'There's probably more mice than there are journalists in the Express newsroom'

Richard Desmond strode down Lower Thames Street on Friday morning and greeted the 20 Express Newspapers journalists who had formed a picket line on the pavement outside the Northern and Shell headquarters. ‘Good morning,’the proprietor said cheerily. ‘Nice weather for it.”

In the first full-day national newspaper strike since 1990, journalists across the Star and Express titles downed tools for 24 hours last week in protest at a three per cent pay offer which the NUJ claims was made without full negotiation with staff.

Parent company Northern and Shell had stepped up security outside the building to coincide with what was set to be the first of three walkouts. Another 24-hour strike is planned for this Friday, followed by a third a week later.

‘We’re just holding placards, being very polite and nice,’Daily Star father of chapel Steve Usher said. ‘We stopped two post office vans coming in. The drivers agreed not to cross our picket line.”

Outgoing NUJ president and Sunday Express journalist Michelle Stanistreet spent the early hours of the morning on the picket line before heading off to Belfast for the union’s annual delegate meeting.

‘There’s been no meaningful negotiations this year,’she told Press Gazette. ‘Every year since Desmond has taken over, we have endured redundancy rows, budget cuts and relentless cost-cutting exercises.”

Pay was not the only issue the union is protesting about. The chapel’s campaign website, express-nuj.org.uk, presents a long list of concerns, including antiquated computers that frequently crash; uncomfortable office chairs falling apart; and a canteen that closes at 5.30pm. And then there’s the mouse infestation.

‘There’s probably more mice than there are journalists working in there,’said Stanistreet, pointing up at Northern & Shell‘s shiny glass-fronted headquarters from the pavement below. ‘We are dealing with a management that doesn’t care about decent staff levels.”

The Express and the Star are both understood to have brought in casual workers and used agency copy to help bring out the Saturday edition. Emergency cover workers were bussed into the building in a people carrier with blacked-out windows.

‘They couldn’t manage a conversation with us to avoid this dispute, but they will have managed to get an emergency team together to try and break the dispute,’Usher said. ‘If they just had the priorities different, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

According to the NUJ, the last full-day strike at a national newspaper was at the Daily Telegraph in 1990, when journalists went on strike over pay.

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