t know if we’re going to win this or not. If we can get ‘compulsory’ removed from this, that will be a success.
“We’re not in favour of voluntary redundancies, but what we’re opposed to is people being put out of work against their will – and we’re still left with the issues of declining quality of newspapers.”
Lazenby added all staff on the picket line had been buoyed by the public’s support.
“People are taking leaflets, there have been lorries, buses, and taxis sounding their horns – it’s been great,”” he said.
“I think there’s a public mood of resistance, with what”s being done to people. Bonuses, fat cats, and working people are being told they have to pay with their jobs.”
‘We cannot agree to the NUJ’s position’
Yorkshire Post Newspapers managing director Chris Green said a lack of volunteers meant compulsory redundancies were unavoidable.
“Although we have had some success with redeployment, surprisingly we have had no formal volunteers from Leeds and we are left with no alternative other than to start the redundancy selection process,” he said in a statement.
“In the current economic climate, we cannot responsibly agree to the NUJ’s position of ‘no compulsory redundancies’.
“Steps have been taken to ensure that the quality and frequency of our publications will not suffer as a result of the NUJ action in Leeds.”
A rally will be held outside the Leeds offices at 4pm today, with local politicians and union leaders expected to attend. Supporters are urged to join them.
The strike HQ is nearby bar The Steps. The bar has donated a barrel of beer to the strikers, and Leeds Brewery has donated two more.
Another four-day walkout is planned for Thursday 26 February to Sunday 1 March.