Friday 20 November 2009

NUJ Left accused of trying to take control of union's new London Photographers' Branch

Photographer David Hoffman, who has been active in the NUJ for more than 30 years, has accused the NUJ Left of trying to take over the union's newly formed London Photographers' Branch.
Hoffman is one of the photographers who has campaigned for the new branch which was only approved this summer and is in the process of being set-up.
Now in a posting on an NUJ photographers' discussion site, he claims he has been "a useful patsy to disguise the real underlying aim of building a power base for NUJ Left"
Hoffman says in his post: "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 within a trade union. But NUJ Left is not just any old political force pushing their line within atrade union. The power and reach of the NUJ Left has ensured that their candidates have won every high profile election for many years.
"With members of NUJ Left including the General Secretary, the Deputy General Secretary, the Vice President,the (outgoing) magazine editor, the Campaigns Officer and many members of NEC as well as other influential committees, 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 a 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."
Hoffman has told me he has not resigned from the branch but will not take any post within it.


Anonymous said...

Nothing of the sort has been discussed by members of NUJ Left and nor would it ever be. Unless David has any actual evidence to back up his wild allegations. Disgraceful.

Unknown said...

Given that NUJ Left was only set up recently it seems unlikely, even if "taking control" of the union was the agenda, that they were the sinister hand behind elections which almost entirely took place before they were even formed.

More generally, I'd expect better from a serious journalist than this kind of thing. Saying NUJ Left is organising to secretly control the union is simply conjecture with zero attempt to get the viewpoints of its membership (easy enough, given they have a website explaining what they're about), you'd be rightly hauled over the coals if you were writing this stuff as a news item.

Jonathan Warren said...

In response to David Hoffman

The London Photographers' Branch is a very exciting and necessary development in the NUJ.

It has been discussed across our sector as a serious prospect over the past year due to the crisis in our industry, also partly due to the success of Photo-Forum ( and the unity around campaigning against the use of the anti-terrorism legislation on photographers.

We have been involved alongside other photographers in and outside the NUJ to organise Photo-Forum which people have enjoyed and found valuable.

We have also worked with colleagues to build probably the single most effective photographer event outside New Scotland Yard about the introduction of S76 of the Terrorism Act earlier this year and the subsequent 'I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist' ( campaign.

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 photographers. 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 on Tuesday 26th January 2010 at 6pm at Headland House.

Jess Hurd
Marc Vallée
Jonathan Warren

Jon Slattery said...

An NUJ Left member e-mailed me this:

"Lots of old NUJ Left sweats like me oppose photogs branch.
See it as an unecessary splitting of union when we should be "converging" like the bosses."

Andrew Wiard said...

In response to Jonathan Warren, Jess Hurd and Marc Vallée:

This branch had in fact been discussed for rather longer than a year, by those who want proper photographic representation throughout the NUJ, of which this new branch is just the beginning.

I proposed the creation of this branch on an email list for NUJ photographers.

Imagine my surprise when within hours this discussion had mysteriously migrated to the email list of the NUJ Left, whose photographer members clearly considered this "their" branch.

Yes I of all people agree that this is a very exciting and necessary development.

And I hope it will become one of the most effective and successful branches in the union.

But I wasn't born yesterday.

Andrew Wiard

Anonymous said...

"Imagine my surprise when within hours this discussion had mysteriously migrated to the email list of the NUJ Left"

Of course, what this doesn't reflect is that members of NUJ Left didn't form a unified view of this proposed branch, so stopped well short of plotting to 'take it over'. So David's contention is, at best, mischievous. At worst, it's malicious.

Fiona O'Cleirigh said...

Simon’s split infinitive makes an interesting point:

"Saying NUJ Left is organising to secretly control the union is simply conjecture with zero attempt to get the viewpoints of its membership.."

The organisation is indeed open but the control of the union goes on in secret.

Yes, the NUJ Left website does say what NUJ Left is about. It is committed to:

“Identifying and targeting key elected posts and NEC seats, democratically agreeing slates for elections, and campaigning for NUJ Left candidates, to advance our influence and further develop equality representation on policy-making bodies and through other structures of the union.”


The secretive bit relates to their members not declaring themselves as such when they are standing for such election.

If, as Hoffman suggests (and I would like to know more about this), the General Secretary, the DGS, the Vice President, the Campaigns Officer and a large chunk of the NEC are all already NUJ Left, then NUJ Left operates at times as a top level unaccountable forum for policy discussion and formulation. A private sphere within the public one.

This is why people are supposed to declare their relevant political affiliations.

NUJ Left members can sulk and snap as much as they like. The bright lights of revelation are shining down and wiggling wont help. Mark Watts first raised this issue publicly and he was vilified horribly for it: as Bill Goodwin says, a case of shooting the messenger. Now, thanks to Watts, the subject is out in the open and we will begin to see the extent of NUJ Left’s success in its policy of ‘identifying and targeting key elected posts’.

Andrew Wiard said...

Anonymous wrote:

" Of course, what this doesn't reflect is that members of NUJ Left didn't form a unified view of this proposed branch, so stopped well short of plotting to 'take it over'."

