Welcome to the National Writers Union

The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers.

Now, more than ever, with the consolidation of power into the hands of ever-larger corporate entities and with the advent of technologies that facilitate the exploitation of a writer’s work, writers need an organization with the clout and know-how to protect our interests. One that will forge new rules for a new era.

Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members in our 13 chapters with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.  Our members also directly benefit from the many valuable services the Union offers—including grievance assistance, contract advice, and much more—while actively contributing to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.

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Special Announcements

12/05/2014 - 9:42am

One of the most vital things the GCD (NWU Grievance and Contract Division) does is review contracts and advise members on terms. But we don’t tell members what to do. We expect members to become proactive after reading the NWU Guide to Book Contracts and learning why terms are good or bad. For instance, a writer should never, ever assign his or her copyright to a publisher! Negotiating changes in contract language in the writer’s favor is challenging, but it’s also essential if writers want to protect their rights and make more money.

Members of the GCD give contract workshops at the NWU offices, and other writer or academic conferences. We’d like to make them available to all members via webinars, and we’re rolling out our first one on e-books in early 2015. A chapter can also sponsor a contract workshop for its members via Skype. While we can give all-day or half-day workshops in person, 60-to-90-minute sessions are best via video conference.

First we need to know what topics interest members. For instance, I’ve given an hour-long workshop on copyrights, and how to prevent digital piracy for our New York chapter. Other potential topics might be academic contracts; why warranties and indemnification are important; and/or strategies for negotiating better contract terms.

Want to host a contract workshop? Contact me at sednyc@rcn.com, and check out the latest GCD semi-annual report for January-June 2014 at tinyurl.com/qcx264k.

Susan E. Davis

 


 

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12/04/2014 - 6:06pm

(Ctd. from newsletter...)

And, all things considered, that still seemed pretty exciting.

During the term, I completed my assignments for the course (see my blog for the course), and embraced Twitter, which later empowered me to take the lead on social media innovation for several publications and organizations, including the NWU.

After the course, imagine my surprise when the course organizers asked me my preferred airport for departure to Alexandria, Egypt! In my five-day tour of the city, I networked with other journalists and heard a famous Egyptian writer speak. I also enjoyed the opportunity to dialogue with journalists from around the world, including an Iraqi with whom I still stay in touch. (He secured a visa and now lives in the United States.)

Throughout our stay, we feasted on seafood from the Mediterranean; talked about our own subjectivities; and explored Alexandria’s back streets. We were issued a backstage pass to the beautiful city locals affectionately call “Alex” only a year before Egypt erupted in violence during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

A highlight of the trip was our visit to the great Alexandria Library (pictured above), one of the oldest in the world and a symbol of freedom of information and scholarship in the Arab world. Read my take on the library here.

Although that part of the world has changed dramatically in the last five years, my newly acquired social media skills, lifelong friendships, and glimpse of a multi-faceted Muslim world will stay with me forever. And the experience underscored my inherent connection—as a writer and a journalist—to other people and cultures around the globe.

Photo: Alexandira Library. Credit: Creative Commons


 

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12/04/2014 - 5:56pm

By Susan E. Davis

Transgender pioneer and global icon, Leslie Feinberg died at home with the love of her life, Minnie Bruce Pratt, in Syracuse, NY, on Nov. 15. Feinberg had endured a long illness with multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, but the author, in her signature wit, attributed her catastrophic health crisis to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science.”

During her 65 years, Feinberg profoundly influenced the national and international movement for Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) liberation, particularly through her groundbreaking novel Stone Butch Blues. Released in 1993, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and was translated into seven languages, including Chinese and Hebrew, with royalties donated to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women (www.aswatgroup.org/en).

“Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of ‘transgender liberation,’ and her work impacted popular culture, academic research, and political organizing,” Pratt wrote in the Nov. 17 Advocate. A poet and professor, she was Feinberg’s spouse of 22 years.

An anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, revolutionary communist, Feinberg was a proud member for many years of the NWU and Pride at Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group. A member of Workers World Party (WWP), which she discovered at a demonstration for Palestinian self-determination in the early 1970s, Feinberg participated in hundreds of anti-war, pro-labor, anti-racist and pro-choice demonstrations. One of her last protests was in defense of CeCe McDonald, a transwoman sentenced to jail in 2012 for defending herself against a bigoted attacker.

Feinberg began writing in 1974 as a WWP journalist, editing the political prisoner page for 15 years and becoming a managing editor in 1995. She wrote two nonfiction books, Transgender Warriors: Making History and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, as well as a second novel, Drag King Dreams. From 2004-2008, her 120-part WWP series, Lavender & Red, explored the links between socialism and LGBTQ history. The book, Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, was excerpted from that series.

Leslie was my comrade and my role model in being an up-front communist. From some obituaries I’ve read, it’s obvious that she educated, inspired and dared many progressive people to see commonalities among oppressions, and to be bold in fighting for social justice and economic equality. Pratt said that Feinberg’s last words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Leslie Feinberg, live like her!

Susan E. Davis, an NWU member since 1987, is the author of four nonfiction books and a self-published novel; she’s NWU’s National Contract Advisor and co-chair of the Book Division.

 


 

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12/04/2014 - 5:54pm

1. Use Who Pays Writers - report your rates so other writers can have better information about payment: whopayswriters.com 

2. Always ask for more. When negotiating your rate, ask for what you want. Even just a little bit more. Nobody's going to give you more money or better terms unless you ask.

3. Know yourself. Are you a writer who has another job and just writes sometimes for 'fun'? Do you have other people who rely on you for financial support? Do you do well with multiple clients and constant hustle, or do you prefer the security of a steady paycheck? Are you an extrovert or an introvert? An expert or a generalist? All these things matter to your career. Know your preferences and limits, and plan your career in a way that will play to your strengths but still challenge you. 

4. Talk to each other "IRL." The internet is great, but real power comes from people talking with each other and sharing their experiences, then building on those experiences and relationships to take action. 

5. Read. Go beyond your own echo chamber. Read critically and enthusiastically. Read everything, everyone, always. 

Photo: Left to Right - Manjula Martin, David Hill (NWU J-Div Co-chair), and Ari Paul (lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs) at a recent NWU event.


 

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12/04/2014 - 12:35am

“THIS ENDS TODAY!”

There really are no words to describe the anger, frustration, and rage at the two grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY. Grand juries, which indict 99 out of 100 times and only need to establish probable cause, have failed to indict the cop who shot and killed unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown from 150 feet away with his hands in the air, or the cop who choked Eric Garner to death, a young father of four, also with his hands in the air, for selling loose cigarettes. The murder of Eric Garner, ruled a homicide by the coroner, was caught on camera!

The fact that one horror unfolded in suburban Ferguson, MO and the other in New York City reflects how racist police brutality has become the norm, that black lives are cheap, not just to the police, but to prosecutors and many who serve on the grand juries.

In 2013, there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police, the highest number in more than two decades. Since Eric Garner was killed in July and Mike Brown in August, a partial list of those killed covers Brooklyn, LA, St. Louis, and 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH. In the past two years, the NYPD killed teenager Rahmarley Graham in the Bronx, and Shantel Davis, Kimani Williams, and Kyam Livingston in Brooklyn. Not a single cop has been charged with a crime. And of course, there was Trayvon Martin.

Recently, I attended the 2nd World Human Rights Forum with the International Federation of Journalists. Our delegation held three panels on impunity against journalists. I talked about the brutal murders of freelancers Foley and Sotloff in Syria, the bugging of the AP Washington bureau phones and the case of NY Times reporter James Risen, facing jail in a federal leak investigation, even though he is not part of a criminal investigation.

I also said that I couldn’t talk about impunity and human rights without talking about the Michael Brown decision and the rebellion that erupted in its wake. When I said, “Our union stands with all the victims of racist police terror,” the room of international journalists burst into applause.

