The BBC was gripped by the biggest strike in ten years yesterday, as over 11,000 journalists and technicians from all three BBC unions – Amicus, BECTU and the NUJ – shut programmes down across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Radio 4’s Today Programme, The World at One, PM and The World Tonight were cancelled, as were TV programmes BBC News 24, BBC World and Newsnight.
Radio Five Live broadcast repeats, while news and current affairs programmes were cancelled at BBC World Service, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Local stations were also hit.
The strength of feeling over plans to axe nearly 4,000 jobs and sell off services, was expressed by one NUJ picket.
Elizabeth Blunt, NUJ, at BBC World Service News told News Line: ‘I remember past strikes when people left the union because they didn’t want to go on strike.
‘In this strike they are joining because they feel so strongly.’
The NUJ and Bectu said 2,000 new members had joined since the job cuts were announced in March.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber joined an over 200-strong strike rally outside Television Centre in White City at 10.00am yesterday morning.
National Union of Journalists General Secretary Jeremy Dear told the rally: ‘We are protecting the fundamental principles of the BBC.
‘Ninety-nine per cent of BBC news staff are on strike.
‘We asked the BBC for negotiations but they refused.
‘They portray this as cutting bureaucracy, but they are getting rid of frontline staff, which includes NUJ and programme workers.
‘We’ve given them plenty of time to negotiate but they refuse, so we are forced to strike.’
Tony Lennon, general secretary of BECTU, the broadcasting and entertainment trade union, who chaired the open air rally, said: ‘We have the support of the wider trade union movement and that is why Brendan Barber has been with us on the picket line this morning.’
Barber then said: ‘I’m pleased to bring solidarity from the TUC.’
‘The implications for the BBC are devastating,’ he warned.
‘Picket lines here in west London have been replicated all over the country where BBC workers have walked out.
‘The BBC matters because it stands for broadcasting quality.
‘The BBC should come back to the table and negotiate with all the unions involved. Let’s have change by agreement and not by diktat.’
Ex-Labour MP Tony Benn said: ‘I started working in 1949 for the BBC, living in Hammersmith. I have always supported the BBC’s belief in its public service tradition.
‘The problem is with the government: they have told Director-General Thompson: “We will not renew the licence unless you make massive cuts’’.
‘The government have spent £2 billion on management consultants and all they do is produce spin.
‘This is a campaign we will have to win.’
Lennon then added: ‘Of the 4,000 proposed cuts in BBC staff, only 20 are management.’
Luke Crawley, BECTU chief negotiator at the BBC, who also spoke at the rally, told News Line: ‘We want to make the BBC negotiate.
We don’t believe 80 per cent of the staff can do 100 per cent of the work which our members already do. It will have an impact on quality.
‘They are expecting workers to work 20 per cent harder for the same pay.’
Crawley warned that if allowed to go ahead: ‘Mark Thompson’s catastrophic cuts will have an impact for the long term which will prevent the BBC from making the high quality programmes which justify the licence fee.’
A further 48-hour strike will take place after the Bank Holiday weekend, on 31 May and 1 June.