The NUJ Left has hitherto bitterly resisted any of the proposals for photographers organising as photographers. Such as the campaign for our own Photographic Organiser, and also an Industrial Council for photographers which happens to be the subject of an ADM debate tomorrow. Over the new branch however they were clearly torn between the desire to suppress, or to control.

But all this misses the point, which is how did whether or not to permit a photographers' branch become the decision of the NUJ Left?

Andrew Wiard

Unknown said...

"Mark Watts first raised this issue publicly and he was vilified horribly for it"

Um, the only people who bothered to even reply were Roy Greenslade (not an NUJ Left member) and a couple of bloggers afaik?

There was quite a lot of amusement on the email list that Watts was playing it up as some sort of 'investigation' piece though, the general consensus was that it was such a laughable smear campaign it would be better to just not engage with him.

It's unfortunate that some people are so suspicious of anything labelled "left" that they leap upon Watts' writings as some sort of expose when they were actually just repeats of publicly-available information, wrapped up in anti-left invective.

Richard Simcox didn't declare himself as an NUJ Left candidate, incidentally, because he wasn't an NUJ Left candidate. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the NUJ Left decided to back him because his politics were reasonable, but he stood as an independent.

In this vein, I should point out here that I'm not an NUJ Left activist (which makes it all the more strange to me that people go on about how secretive it all is, given that I got on the email list simply by asking) and didn't campaign for Simcox - or even get around to voting in the end.

What does get to me a bit though is that this whole electoral fiasco has exposed not a secretive cabal of leftists, but the willingness of many journalists to accept verbatim things that they should take with a pinch of salt.

Watts was an electoral candidate smearing a rival he considered to have unacceptable politics - yet rather than turn the cynical eye on his motivations, many simply saw the words "left cabal" and ran with it.

Gatsby said...

Fiona, you're an investigative journalist. Why don't you just ring those people up and ask them if they belong to NUJ Left?

Instead of simply wanting to know more you could, you know, investigate. Sort of.

KT said...

You don't have to go far to see how some NUJ Left members operate. At the weekend, two of the people David Hofmann complains about - Marc Vallee and Jess Hurd - were at the NUJ's Annual Delegate Meeting, representing the London Freelance Branch. Yet they spent much of the first day of the conference arguing they were going to break the rules and speak against a motion which their branch had democratically voted to support - but which NUJ Left opposed. So they were sent to represent one branch's democratic views, but said they were going to do the exact opposite because NUJ Left told them to. Were the actions of Vallee and Hurd "open and democratic"? Of course not.

martin Cloake said...

This is all getting totally ridiculous. Like-minded people get together and organise, and try to ensure policies they agree with prevail. That's politics. It's what some photographers did when pushing the idea of a photographers' branch. These latest silly accusations seem to be nothing more than a case of "I don't think I'll get my own way, so I'm keeping my ball".

For the record - I speak as left-leaning, non NUJ Left member, who still has some doubts about the wisdom of separate sections for skills groups within the union at a time of increasing convergence. I raised this point about the new media council, and about the photographers' branch. In both cases I was accused of "discriminating" against people in new media and photographers.

Might I suggest people try to argue cases on their merits instead of making spurious points about 'equality' and 'left wing plots'. You never know, we all might get taken a bit more seriously.

Fiona O'Cleirigh said...

Simon, there was no ‘anti-left invective’ in anything Watts wrote. He said repeatedly that his criticism of Simcox was for not declaring his political affiliation. If you’re the candidate of NUJ Left, you must say so. As for NUJ Left itself, criticism of its underhand means of self-promotion is not ‘anti left’ either. NUJ Left is not ‘the left’, nor is it ‘the NUJ”.
Unfortunately, comment boxes don’t accept Venn diagrams.

As for Simcox not being the NUJ Left candidate, has anyone told NUJ Left this? Their website is currently referring to Simcox as the ‘NUJ’s Left own defeated candidate Rich Simcox’. During the election, Socialist Worker also referred to him as the NUJ Left candidate. One would assume those two groups should know. Perhaps you need to do a google search.

Gatsby says I’m an investigative journalist. I’m normally just called ‘nosy’ and ‘invasive’; promotion indeed.

Martin Cloake: the best way to get the union taken seriously is to ensure it is credible. This does not mean furthering factionalism and underhand decision-making. It means doing things democratically. It would also help if union officials were not spending their time campaigning for candidates of their own political faction. Quite what Miles Barter, our union’s Campaigns Organiser, thought he was doing, I don’t know, but it was not impressive. Maybe he too was mixing up NUJ Left and the NUJ.

Martin Cloake said...

Fiona: I need no lectures from you about ensuring the union is credible. I've spent most of the past 21 years doing so. Today, for example, I have been publicising the excellent Training Dept initiative which saw a team of student members report ADM in a thorough manner under a set of principles which really sets a good example.

Strangely, all this credible stuff seems to go unremarked upon by those so fond of uncovering conspiracies where none exist.

Fiona O'Cleirigh said...