The struggle against racism, from the abolitionists to the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, has always brought out the best in us. And it has been a tide that raised all boats. While racism hits black people first and hardest, it is an attack on all of us, and must be ended by all of us, together. I urge every NWU member to engage your colleagues, friends and family on this vital issue. And I urge every Chapter to reach out and join rallies and marches going on across the country, especially the national march on Washington, DC called for Saturday, December 13. We will be a stronger union for it.

In Solidarity,

Larry Goldbetter

National Writers Union, President


 

 

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12/03/2014 - 7:52pm
 
By Edward Hasbrouck
 

Readers, like writers, have been caught in the middle of a feud over e-book distribution terms and pricing between the Hachette book publishing company and Amazon.com.  On Nov. 13, the two announced they had reached a settlement. But the terms were not disclosed, and there's been nary a word about its implications for readers and writers.

If you suspect that this has been a turf war between big companies, you're right. And if you also suspect the interests of individuals – readers as well as writers – have gotten lost in the shuffle, right again. Both Amazon and various publishers tried to enlist writers in their dispute. But neither side is serving readers' interest in lower-priced e-books or treating writers fairly.

Many publishers of print books have deals with Amazon to license e-book editions of their entire older “backlists” of printed books. Amazon makes no attempt to verify whether print publishers actually hold e-book rights to these works, much less what percentage is supposed to be paid to authors. In many cases, the rights to license those e-books belong to authors, not publishers.  The writers should be able to negotiate their own deals with Amazon or other distributors of electronic versions of their books. However, that means writers might be competing with bootleg editions issued by publishers of their print books.

This may sound complicated, legalistic, and irrelevant to the reading public.  In practice, it may greatly impact both the prices readers pay for e-books and the earnings of authors. Amazon offers self-published authors 70% of the e-book list price in certain price ranges.  For example, if a reader pays Amazon $5.99 for a self-published e-book, Amazon keeps $1.79 and passes on $4.20 to the author.

For the same $5.99 e-book licensed to Amazon by a print publisher, Amazon keeps the same $1.79 and passes $4.20 on to the publisher.  Amazon tells readers in its terms of service that e-books are licensed, not sold   But almost all print publishers treat e-book licensing revenue as “sales," rather than licensing of a subsidiary right. Instead of the author receiving $4.20 (or even 50% of revenues usually due to the author of a licensed work), most publishers keep $3.78 and pay the writer the same 42 cents they earn from the sale of a printed book (10%).

Authors should receive a larger share of e-book revenues than of print book sales. The publisher of printed books incurs costs to produce, warehouse and ship the books.  Publishing an e-book version of a print book costs next to nothing.

When authors control their e-book rights, they can set lower prices than print publishers would.  At the same time, when authors earn a higher percentage of e-book revenues from self-published e-books, or e-books for which they are properly paid based on subsidiary rights licensing, that leads to lower prices for readers and higher earnings for authors.

If Hachette and other publishers really wanted to serve writers, they would:

1.  Withdraw e-book editions they have issued for print books whose rights belong to their authors;
2.  Pay authors of backlist e-books at least the 50% share of revenues due them for standard subsidiary rights licensing; and
3.  Pay authors for e-book revenues publishers have previously collected in violation of the authors’ rights.

If Amazon wants to show that it supports writers, it would:

  • Verify who holds the rights to backlist books offered in electronic form and deal only with bona fide holders of e-book rights;
  • Pay writers directly their share of e-book revenues; and
  • Provide authors with the same reporting on sales and revenues that it provides publishers.

Edward Hasbrouck, the co-chair of the Book Division of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, is the author of the Practical Nomad series of travel books.


