Debate: were the BBC justified in striking over pensions?
November 11, 2010 4 Comments
Now that all the furore has died down, The Student and The Chancer assess whether the BBC were right to strike over cuts to their pension.
FOR: The Chancer
A lot of the public attention from these strikes centred around the big names who didn’t cross the picket line and the fact that we were left with some nobody from Hampshire on breakfast and a second string XI to run the other shows. Once the big names started staying at home it was no longer about the action, or it’s cause; it’s the actors in the piece who matter.
And that is one of the problems here. Because now when we hear about BBC staff striking we think of Huw Edwards, Sophie Raworth and George Alagiah and grumble at these well-paid presenters who have temerity to demand more money. But it isn’t just about them. It is about everyone else at the Beeb who feels they are getting a raw deal.
All those members of staff who believe they have had their pension funds ‘stolen’ and are not being offered a fair deal, they are the people who matter – they are the people with the placards outside Television Centre. There are not many people who would strike without good reason (despite what certain people would have you think about students) and just because these people work at the BBC should not inhibit their right to strike.
Many make the argument that the BBC’s unique selling point is the service it provides and that is most certainly true. What I believe is not correct is that this unique service or the mention of a few big name presenters should detract from or prevent those NUJ members striking if they feel they have been wronged. We rely on the BBC for so many things both in terms, news, TV shows, sport coverage, so then why shouldn’t we rely on them to stand up for themselves too?
Forget the context. Forget the company. If these BBC workers have been offered a bum deal they should strike regardless. Even if it does mean some people can’t listen to the Today programme.
AGAINST: The Student
The semantics of the debate here are important.
NUJ members within the BBC have a right to strike, let’s get that straight. It is a fundamental concept and not something it is possible to argue against. But being able to do so, having the option, is a very long way from being justified in actually doing it. And the issue, for me, is the BBC’s public service remit.
Those three small words are so key that they (should) put the public at the forefront of all the BBC does. And, forgive me if this sounds a little glib, but the BBC did not deliver on their public purpose when their employees joined the picket line at the weekend and disrupted services, including Radio Four’s Today programme. In that situation, the BBC loses what makes them so different.
On top of that, the BBC’s importance within the UK is unheralded. It sets the standards of journalism from which the rest of us not only follow but look up to. Although that doesn’t mean its employees shouldn’t strike, the Beeb must be more conscious of the decision to strike. Iain McWhirter, the award-winning political columnist, touches on this idea in his Scottish Herald comment piece, suggesting that the BBC ‘must try to understand how they are viewed from outside the protected world of state service’.
The answer? To strike only as a last resort, not on a whim.