By Megan Whitlock
After seventeen months of meetings, on 13 July, the radical publishing house Verso Books acknowledged its trade union. The announcement came last month via the Verso Union’s Twitter account who later tweeted that they “cannot wait to start negotiations.”
The recognition of the union comes at a time where discussions about pay, representation and working arrangements are at the forefront of publishing discourse, with the Verso Books Union also tweeting in June that “currently every member of staff is in a worse financial situation than in 2020.” The news also came a week or so after unionised employees of the HarperCollins New York office voted to strike if the publisher didn’t agree to a fair contract, bargaining for improved pay, benefits, diversity and union protection. They later went on to hold a picket line in Lower Manhattan, as covered elsewhere in this issue.
The Verso staff have unionised with the National Union for Journalists (NUJ). Although publishing doesn’t have a specialised union, the NUJ represents a variety of workers across the creative industries, media, PR and beyond, with approximately 1,000 members in its Books division and 2,000 members in the Magazine division. Another popular union for industry professionals to join is Unite, the second largest trade union in the UK. Unite covers a variety of roles in publishing, from content creation and sales to warehouse workers and administration.
As well as campaigning for a more equal workplace, unions help to negotiate pay rates, staffing and hours issues. It is also important to note that, despite younger people in the industry often facing the lowest pay and facing unpaid internships, the SYP recently reported that in 2018 union membership among younger people was only 8% compared to the 40% of union members aged forty or over.
A spokesperson from the Verso Books Union talked to The Bookseller, who quoted the following in their report: “We are really excited to be recognised and to start negotiations with the Verso Board. The publishing sector is having a moment of self-examination and we are excited to join our colleagues who have begun organising across the industry, including our colleagues in Verso’s US office. […] For over 50 years Verso Books has been a leading publisher of emancipatory politics. In deciding to unionise, our staff look to combine radical publishing with organising and real solidarity with the wider trade union movement.”