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Photographer David Hoffman has accused a far-left faction in the national union of journalists of trying to take over the new London photographers’ branch.
Hoffman, who was a key figure behind the formation of the branch, made his dramatic inter-vention about the SWP-inspired “NUJ Left” on the first day of the union’s conference in Southport. He felt that he had become “a useful patsy to disguise the real underlying aim of building a power base for ‘NUJ Left’.”
“The branch will in reality be directed by the de-mands of an entirely separate unelected group with its own very different aims and plans.”
His comments, made yesterday in a posting on a forum for NUJ photographers and reported today on the blog of Jon Slattery, the former deputy editor of Press Gazette, chime with revelations made over the past month by Mark Watts – journalist, broadcaster and FOIA Centre co-ordinator – about “NUJ Left” during the election for the editor of the union’s Journalist magazine.
Watts said today: “I had documents suggesting that ‘NUJ Left’ has been seeking to hijack LPB specifically just as I revealed it has been seeking to hijack the whole union.
“The NUJ leadership needs to deal with this cabal before it totally paralyses the union. And the leader-ship needs to contact every photographer who might want to transfer to LPB to set out how it will ensure that the branch will be governed – and its officials elected – democratically, and not stitched up in secret unofficial meetings.”
Hoffman accuses three other figures behind the branch of following an agenda set by “NUJ Left”. He wrote: “Several people have claimed to be the origin-ators of the photographers' branch. I recall this being discussed in the 1980’s.”
“Over the last year, the London photographers' branch (LPB) has become a reality. We've talked of a branch run ‘by photographers for photographers’. I was proud to be building that with Jess Hurd, Marc Vallée, Jonathan Warren and other colleagues. I believed that we could accomplish a great deal that the NUJ has failed to do and that the time was right for a bold venture uniting photographers under the NUJ banner. I now need to make it clear why I am no longer a part of this initiative.
“The discovery last month that most of the people who would be central to LPB are committed to an ‘NUJ Left’ agenda took me by surprise. I had thought that I had assurances to the contrary.
“Political pressure groups are entirely normal with-in a trade union. But ‘NUJ Left’ is not just any old political force pushing their line within a trade union. The power and reach of the ‘NUJ Left’ has ensured that their candidates have won every high-profile election for many years.”
“It's clear that this low-profile self-selected group has considerable power within, and control of, the NUJ.
“I'd thought we were a group of colleagues working together to build a power base for photographers. In reality, I was kept in the dark, and have been left feeling that I have been a useful patsy to disguise the real underlying aim of building a power base for ‘NUJ Left’. Not so much a branch ‘by photographers for photographers’ but rather ‘by photographers for “NUJ Left”’.
“Why does it matter? The aims of ‘NUJ Left’ are not the same as the aims of LPB and, at times, are very likely to be quite opposed to those of LPB.
“Imagine an LPB committee planning a campaign for a photographers' organiser. A majority of the committee will have already discussed this on ‘NUJ Left’. The timing, the best way to get an ‘NUJ Left’ candidate into the post, whether to support this faction or that plan – this will all have been decided by the ‘NUJ Left’ membership.
“The photographers' branch discussion will be meaningless – fake. Whatever the views of the LPB membership, the committee vote will be preordained by loyalty to ‘NUJ Left’ discussions and decisions. The ‘NUJ Left’ bloc will always prevail.
“I cannot present myself as a candidate to the new branch on the basis that I am putting forward, and working for the interests of, the membership when I know that, in many important matters, I will be powerless.
“The branch will in reality be directed by the demands of an entirely separate unelected group with its own very different aims and plans.
“I won't stand for a position on a committee where I can only fight and lose, where my role is that of a shoe tied behind a wedding car: I get to be at the wedding and even to go to the honeymoon, but in a merely decorative role and only ending up battered.
“We could have built a branch incandescent with energy and bursting with achievement, but without a genuinely independent voice for photographers then I cannot have a part in it.”
Warren responded on behalf of the three “NUJ Left” figures named by Hoffman in a comment posted on Slattery’s blog: “The London photographers' branch is a very exciting and necessary development in the NUJ.”
“The assertion that ‘NUJ Left’ will somehow wield it’s secretive ‘power and control’ over the branch is, frankly, ridiculous. It will bring together all photo-graphers. It will of course be open and democratic and we would like every photographer – left, right or in between – to be a part of that democratic process.
“We hope to see everyone at the first branch meeting.”
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