Over 11,000 BBC journalists and technicians took strike action last Monday over savage job cuts and privatisation announced unilaterally by Director-General Mark Thompson in March.
Thompson plans to slash almost 4,000 jobs, 20 per cent of the workforce and sell off BBC Resources Ltd and BBC Broadcast Ltd.
The BBC unions – Amicus, BECTU and NUJ – also warn: ‘By allowing 40 per cent of its programme making to be made at a profit by independent producers, the BBC is slowly destroying its own production base.’
News Line spoke to some of the strikers.
At an over 200-strong picket at White City, Peter Difolco, an Amicus rep, spoke to News Line.
He said: ‘Love it or loathe it, the BBC is part of the fabric of the country.
‘It belongs to the licence fee payer and it doesn’t belong to Mark Thompson and his cronies.
‘They haven’t got the right to privatise huge chunks of it.’
John Davidson, of the NUJ, said: ‘We are confident that 11,000 NUJ, Amicus and BECTU members are out on strike today, in protest at the savage cuts which will undermine public service broadcasting and damage the most important cultural institution in the country.’
Leo Sen, a BECTU member and children’s programmes producer, said: ‘I don’t feel we are being listened to.
‘There has been no consultation.
‘The cuts don’t take into account the efficiencies that we have already made.
‘It is a 15 per cent uniform cut on production budgets.
‘This threatens the future of public service broadcasting and the quality of output in the whole industry.’
Striker Merv Woods said: ‘I think there are many reasons why people are out on strike today.
‘For me personally, I am striking against the post-Hutton nobbling of the BBC, which into the run-up to the Iraq war was Blair’s Great British public lie detector.
‘The government has seen there are two ways of dealing with a lie detector.
‘One is to tell the truth, and the other is to tamper with the lie detector.’
Richie Ellison, BECTU rep. for the union’s engineering and technical branch at Broadcasting House in Great Portland Street, told News Line: ‘Overall, the proposed sackings will affect everyone’s jobs.
‘Effectively, you’re going to have 80 per cent of the people doing all of the work.
‘The main view that the union has on that, is that a lot of people think the BBC is a big, bloated organisation.
‘Over the last 10 years it has gone through gradual cuts, as people left they were not being replaced.
‘So it’s no longer a bloated organisation.
‘After 10 years of “gentle’’ cuts, to cut another 20 per cent of the organisation will rip the heart out of our organisation!
‘Mark Thompson, the director-general, wants to make a lot of people redundant, so that in, say two years’ time, when the BBC has recovered from the costs of making all these people redundant, he can then spend the money on recruiting new staff doing new jobs.
‘This is a ridiculous waste of money!
‘He could just spend the money on redeploying the staff he already has, then the cuts wouldn’t be as widely opposed because not so many people would lose their jobs and it would show that he is willing to negotiate.
‘This morning, people from the lift maintenance company came around and they refused to cross the picket line.
‘And just now, a lad from the drinking water suppliers turned away as well.
‘That’s what we like to see, people not crossing the picket lines.’
At Bush House, Aldwych there was a lively picket, at least 100 strong, at midday.
Deborah MacCoby, Bectu, told News Line: ‘We’re on strike against management dictatorship.
‘Mark Thomas is refusing to negotiate he will only consult which means he tells the unions what he wants and they “manage” it to carry out the way he wants it.
‘We only want negotiation, our aim is for Mark Thompson to negotiate not dictate.’
Rahul Sarnaik, NUJ, added: ‘The BBC is the most respected organisation in the world, we’re proud to work for it.
‘But the cuts being announced sound like the dismemberment rather than negotiations.
‘We’re having this strike because we want management to explain what is behind these enormous cuts and we’re worried about the cuts impairing the BBC’s ability to make high quality broad ranging programmes that are the BBC’’s hallmark.
‘We’re not just worried about jobs, we’re worried about the whole future of the BBC.’
Pierre Vicary NUJ rep (World Service) said: ‘The strike is tremendous.
‘I was here at midnight when the strike started about 100 came.
‘Slovak, Turks, South Americans, Greeks have all joined the union.
‘We were strong, now we’re stronger. Ninety-eight per cent of these people have never been on strike – that’s really important.
‘Here at the World Service we pride ourselves on our standards.
‘The cuts would damage the output.’
Early morning pickets Wissam Sayeth, and Elizabeth Blunt also spoke to News Line.
NUJ member Wissam Sayeth, a producer at BBC Arabic Service, had walked out at midnight Sunday.
He said: ‘Most of the night shift came out at midnight last night.
‘We want to fight for the BBC and we want to support our union and the vote that they had.
‘We are fighting for our rights and 84 per cent of our union voted for this action.
‘We have to support our colleagues who face losing their jobs.
‘The main purpose of this strike is to the management, to negotiate with the union, they represent us.’
Elizabeth Blunt, NUJ World Service News told News Line: ‘I’ve worked for the BBC since 1968.
‘I’m a former West Africa correspondent and I’m outraged that they are planning to close the West Africa bureau.
‘Two out of three of our listeners on The World Today come from Africa.
‘Of all the strikes I remember, I’ve known people leave the union because they didn’t want to go on strike.
‘In this strike, they are joining the union because they feel so strongly.’