Swindon Advertiser journalists strike

Congratulations to the Adver journalists on having the courage to take industrial action. For the younger ones amongst them this will be the first time they have taken strike action. They would not have done so without having genuine grievances. Sometimes you have to act against over-mighty management or they will continue to take advantage of you. You have to act together and stick together to improve your wages and your working conditions.

This situation tells us some interesting things about the town. Some time ago I had a conversation with Chris Humphreys about the housing situation. I was surprised to find that the younger journalists tended to live in shared accommodation. They couldn’t afford the rent for a flat. Private rents are outstripping wage increases year after year.

According to the Valuation Agency Office the average rent for a room in a shared house in Swindon for the year ending September 2017 was £444 a month as compared to a one bedroom property with an average rent of £595. That’s a big difference. Even a lower quartile room in a shared house costs £395 whilst the average for a one bedroom flat was £550. Annual rent of £6,600 is a lot of money given the pay that these journalists are receiving.

For all the talk of Swindon’s success the fact is that many jobs in the town are poorly paid. Exploitation of one sort or another is rife in the town.

Journalism has been seen as a prestigious occupation, generally considered to be a middle class job. Yet here we are with young journalists, and possibly some of the older staff, as well, earning well below the average wage for the town (£547 a week for a full time job according to the government’s NOMIS website). The dominant model in the industry is increasingly one based on cheap labour but the situation is exacerbated by town’s housing crisis. Private rents are high and house prices are too high for many people to afford a mortgage.

As somebody who has been speaking regularly to journalists in one capacity or another, for many years, it’s noticeable that there has been a big turnover of staff. The job done properly demands local knowledge and good contacts who are cultivated over years. Yet with a few exceptions the Adver cannot keep staff. The loss of a talented journalist like Chris Humphreys reflects badly on the Advertiser management and owners. Chris’s work certainly improved the paper. If local newspapers cannot retain staff then the quality of the content will be so much the worse because the staff don’t get the chance to mature and put down roots in the town.

It doesn’t help that the Managing Director insults the journalists by telling them they are “not in touch with the real world”. On the contrary they are because a job that used to provide a good living no longer does and they are faced with rents which are outstripping wage increases. Give them a living wage and you might actually keep some staff and improve the quality of the paper.

Martin Wicks

This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser. We’ll see if they publish it.

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