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Newspapers: Hitting back at the hub

A wave of industrial action is sweeping through local newspapers owned by the US-owned Newsquest group as members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) strike back against pay restraint, redundancies and management plans to move editorial production to a central hub in Newport, South Wales.

As Workers went to press, journalists at titles in North West England and South London were set to walk out for 24 hours on Wednesday 25 June.

The papers affected include the Warrington Guardian and Northwich Guardian in Cheshire; the Sale and Altrincham Messenger, Trafford; the Wirral Globe in Birkenhead; the St Helens Star in Merseyside; Bolton News; Bolton Journal; Bury Journal; Bury Times; the Lancashire Telegraph; and the South London Guardian papers.

The action follows strikes in February over similar issues at Newsquest offices in Darlington, York and Bradford.

Ballot votes for action ranged from 83.1 per cent in Blackburn to 93.1 per cent in Warrington, and 100 per cent in South London, where they have had only one pay increase in six years, and management plans to close the Elmbridge Guardian and the Twickenham office, losing posts in the process.

Members believe the plan to move production to the Welsh subbing hub will put at risk editorial quality, lead to redundancies and unacceptable workloads, says the NUJ. The issue has seen votes for strikes at Newsquest (Sussex), which includes the Brighton Argus. In June, 150 members working for Newsquest (Hampshire), including the Southern Daily Echo, voted 89.7 per cent for strike action over pay and job losses.

At the NUJ’s biennial conference in April, held in Eastbourne, Newsquest Group Chapel FoC Bob Smith called production hubs the equivalent of sweatshop call centres and accused them of severing the link between newspapers and the communities they serve.

Members are also “sick of having their dedication and skills disregarded by a management more interested in squeezing out profit for the American owner's shareholders”, said NUJ national organiser Laura Davidson.