 

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12/03/2014 - 7:49pm

Whereas at its 36th Constitutional Convention the UAW resolved:

“We must win justice for our brothers and sisters around the world, if we
are to win justice for American workers,” and

“We must change the behavior and hold accountable employers that cast basic
labor standards aside and deny workers their rights, regardless of where
their headquarters are located, to ensure that everyone who works for the
same employer enjoys job security, a voice at work and a living wage” and

“We will engage in struggles for human and labor rights around the world,”

And
Whereas many hundreds of Colombian GM workers have witnessed their basic
labor standards rights cast aside, resulting in serious workplace injuries
and subsequent mass dismissals,

And
Whereas the injured workers’ association ASOTRECOL, along with the union,
SINTRAIME are fighting for justice for the injured and dismissed workers,
and have appealed for support and solidarity from the UAW,

And
Whereas UAW rank and file members have responded to that appeal with over
$10,000 of plant gate collections, local union donations and other acts of
solidarity,

Be it resolved that the UAW:

Hold GM accountable and change its behavior regarding its callous disregard
for the rights of its Colombian workers,

Demand that GM re-initiate the mediation with ASOTRECOL begun in 2012 with
the intent of reaching a fair and final settlement,

Use its website and publications to publicize the heroic struggle of the
Colombian GM workers and encourage local unions to engage in acts of
solidarity to support them in their fight for job security, a voice at work
and a living wage.


 

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12/03/2014 - 7:42pm

 

November 16, 2014

Resolution by the National Executive Board of the National Writers Union to sign the Call to Action (initiated before the bill was signed into law) which defends the right of free speech for Mumia Abu-Jamal and all prisoners in the state of Pennsylvania as delineated in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in the Pennsylvania Constitution

Whereas, every person in the United States is guaranteed the right to free speech, which may not be abridged for any reason:

Whereas, the Revictimization Relief Act (HB 2533/SB 508), signed into law by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on Oct. 21, seeks to silence all Pennsylvania prisoners if, by exercising their right to free speech, they allegedly cause “mental anguish to their victims”;

Whereas, the act is clearly unconstitutional and is being challenged by legal experts from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Center for Constitutional Rights;

Whereas, as noted in the Call: “This legislation emerged as a politically charged response on the part of the Fraternal Order of Police and its political allies, because they failed to stop Pennsylvania prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering his October 5, 2014, commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont, from where Abu-Jamal earned his BA in 1996 while on death row. Students at Goddard collectively chose Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker and the administration supported the invitation. In this case, this law would deny the school the right to hear from its alum, Abu-Jamal.”

Whereas, the National Writers Union believes in the right of all people and members of all communities, especially those that are oppressed, including prisoners, to practice journalism and to write and express themselves in their own words, in addition to having their stories told by outsiders;

Whereas, Mumia Abu-Jamal, known as “the voice of the voiceless,” was invited to become an honorary member of the National Writers Union in 1995 when the state of Pennsylvania first tired to put him to death, and has since received the support of the union over the years as an exemplary broadcast journalist and author who tells the truth about the prison-industrial complex from behind the walls;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the National Executive Board of the National Writers Union continues that tradition of social activism and signs the Call to Action (attached) which defends the right of free speech for Mumia Abu-Jamal and all prisoners in the state of Pennsylvania as delineated in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in the Pennsylvania Constitution;

Further, be it resolved, as stated in the Call: “We oppose and protest Pennsylvania’s abuse of state power and its trampling of the fundamental human rights of all — of students to hear Abu-Jamal, of teachers and journalists to access perspectives of the imprisoned, and, by extension, of everyone who deserves the free flow of information in society.”

Respectfully submitted by:

Irving Jones, Philadelphia Chapter
Susan E. Davis, NY Chapter
Janet Mayes, NY Chapter
Ellen Cohen, NY Chapter
Eleanor Bader, NY Chapter
Edward Hasbrouck, San Francisco Chapter 
 
 

 

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10/31/2014 - 9:35am
NEWS FROM THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION
 
In mid-October, NWU’s New York chapter partnered with Metro NY Labor Communications Council to offer the panel discussion, The Attacks on Labor in the Courts and Legislatures. An overflow crowd heard Stanley Aronowitz (CUNY), Frank Deale (CUNY Law School), Henry Garrido (AFSCME) and Carol Pittman (NYSNA, shown) speak and also to take part in the lively discussion that followed on how to put labor into a fighting, winning stance. Also in October, four New York chapter members spent a rewarding evening calling members to ask them what they like about the union; what else the union can do for them; and what they’re willing to do to help build the union. Members who placed the calls found a great deal of support for the NWU, along with several proposals that could help attract new members. [Photo: Tim Sheard]
 
KUDOS!
 
