Stephen Brown speaking at a TUC conference – photograph courtesy of Pete Jenkins Photography
It is my absolute and passionate belief that the next General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union must be:
- a musician
- must have a track record as an experienced committed trade union activist
- must be a trade union official who gets results having learned how to do this from their experience of being an activist
This is the way you get the fully rounded, experienced, and principled individual required to do the best job for you the member, and our union.
Only someone who ticks these 3 boxes will totally understand:
- What makes us musicians tick
- What activism in the trade union movement is all about and why we put everything on the line for our principles and values
- Why we put the level of commitment and energy into our careers and making music that we do
These principles and values cannot be bought and sold, and cannot be gained merely from paid employment in our movement as a remunerated advocate. This is about lived experiences and core beliefs – about speaking out and standing up for those beliefs when others would tear you down. This is about who this individual is as a person, a musician, and trade unionist. It’s about character.
So, this is not about spin, good PR, a job description, whom we might know, or career advancement. Ultimately, it’s about what we’ll do based on our substance and character.
As a candidate in the MU General Secretary election, I honestly believe that I have this substance and character – and yet more to offer you, in ticking these essential boxes. I don’t say this to dismiss the other candidates, each has good qualities. I say it to stress the vital context of this important election and it being about what is best for our union. And what is best for our union should be the deciding factor in placing your vote.
I’ve been a gigging musician and active trade unionist for over 40 years and have championed musician, worker, and trade union rights throughout this time. I have also dedicated a significant part of my life to community campaigning for positive change, fighting austerity, fighting for justice, and ensuring workers’ rights are protected. I co-founded an employment legal rights’ charity in Birmingham which wins hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in compensation for some of the Midlands’ most exploited vulnerable workers.
All this experience, along with my core principles and values, feeds into my election campaign and what I want to see for our union going forward. Yes, the MU has a fantastic record servicing our members’ day-to-day needs and in representing you in any direct workplace issues. Much of this is down to the hard work and dedication of our officials who do a terrific job. Where we have fallen short, and it actually pains me to say this, is in our democratic structures and organising abilities to campaign effectively. We have failed to properly empower our members by taking too much of a paternalistic centralised approach, and so failing to capitalise on our collective strength to bring about the outcomes we need on the big issues that affect us. This has also meant we have allowed our voice to be watered down by following others, rather than being the instigator of campaigns that directly affect our members. There can be merit in a partnership but not at the expense of our own identity.
This approach has to change if we are to face the very serious and real challenges that threaten our industry, that threaten our incomes, that threaten our working conditions. I have long advocated for a change in our approach to one of an organising model on these important matters. Those who know me will testify to this.
Unfortunately, the voice of an official like me in the MU is seldom listened to by those above, and too many of the decisions we have made as a union have baffled me. I will change this if elected. The voices of both our members and our experienced officials will be heard. I will seek to re-democratise our union and empower members.
In this election, we face a key choice about the type of person we want leading our great union, and about the type of union we want to be.
Whomever you vote for I’d ask that you should examine their trade union record very carefully and see whether they are part of the solution or part of the status quo. It is my view that the status quo is not an option if we are to build on what we do and build our union’s strength to effectively act, campaign, and win those campaigns. Actions have always spoken louder than words.
The other inconvenient truth in this, is that most politicians are quite happy to have polite but meaningless dialogue with us, just to make it look like things are happening when they aren’t. And we have gone along with that. Westminster will provide us with little solace. It has largely become a farce, a place for self-serving agendas, remote from the reality of the working lives of musicians and workers generally. Our approach to politics therefore also has to change. My focus will be on our workplace issues, your issues which are my issues too, and building our core strength to win the argument. Politicians should answer to us, not the other way round. No employer, engager, politician or indeed the media, can ignore a strong organising campaigning union where the voice of the membership is key, is loud, and is as one. This is how other unions are now framing the battle to win improvements for their members – and so should we. This is how and why we should “dare for better” by changing what we do and how we do it.
I won’t pretend that any of this will be easy, it won’t be. There will have to be some very tough, very open, very honest, and very big conversations about all of it. We may well lose some battles but if we carry on as we are, we will lose the war, and that is worse. I can assure you however, we will be up for the fight. And if we fight, we stand a better chance of winning. If we don’t fight, we will definitely lose.
I hope you can lend me your vote to become the next MU General Secretary. In the meantime, please check out my ambitious plans for the MU here on my website.