14 APRIL 1961, Page 13

The Way Ahead

The year 1901 will be a vital one in printing development. Technical advances, particularly in photo-composing and the printing of matter from film, rather than metal, are reaching a stage where their place in the British industry must be decided. The events concerning Odhams, which have brought even Mr. Macmillan, that master printer manque. into the fray, show that newspaper and periodical production, where economics exercise their most ruthless tyranny, will be at the storm centre. The unions, whatever some of their practices may suggest, are not blind to the need for changes. In a notable lead- ing article in the LTS journal for January, Mr. Willis called on his members to face up bravely to technical change. He referred to teletype- setting, the process by which the Guardian pro- poses to print in London as well as Manchester, without incurring the full cost of setting type twice in the two centres; to lino-film, and the demarcation problems which must be solved if photo-composing is to continue; and to other new techniques—'the Protype, Filmotype and our old friends, of course, the Headliner, the Hadego and so forth.'

'All these things indicate.' Mr. Willis wrote, that we have reached a stage in printing de- velopment and printing techniques when we can no longer, as a society, ignore progress and insist on customs and practices that have been operating for so many years with such success, because quite simply these practices and these customs do not and cannot fit in with the new techniques so rapidly surrounding us. At the same time. having in mind that all our agree- ments and all our practices have been designed not to impede progress. but solely for the pro- tection of the members, we cannot afford merely

to surrender such practices without replacing them by measures that will guarantee the pro- tection of the individual whilst using the new techniques and the increased production which will come from such techniques.

Even with the qualification, these are brave words, and surely should be taken as an indi- cation that the time is ripe for a new start in employer-worker relations in the printing in- dustry. The events which led up to the appoint- ment of the Royal Commission have made such an initiative more difficult. but also much more urgent.

What form should this initiative take? The best judgment one can make on the evidence available is that there is an element of genuine fear of unemployment or underemployment in the printing unions. This has become more real and pressing since the Fleet Street closures began.

But the fear is still probably less important than the unions' belief that a grip on the labour supply, which in places comes near to producing suffocation, is the best means of securing a strong bargaining position. The use of such methods is justified by the theory that in an aggressive society it is better to be holding someone else by the throat than to have him holding yours.

`We know we have got the employers in Fleet Street over a barrel,' one union leader told me frankly. But he went on to emphasise that he did not regard the present position as ideal, and that he would be prepared to exchange some of his advantage for more enlightened employ- ment policies.

I am sure that this is the point at which any revolution in industrial relations in Fleet Street and in the printing industry generally must begin.

Employers are perfectly right to emphasise that what will eventually make employment secure and wages high is a great leap forward in de- mand, based on greater efficiency and lower prices. Sir James Waterlow pointed out at an international-seminar in Holland last summer that European consumption of printed paper per head of the population was still at only half the American level, and he appealed for `a wiser view' in the unions on labour intake. Many em- ployers think that the case for change is so obvious that the unions must be expected to take unilateral action to reform their attitudes and that the employers need do nothing. What- ever the abstract merits of this view may be-- and I think they are slight—it is quite unrealistic. The more enlightened attitude of continental unions is often quoted by British employers. Rut on the union side, there is a belief that em- ployment policies in this country are well behind those which operate abroad. A productivity team which studied lithographic printing in America in 1951 recommended that a relaxation by the unions in this country of demarcation and other rules should be accompanied by a measure of security of employment for the worker and by some contribution from em- ployers to the maintenance of those displaced.

Recently the unions have had a reminder of such ideas from a fraternal delegate to their confer-

ence representing one of the Dutch printing unions. He described Dutch printing's `industrial funds.' administered by a joint board of em- ployers and workers. These provide a pension which, with the State pension, amounts to 60 per cent. of wages; full pay in sickness for a year and 80 per cent. for a further two years; and 80 per cent. of wages for twenty-one weeks of unemployment.