New DC Chapter member Calvin Zon has just published, Divided We Fall: The Confederacy's Collapse From Within, A State-by-State Account. It’s available on Amazon in paperback ($13.46), or as an eBook ($9.99). Divided makes the case that Southerners’ opposition to the Confederacy led to its downfall.
 
Sue Davis’s article about the closure of abortion clinics, “Texas Judges Curtail Abortion Rights,” ran in the October 16 issue of Workers World (read it online here). 
 
Rob Ramer, Jackie Mosio, Marly Cornell and Paul Zerby staffed the NWU Twin Cities’ table at the 2014 Book Festival, where about 50 people signed up to receive more information on the NWU/the TC Chapter. Several people expressed interest in a contract advice workshop. 
 
Jim Patterson had a number of articles on marriage equality published:

"Roll over, Jesse: Gay marriage ushers in new era in the state of ‘Senator Hate’" via LGBTQ Nation. Or read the article here on the Bilerico Project.

 
"One more step on the long road to equality" via the Brattleboro Reformer.
 
Eric Arthur published a film review:

"In "The Decent One," Heinrich Himmler: Dedicated family man" via People's World.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, elected Margie Burns, NWU Washington, DC, chair to the adjunct faculty advisory committee.
 
Jerome Richard's short story "My Son, The Female Impersonator" was reprinted in the Fall 2014 East Coast Literary Review.
 
 

 

 

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10/31/2014 - 9:19am

In a September keynote address, Brigid O’Farrell of the NWU Bay Area celebrated union women who were active in both the labor movement, and the second wave feminist movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. 
 

"To say the movement was all elite white women is to silence the voices of working class women and women of color," O'Farrell told an audience at the Veteran Feminists of America’s (VFA) conference in St. Louis, MO. Throughout the day, feminist stories from the past were interwoven with research and action projects from today’s up and coming scholars and activists.

The subject of O’Farrell’s speech, “Labor & the Women’s Movement: The Untold Story and Why It Matters,” was based on her book Rocking the Boat: Union Women’s Voices 1915-1975. She highlighted the roles of important organizers such as Millie Jeffrey (right), long time union and political activist who became the first director of the UAW Women’s Bureau in the mid-40’s; Caroline Dawson Davis, president of Local 764 in Indiana, director of the Women’s Department from the late 40’s to the early 70’s; and Dorothy Haener (below left) from the Ford Willow Run plant, which made bombers during World War II. Haener also became an activist and joined the Women’s Department staff in the early 60’s. Five of her nieces were in the audience at the VFA conference.

These women, and other union sisters, contributed to President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women. Davis and Haener joined with Betty Friedan, author of the Feminine Mystique, to form the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1968. Few people know that for the first year, NOW was run out of the UAW Solidarity House in Detroit. And, while there was much turmoil over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the UAW was one of the first unions to endorse the ERA in 1970, with UAW sisters figuring prominently in the founding of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) in 1974. 

O’Farrell’s remarks acknowledged the role of such union women as Addie Wyatt (right) of the United Packing House Workers, who was a co-founder of CLUW; and Catherine Conroy, Communication Workers of America, who also helped found NOW. In all, the spirit of the conference celebrated powerful women of history who had the guts to take action.
 
 

Top Photo: (Front row) Brigid O'Farrell, NWU/UAW; Katie Jordan, president, Chicago CLUW; Back row: Carol King, producer; Sheila Tobias, vice president VFA; Muriel Fox, VFA Chair. Photo: Kathy Rand, VFA.

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Union News

11/12/2010 - 1:22am

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today backed a strike by journalists at the Croatian daily newspaper Voice of Istria in a crucial battle over workers’ rights and independent journalism in the country.