A team of student journalists being led by the man who made the most outrageous slurs against Mark Watts. Chris Wheal was the only person who overstepped the bounds of reality so far as to say that Watts was supported by the BNP - on the grounds that a BNP-supporting website quoted his comments. (They also quoted Jon Snow - is Snow supported by the BNP too, then?) How credible is that?

Unknown said...

One more time Fiona, as you seem to have selective blindness...

Richard Simcox was not an NUJ Left candidate. He was an independent.

As such, what Mark Watts was effectively asking him to do was not declare his affiliations but declare his list of supporters - a bizarre requirement which Watts himself certainly did not bother to fulfill.

As for the anti-left invective, come on. The man quite deliberately slung around words like "hardcore" "cabal" and "extreme" when talking about the group as a means to place himself in the "centre" in the run up to the election. You're a wordsmith, surely you know how these tactics work?

I'd agree actually that NUJ Left isn't exactly "left" as I'd understand it, my politics would veer significantly to the left of much of the membership. However that rather proves my point doesn't it.

As I say, Mark's babble about far right and far left being equally bad is meaningless unless you understand what he means by centre.

Gatsby said...

Fiona - you sidestepped my question. So, I repeat: why don't you ring them and ask them, instead of simply wondering.

You don't actually have to be an investigative journalist - simply a journalist.

Gatsby said...

Were the actions of Vallee and Hurd "open and democratic"?

They're not even capable of being open and democratic with each other.

Fiona O'Cleirigh said...

Ok, Mr G, I get the picture. I would love to call up the entire NEC, plus all senior and elected NUJ officials and see if they are all NUJ Left members, but I have work to do and my children need a roof over their heads etc.

Simon, I wouldn’t call Mark Watts centre anything. Centrefold, centre stage, centre court .. certainly not. If anything he’s quite extreme. He’s extremely against political factions or cabals trying to hijack our trade union. Perhaps you’d like to think it’s just because the NUJ Left is left wing and everyone else isn’t, but it’s the modus operandi and not the shade of red that’s the problem.

As for ‘cabal’, the concise OED defines it as (1) a secret intrigue, and (2) a political clique or faction. Well, NUJ Left is a political clique dealing in secret intrigues, so not bad. It isn’t a secret organisation, I know, I know; it’s an organisation with secrets.

And that’s not good, because those underhand tactics of promoting your own people to power without them declaring that fact could lead to all sorts of groups getting their person in. Imagine if the BNP had done it.

Out of interest, why do so many NUJ Left-connected commenters feel the need to use pseudonyms, Simon?

As for Rich Simcox not being the official NUJ Left candidate; the Socialist Worker seems to think he was. NUJ Left’s webpage seems to think he was too, so presumably Richard Simcox seems to think he was. Is that a problem for you?

Re declaring one’s supporters; there is a big difference between declaring, as a list, the heterogenous bunch of supporters that most candidates would have garnered, and declaring the backing – and membership of – a loose collective with an interest in gaining vicarious power.

By the way.... In your first comment, Simon, you said NUJ Left was only set up recently. I've heard different versions of this. When Mark Watts first raised the whole issue, some people said 'oh, NUJ Left isn't a problem. It's been around for decades'. Well, there was a relaunch, we know now. You don't agree on much, do you? "Who's the NUJ Left candidate?" "I am!" "No, I am!" "It's me!" Spartacus isn't in it.

Gatsby said...

Spartacus got more crosses than Richard Simcox.

Unknown said...

Again with the selective blindness Fiona, this is getting to be a bit of a habit.

I specifically said I didn't think the NUJ Left was particularly left wing and if it weren't for the fact you declared yourself a supporter of Watts on his website (an affiliation you didn't share on here - how secretive of you)I'd be astonished at your refusal to acknowledge that he was trying to cast himself as a moderate.

Actually the NUJ Left site simply says it supports him. His response is: "I am grateful for the support of NUJ Left." Not "I'm proud to be your representative."

It's further qualified by one of the site editors later on saying: "Will Richard be independent of the group if he is elected editor? What a question! The Journalist editor is accountable to the NEC, to the Advisory Board, to the General Secretary, to ADM and to the members themselves. Do you seriously think someone could stay in that post for any length of time if they did not prove – in one issue after another of the magazine – that they were open to vigorous debate and to putting he interests of the wide spectrum of opinion in our union at front and centre of The Journalist’s coverage?"

Hardly Stalinism is it.

I'm still struggling with this view you have of a political clique. They have a website which states outright what they want to achieve, an email list you can join simply by asking, conferences which are advertised to the union membership and which are, as far as I know, open to pretty much anyone.

How is any of this secretive, let alone exclusivist? I'm not even an NUJ Left activist [he says for the second time] and I'm getting a half dozen emails a day from these people ffs, it's about as secretive as a brass band in a house made of tin!

An NUJ Left used to exist about a decade ago, but has absolutely nothing to do with today's NUJ Left bar the name. The current group agreed its Aims and Principles in 2008, according to the website (my goodness, I must be an investigator with those kinds of in-depth research skills).