The bitter dispute between striking journalists and Johnston Press management in South Yorkshire shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.
Throughout the industrial action Johnston Press has declined to answer questions about the matter or engage in negotiations with the strikers.
But, as highlighted on Jon Slattery’s blog today, NUJ members have finally provoked a response from management.
Journalists have accused the company of using ‘unscrupulous employment practices’to break the strike by bringing students as young as 16 including, the NUJ allege, the student son of managing director John Bills.
But the thing that finally triggered a response from management came on the weekend when strikers distributed leaflets at a Doncaster Rovers football match, criticising South Yorkshire Newspapers editor-in-chief Graeme Huston’s decision to lay off Doncaster Free Press sports editor Peter Catt.
The leaflet, headlined ‘The Man Who Kicked the Catt”, said: ‘This man, Graeme Huston, chucked well-loved Doncaster Free Press sports editor Peter Catt – aka Mr Rovers – on the SCRAP HEAP! We’re NOT STANDING FOR THIS! Are you?”
Here is the response sent from Bills to NUJ Northern and Midlands organiser Chris Morley, courtesy of the Collective Invective blog:
We bring to your attention the enclosed leaflet which we understand is being distributed by your members who are currently out on strike action. A copy of this was sent personally to Graeme Huston with a derogatory note included.
It must be stressed that actions of this nature are not acceptable and I am sure that you are as disappointed as I am that this literature is being circulated.
I trust that the NUJ does not condone this literature and type of behaviour. I would ask that you remind your members of their responsibilities and code of practice whilst taking part in industrial action
And here’s Morley’s reply:
Thank you for sending on a copy of the leaflet “The Man Who Kicked the Catt” and your letter dated yesterday.
It appears to me that the material is both accurate and fair comment. It is also presenting important news to the people of the town that has been withheld from the pages of the Doncaster Free Press during the strike.
I suggest that if the story of Peter Catt’s dismissal had been properly reported in the DFP, then derogatory comments about the prime mover would have come to your offices directly.
As you know, the actions of the company in targeting talented journalists who were known by management as leading members of the NUJ chapel has angered my members so much they are on indefinite strike. Denying them the chance to bring about a satisfactory settlement of the dispute by your refusal to hold talks without withdrawal of the action, can only increase my members’ determination to hold management to account.
Instead of asking me to repudiate the actions of my members, I suggest you instead ask me for my availability to hold talks to resolve the dispute. I am happy to do this at any time.