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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 December 2020

Equity union conference calls for radical change - now lead a fight!

Photo: Wharton Center/CC

Photo: Wharton Center/CC   (Click to enlarge)

James Ivens, Equity union conference delegate (personal capacity)

We demand more funding, work opportunities, diversity, democratic control and public ownership in the arts! These were the main calls from performing arts union Equity's online 2020 conference on Monday 30 November.

The union's 'Performance for All' manifesto put forward an alternative vision for the culture sector last year.

Public funding and ownership. Democratic, local accountability to artists, unions and audiences.

These were necessary then to undo the ruin of austerity and privatisation in the arts. But with the pandemic and economic crisis, they are the only way to rebuild an entertainment industry worthy of the name.

The special representative conference - replacing March's cancelled annual representative conference - overwhelmingly endorsed this model. Now the union must fight for it.

This will mean going outside Equity's traditional comfort zone of lobbying. Socialist Party members in Equity say it means protests - and when possible and necessary, discussing industrial action with members.

With most of the sector's workplaces shut, industrial leverage is limited for now. A motion demanding better support than Universal Credit also passed. The debate turned to calls for a 'universal basic income' (UBI).

However, UBI arguments accept mass unemployment. Our starting point should be fighting for funding for useful work in the arts.

Where arts workers - and any workers - find themselves 'resting' through no fault of their own, they should receive full maintenance. Work or full pay!

Campaigning like this is also a question of the union's survival. The successful resolution for an emergency subs increase must be matched by a drive to win back the hundreds of members lost during the pandemic. Workers join unions when they lead action.

Local government could start to implement many of Equity's policies now. All it would take is using reserves and borrowing powers to fund them, while building a campaign to get that money back from central government.

Job opportunities in Europe are also at risk. Employers are already advertising for non-UK passport holders only. This is bread-and-butter work for some actors and many variety artists.

The European Union is a bosses' club. It is no friend of the unions or working people. But the brinkmanship of Johnson's Tories is putting working rights in Ireland, Britain and Europe in question, and Equity is right to campaign on that issue.

The union's new leadership team under general secretary Paul Fleming is setting a bolder tone. Fleming told conference we must "look at the merits of co-operativising, democratising - and yes, properly renationalising - our BBC." This direction of travel is welcome.

But there also needs to be a wider debate on how to fund the Beeb. Conference passed motions calling for defence of BBC funding and jobs. These did not specify defending the licence fee - but some speakers did.

Years of attacks, and the latest developments, show the licence fee is not secure. It is, in any case, a de facto regressive tax.

The BBC unions must discuss fighting for full funding from ring-fenced, progressive, general taxation instead.

Diversity and equality remain a core issue for Equity members. The crisis has inevitably hit underrepresented voices and stories hardest.

Overcoming this starts with the fight for more resources - to create jobs, support and entertainment for all.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 2 December 2020:


What we think

Spending Review. Unions must resist return to austerity


Spending Review

What will the spending review mean for me?

Napo kickstarts fight against pay freeze


News

Better for billionaires. Worse for workers

Arcadia and Debenhams closures: Nationalise to save jobs and pensions

Scotland: Campaign wins end to period poverty

NHS: Underfunded, understaffed, underpaid

News in brief


Devolution

Where is devolution heading?


Workplace News

Don't let the festive season be one of misery for retail workers

Equity union conference calls for radical change - now lead a fight!

Solidarity with Brighton UCU strike - we won't pay for Covid crisis

East London teachers strike in support of victimised union rep

Heathrow workers strike against 'fire and rehire' plans

Hackney: Stop plan to halve school support staff!

Pay freeze protest Homerton Hospital

Unison general secretary ballot closes


Environment

'Building back greener' - yet more Tory greenwash


International News

Conflict in Ethiopia: ethnic-linguistic divisions are the historical product of capitalist inequality


Marxism

Review: Friedrich Engels - Condition of the working class in England


Campaigns

Socialism 2020 feedback

Wales TUSC plans to mount an electoral challenge

Rent strikers' victory in Manchester student halls

Labour meeting lets MP get away with 'Spycops' abstention

Selling the Socialist

Fighting fund target smashed!


Reader's opinion

TV: The Social Dilemma

Fast fashion, big profits, low pay

Diego Maradona - Working-class rebel, football genius

Socialist Inbox


 

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