This would be a much more imaginative kind of reward for the removal of restrictive prac- tices than the negative one of saying that wage increases can only be discussed if the restrictions are also on the agenda It should have far more attraction for the unions. The introduction of a guaranteed annual wage or contract, or of severance pay which is large enough to be useful to the displaced worker (and something of a penalty on the employer), should assure every- one that the industry would have a careful labour planning policy. The employers would be taking on themselves the financial anxieties about un- employment that unions like the LTS now feel they are shouldering alone. Such action should also convince the unions that unemployment is regarded as deplorable on both sides of their industry; and it would give the employers' side a new authority when they spoke on apprentice intake.

There are people in printing whose instinctive reaction will be to sneer at such proposals. They should look at developments in employment policy in American industry. They should look at the newspaper industry in Japan, where re- moval of restrictive practices and long-term con- tracts of employment are placed in opposite sides of the scale. They should even study what our own Ministry of Labour has been preaching since Mr. Macleod's day about enlightened em- ployment policies.

An immense wall of suspicion admittedly has to be broken down on either side. Among news- paper proprietors themselves, the bonds of trust have always been slender, and they seem in- capable of the co-operative initiative—except in the most defensive ways—that their papers urge on others. On the union side, the long-standing moves towards a merger are pitifully slow. Nor should it be forgotten that the newspaper sec- tion of the printing industry in particular has other problems as well as labour relations, and that the unions answer charges that their ob- scurantism is the source of all evil by references to 'newsprint monopoly' and 'commercial tele- vision.'

But these things are now to be dealt with. by either the Royal Commission, the Jenkins Committee on company law, or the Pilkington Committee on broadcasting. Is it too much to ask that the industry itself, when it has seen the lines which these government-inspired in- `Stirring times, Henry. . . .• vestigations are to take, should look for ways in which it can give positive help? Since the rest of this article was written, the seriousness of events in Fleet Street has produced the most hope- ful sign so far of new thinking. This is the estab- lishment by the NPA and the printing unions of a small joint working committee with these terms of reference: 'To examine the possibility of avoiding redundancy and of providing compen- sation to those concerned in the event of redun- dancy arising.' The unions have been asking for such a compensation agreement for two years, but the closures gave a new note of urgency to their demands, and the employers have responded.

A special conference last month was the first at which Mr. Cecil King. of the Daily Mirror, appeared as acting chairman of the NPA. (Lord Rothermere, of the Daily Mail, has been advised by his doctors to take a less active part in its affairs.) The general secretaries of the unions seem to have been impressed by his willingness to do business quickly, He jibbed at their proposal that the NPA should establish a fund to provide compensation for workers who lost their jobs 'as a result of closures of newspapers. reorganisation, concentration of production, new processes and the closing of departments.' Mr. King did not see how a non-trading organisation could provide such a fund, but he himself suggested the work- ing committee, and added: 'I do not think there should be any difficulty in arriving at an agree- ment for the minimising of redundancy and for a basis of compensation.'

Mr. King told the general secretaries at the same conference that the NPA could not force its members to give decent notice, in confidence, to the unions when a newspaper was in trouble, but he did suggest the following formula, which they acknowledged to be as far as the employers could be expected to go: `NPA recommends its members that where a paper is pining away there should he consultation with the general secre- taries. Also that when a management has made a firm decision to close the publication, the maxi- mum practicable period of notice should be given of the decision to the general secretaries.'

These are fair enough words—nothing revolu- tionary, but the minimum that should be expected from a reputable employer. The working com- mittee and the recommendation. however, give a hint of hope that the ice of had labour relations in Fleet Street may have been broken. This does not remove the need for a thoroughgoing in- vestigation by Lord Shawcross into the efficiency of the industry. It is to be hoped that the commis- sion will get frankness from the two sides, and that all the talking in corners which has gone on down the years will now be brought out into the open. But whatever advice it may be able to give, it can only be the starting-point. In the end, the NPA, the Newspaper Society, the BFMP and the unions will have to get round a table and find means of working together for the good of their industry, perhaps even for its survival in the present form. The printing in- dustry needs to make a dynamic effort to im- prove its industrial relations—not so much in the negative sense of avoiding strikes, but in creating a positive will for co-operation to face a decade which is now uncertain, and which could be dangerous.