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Trade Union :: Equity
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Equity, the union for performing arts professionals, is about to elect a new general secretary. The direction of the union in this tempestuous time is a vital question for entertainment workers.
Big issues include health and safety, funding, contracts - and industry survivability, for working-class artists in particular. There are two candidates for the top job.
Paul Fleming is a young career official with nine years' experience in a range of Equity posts. He has the endorsement of Equity's ruling council, all London branch chairs, and many of the union's left activists.
Paul has earned a reputation as a dynamic and hard-working negotiator with an eye for detail. He told a national hustings on 20 May that "what being a trades unionist is, is fundamental respect for forensic processes."
This is obvious in his manifesto. It includes detailed goals for more public funding and improved work-life balance in the industry. There are also proposals for the union, like increased branch funds and freedoms for branch campaigning, that would open up more space for workplace organising and left activism.
Simon Curtis is a singer and Equity member turned full-time regional organiser of eight years' standing. His supporters include activists in his Wales and South West region, and members of the singers' committee.
Simon's programme is somewhat less clear than Paul's. He has told more than one hustings that "my priorities are evolution, not revolution" - but evolution towards what? Simon has identified important areas for improvement or change, but has often remained noncommittal on concrete policies.
Paul's manifesto seems to us the best starting point. We do have some friendly differences of opinion, however.
On a 'universal basic income' for artists, for example - we are absolutely in favour of more income support for practitioners. However, in a market system, we believe UBI could simply become a component of poverty wages, already endemic in theatre (see also 'Universal Basic Income: not a solution to insecurity and poverty under capitalism').
We would instead propose that public money funds higher wages, living unemployment benefits, and cheap or free rehearsal and performance facilities. This is outlined in Equity's 'Performance for All' policy document.
And on local councils, which have accounted for around half of public arts funding. Paul is a Labour councillor in Southwark, south London. He says he has voted against all cuts budgets proposed internally to the borough's Labour Group - but this counts for little if he then put his hand up for those budgets in the council chamber.
However, when asked if he would back councillors proposing no-cuts budgets if elected general secretary, Paul told a branch hustings on 27 May: "110%, as an initial go-to." Simon's position was unclear.
We have disagreements with both candidates over their support for the capitalist EU. Underlying all this is the question of how best to fight for members. Equity has a culture of accepting the existing framework in the industry and negotiating over the details.
To his credit, though, Paul has explicitly cited the pandemic disruption as an opportunity to change some of that framework. We also agree with him on this. On Equity's radical 'Performance for All' manifesto, he has said: "We thought about it as a ten-year plan - we should make it a ten-month plan."
But the fundamental change we want to see is the union mobilised to shape that new framework, including by broaching industrial action if necessary, rather than relying on external forces.
We encourage all Equity members to vote for Paul Fleming for general secretary. Ballot papers will arrive from 1 June and must be returned for 8 July.
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Article dated 3 June 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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