The IFJ affiliate the Croatian Journalists’ Union, which organises 117 workers at the Glas Istre Novine company, has called a strike tomorrow after nine months of turmoil at the paper which has seen a company buy-out, plans for massive wage cuts, job losses and internal interference in the work of journalists.

“This strike is a result of management ‘slash and burn’ tactics and a refusal to negotiate with the union,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The workforce refuses to see their rights wiped away by a company that has lost all sense of decency in its treatment of staff.”

11/12/2010 - 1:17am

The European Federation of Journalists today called on journalists across Europe to support journalists at the BBC who have launched a strike campaign to defend pension rights. At the weekend journalists staged a successful 48-hour stoppage across the network, forcing a number of flagship programmes off the air. Now fresh actions are planned as the network seeks to impose a "pay-more, get-less" retirement plan on thousands of its staff.

"The BBC journalists are showing the way to tackle head-on the media agenda of cuts and down-grading of staff rights," said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary. "It's a strike campaign that will resonate in all European media houses where journalists and media staff are being targeted to shoulder the burden of the financial crisis."

The EFJ says that European journalists are facing savage budget cuts, declining social rights and a lack of social dialogue not just in the broadcasting sector, but across the whole of the media landscape.

10/18/2010 - 5:03pm

The NWU National Executive Board voted to oppose an Arizona law, House Bill 2281, which threatens ethnic studies classes in the state. The vote took place at the September 25-26 meeting in New York City.

Outgoing Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne drafted the measure after launching vicious public attacks on the ethnic studies program, particularly Mexican-American Studies class of the Tucson Unified School District. Horne, a Republican, is running for Arizona Attorney General...

10/04/2010 - 4:45pm

With the folding of daily newspapers and an overwhelming number of other commercial print publications, the bulk of paid published writing has shifted to the Internet. In the world of Internet publishing, we have seen the rise of Content Farms claiming to offer desirable writing assignments. These companies, owned by AOL, Yahoo and Demand Media among others, pay writers very little—such as $50 dollars for ten or more 500 word articles, pay by amount of web site page clicks—and other nonspecific methods with no guaranteed amount or very low payment. Demand Media, which has contracts with the San Francisco Chronicle, the National Football League, The Houston Chronicle and more, boasts of having 10,000 freelance writers that they pay a penny-a-word!

10/04/2010 - 4:09pm

Despite long hours of travel to get to Washington, UAW members showed up in the thousands to support the march's goals. Photo by Susan Kramer.Despite long hours of travel to get to Washington, UAW members showed up in the thousands to support the march's goals. Photo by Susan Kramer.


“The voices of division will try to divide us by race, gender, age and other ways. Those rallying here today are leading us on a path of community, of compassion and common humanity.” That’s what UAW President Bob King told almost 200,000 marchers from more than 300 unions and progressive organizations at the “One Nation Working Together” rally.


10/04/2010 - 4:03pm

On September 24, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis, removing computers, cell phones, boxes of papers, posters, children’s art and more. They claim they were investigating “material support for terrorism.” More than a dozen federal warrants were served in four states calling people to testify at a Grand Jury this week. On September 27, NWU President Larry Goldbetter issued the following statement which was read by NWU members at a rally protesting the raids in front of FBI headquarters in Chicago. He and other NWU members joined a similar rally in NY on September 28.

 

10/01/2010 - 11:46am

In its press release, the European Federation of Journalists demands that journalists currently in jail in Turkey must be set free immediately if the movement towards key changes in the country’s constitution is to deliver promises of democracy and freedom.

The EFJ has joined its affiliate, the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), in a call for the immediate and unconditional release of more than 40 journalists jailed in Turkey who they say are in prison for nothing more than doing their job.

09/12/2010 - 3:49pm

Crain’s new york business.com reported that freelance workers in NY state are owed more than $4.7 billion in lost wages. The article (http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100829/SMALLBIZ/308299994) sited a study by a Rutgers University economist that “shows that 42% of nearly 900,000 independent workers in New York State reported having trouble collecting payment for their labors last year.”

