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EXCLUSIVE by Mark Watts
Trotskyist group the socialist workers party helped to re-launch “NUJ Left” last November as a vehicle to take control of the national union of journalists.
An investigation today reveals that the SWP was one of three political groups behind the new formation of “NUJ Left” out of the ashes of a predecessor body with the same name. The other two groups behind the re-launch were: the socialist party, and workers power, which describes itself as a “revolutionary communist organisation”.
Several inside sources have come forward to blow the whistle on the political group that has been seeking to have its members take key positions in the NUJ hierarchy. In addition, whistle-blowers have also leaked documents giving an insight into “NUJ Left”.
The far-left political faction has become a hot issue in the election for the editor of the union’s Journalist magazine after my e-mail circular to members two weeks ago unmasked Richard Simcox as the “NUJ Left” candidate even though he had made no such declaration in his campaign material, including the “election address”, that was sent via the union to the electorate. He was not the first “NUJ Left” candidate running for an elected union position to do this.
NUJ members have until November 16 to vote by postal ballot for a new editor – an extension of 10 days to the original deadline. The extension follow-ed my request on behalf of four of the eight candidates.
The e-mail circular also revealed that “NUJ Left” was operating as a cabal and seeking to control the union’s national executive council (NEC).
I can today reveal that the re-launch of “NUJ Left” was agreed at a meeting held on Sunday afternoon, November 16 last year, in the Lucas Arms, opposite the NUJ’s London headquarters at Headland House.
Several sources speaking on condition of anony-mity identified the SWP as helping with the meeting. The SWP describes itself as “an anti-cap-italist revolutionary Marxist organisation” and follows the ideology of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
In addition, the meeting was announced in Social-ist Worker, the SWP’s newspaper, saying: “Activ-ists in the NUJ journalists’ union have organised an ‘NUJ Left’ forum in London this weekend.
“The forum will discuss what it means to be on the left in the NUJ and how does the left and the union best equip activists and reps to organise media and editorial workers to fight and win?”
Simcox was one of that key meeting’s organis-ers. I have obtained a copy of an e-mail dated October 23, 2008, that Simcox sent to potential fellow members of the political faction, in which he writes, “Just to confirm where we are with the plans for the forum its: on Sunday 16 November 12pm-2pm upstairs at the Lucas Arms, opp. NUJ HQ, Gray’s Inn Road, London speakers tbc.”
In an apparent reference to NUJ vice-president Peter Murray, Simcox continues: “As Pete said, a draft ‘NUJ Left’ manifesto will be circulated for consultation shortly and an agenda will be e-mailed nearer the time.”
He adds: “This will be an important meeting. Please make every effort to attend.
“Also, please circulate this to any NUJ comrades.”
According to another “NUJ Left” document, Sim-cox was elected onto the “steering committee” of the faction at its conference last May – along with Miles Barter, the NUJ’s campaigns and communic-
ations officer. Murray is understood to have been a speaker at the “forum”.
Simcox, who says that while he is in “NUJ Left” he does not belong to any political party, confirmed that he helped organise the meeting, which he said included booking the pub. “We did have a meeting in November to re-launch ‘NUJ Left’.”
“It was advertised. It was a diary date on the NUJ website. It was advertised in ‘NUJ active’.”
The Socialist Worker reported after the re-launch meeting: “It was agreed that there needs to be a strong left at the grassroots level of the union to organise resistance, build the union, and support and pressure the left-led national executive.”
“The meeting agreed a manifesto and elected a four-strong committee to co-ordinate future events.”
Several sources said that the meeting was attend-ed by a small group of more than 30 NUJ members – including some from the NEC – and that it was addressed by speakers from SWP, the socialist party, workers power, and a bus driver involved in a then on-going strike.
The debate centred, according to all the sources, on the wording of the group’s “manifesto”, which was aimed at “promoting socialist principles” and supporting its candidates for NEC positions.
One said: “Everyone there seemed to think that it was a good, constructive meeting.”
According to two sources, some activists at the meeting complained that full-time NUJ officials had too much control and that the NEC was simply rubber-stamping their decisions. There was dis-cussion about including a reference to this in the manifesto, but the idea was rejected at the time.
Sources at Headland House reveal that many un-ion staff members resent what they see as the growing influence of “NUJ Left” inhibiting them from carrying out day-to-day work on behalf of members.
The re-launch meeting agreed on the “manifesto”, which set out how the political faction intends to take control of the NUJ. It began: “NUJ Left is an inclusive coalition of activists in the NUJ who work together to improve conditions for members and advance socialist principles within the union, the labour movement and society at large. We are not affiliated to any political party and membership is open to all members of the NUJ and its staff.”
“We encourage, educate and support NUJ mem-bers, activists and reps to recruit, organise and engage in struggle against their employers.”
The “manifesto” became the description used by “NUJ Left” about itself on its website, including its aims.
These include: “Co-ordinating branch activity to propagate ‘NUJ Left’ aims and objectives, and any agreed policies, across the union.
“Maintaining regular and effective communication among all levels of the NUJ, including liaison between ‘NUJ Left’ and NEC Left members, to ensure senior lay and elected left officials are accountable to ‘NUJ Left’.
“Providing a strong, united voice for the left at annual conference, by co-ordinating motions and amendments in advance and, where possible, agreeing attitudes before and during conference.
“Identifying and targeting key elected posts and NEC seats, democratically agreeing slates for el-ections, and campaigning for ‘NUJ Left’ candidates, to advance our influence.”
The Channel 4 news presenter, Jon Snow, and an
army of other eminent journalists from all corners of the media industry, and from across the UK and Ireland, have backed my election bid.
Mark Watts – freelance journalist, broadcaster and FOIA Centre co-ordinator – is standing in the election on the basis that the new editor of the Journalist should be an independent journalist at heart – not a politicised activist. He is not a member of any political party or group.
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