Unions vote for 'conscience clause' to cover journalistsThe TUC conference has called for a law to protect those put under pressure to take part in unethical media practices
|Union delegates, including Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite (centre), vote during the annual TUC conference|
Michelle Stanistreet, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), made the call for a law to protect journalists who are put under pressure to take part in unethical media practices, during a wide-ranging debate on the threat to trade union rights in the workplace, at the TUC conference in London.
She told delegates there was a clear link between "union-busting" at News International and the "moral vacuum" that had been allowed to exist.
The NUJ leader also highlighted the plight of the 280 journalists who lost their jobs overnight when the NoW was summarily closed down in July, after it emerged that phone hacking and other illegal and unethical practices had been more widespread at the Sunday tabloid than first thought.
Stanistreet was one of a number of trade union leaders who vowed to resist any government attempt to weaken trade union rights, including by means of "civil disobedience".
She said that Murdoch, responsible for breaking the power of the print unions in the famous Wapping dispute of the 1980s, had used a legal loophole that effectively enables companies to block independent trade unions and is still in place.
The media tycoon set up a "puppet union", an in-house staff association funded by NI, that blocked outside unions from being represented despite failing to be certified as an independent organisation by the certification body, said Stanistreet.
"Journalists at Wapping have been denied the collective protection and representation of an independent trade union. There is a clear parallel between the effect of union-busting and the moral vacuum that has been allowed to proliferate at News International. Collective trade union representation is a moral, human right and it's high time Murdoch was forced to let the NUJ back in."
Stanistreet said that the NUJ's code of conduct governs all of its members and was at the heart of what the union stood for. It had been campaigning a long time for journalists to have the right to a legally binding conscience clause, so that they are protected from dismissal when they stand up for "a principle of journalistic ethics".
She added: "Journalists who've been made redundant or summarily dismissed since the News of the World closure have found out to their peril just how seamless the links between the company and their staff association really are."
The debate also heard calls for a legal challenge to the government's alleged breaches of international labour law, and to campaign against "anti-union" legislation.
Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, said that if the government brought in more anti-union laws, it would be in response to strikes about public sector pensions, which he warned looked set to be joined by millions of workers. He called for a fightback in the streets in response to any clampdown by the government.
"Bad laws have to be broken," he said. "Civil disobedience in protest at the erosion of civil liberties and freedoms have a place in our history.
"Millions of people inside and outside of trade unions can and will fight. If going to prison is the price to pay for standing up to bad laws, then so be it. We will give politicians the biggest campaign of civil disobedience their tiny minds have ever seen."
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: "Our problems today are with the Tory-Lib Dem pantomime horse, which is flirting with new anti-union laws, but it would be dishonest – nonsensical – to pretend that this is not in some measure a bipartisan problem.
"The fact that we came to an end of 13 years of Labour government with the Thatcher laws still in place is a stain on Labour's record, and a betrayal of its historic mission and purpose of advancing working people's rights."
The labour movement should not be paralysed, McClusky said, by what he described as "class law, pushed through a parliament full of expense cheats by a cobbled-together coalition".
The general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), Steve Gillan, said his members were particularly affected by some of the most restrictive employment laws in Europe, because, since 1994, it had been illegal for them to strike. He attacked the previous Labour government for not reversing the laws, accusing it of "abandoning" decent, hardworking people.
Gillan revealed that the POA will be taking a case to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg to win the right to strike, but warned that the union will support strikes by prison officers over issues such as pensions.
Delegates at the conference agreed to prepare a dossier of evidence on how the government has "flouted" international law on the rights of workers.