08/23/2010 - 8:18pm

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

Lee Lockwood (1932-2010), a photojournalist who made his name with influential 1960s articles about Fidel Castro and an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam, was a member of the National Writers Union from 1989 until he retired in 2006. He died on July 31 of complications from diabetes.

According to an obituary in the August 7 New York Times, Lockwood viewed his work as a photojournalist as an instrument of social change. A freelancer, he was associated for many years with the Black Star Agency, which sent his work to newspapers and magazines around the world.

Lockwood also wrote books. His most famous, Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Castro: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Today’s Cuba in Text and Pictures (Macmillian, 1967), was based on a week-long, smoke-filled interview for Playboy in 1965. The book covered a wide range of topics, from Marxism, the Cuban missile crisis, and American race relations to sex and prostitution. Lockwood explained in the introduction why he wrote the book: “We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears, Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.”

While in Cuba, Lockwood obtained a visa to North Vietnam, the scene of another famous article. That made him the first outside photographer allowed there in more than a decade. Lockwood’s 28-day visit was chronicled in a long, heavily illustrated cover article for the April 7, 1967, issue of Life magazine. As the Times notes, “In words and pictures, Mr. Lockwood portrayed the life of a country then under heavy bombardment by United States forces: bare, ruined villages; deserted factories; a boy with a missing leg, lost to a bomb,” as well as scenes of everyday life.

 

One of Lockwood’s subjects was American Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Richard A. Stratton, who had been shot down and captured in January 1967. Clad in striped prison pajamas, Stratton read a “confession” denouncing U.S. bombing over a loudspeaker and then bowed on orders from a prison official. Lockwood’s photo of Stratton bowing, given a full page in Life, was reproduced around the world. Coupled with Lockwood’s description of Stratton – “His eyes were empty.… His expression never changed.” – the State Department soon after charged the Vietnamese with brainwashing. However, in a Times interview in 2008, Stratton called his actions merely common sense: “You are being tortured, and all you have to do to get them to stop is say the same thing that Bobby Kennedy is saying.”

Lockwood joined the Boston Chapter of the NWU in 1989, inspired by the opportunity to belong to a fighting union. The 1954 graduate of Boston University with a degree in comparative literature showed an avid interest in computers in the early 1990s when other writers were pooh-poohing the emerging technology. Members remember that he gave an informative workshop on that topic for the Western New England Chapter. A review of Boston Chapter doings yielded this from 1993: “Lee Lockwood wanted more on-line exchange of information and ideas, so he pressed the NWU to make our bulletin board an active networking service.”

The major arena where Lockwood contributed his many skills to the NWU was the Grievance and Contract Division where from 1992 to 2005 he spent about 90 percent of his time as a contract advisor. Phil Mattera, the long-standing National Book Grievance Officer, remembers: “Lee was also the member who brought the NWU's first grievance (in 1994) involving an electronic book. Playboy Enterprises was putting together a CD-ROM compilation of interviews from the magazine and planned to include Lee's Castro piece – without asking permission and without more than token compensation. Unlike other contributors to the magazine, Lee had never signed over all rights. After getting publicity for the case in Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal   and other publications, we got Playboy to pay Lee a $1,000 fee.”

Having members of Lee Lockwood’s reputation certainly enhanced the NWU’s stature and encouraged similar writers to join. We salute Lockwood’s many professional achievements and contributions to the NWU as we continue to advocate for freelance writers’ rights which greatly concerned him.

Note: If you wish to send a few words of remembrance to the Lockwood family, you may do so via the online guest book.  It’s interesting to note that Richard Stratton posted the following message there: “Lee's 1967 Life Magazine "Bowing Picture" ensured my release from Hanoi in 1973. For this my family is forever grateful. Deepest sympathy from our family to yours.” One hopes Lockwood knew that. 

Susan E. Davis
National Contract Advisor
Book Division Co-Chair
New York Chapter Co-Chair

07/10/2010 - 11:09pm

The National Writers Union joins with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in condemning the brutal murder of Faiz Mohammad Khan Sasolion June 27.

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