Podcast 1- Shaping our Future – Dare for Better

If elected as MU General Secretary I will want to launch a policy initiative called “Dare For Better” which will start with a ‘big conversation’.

Prompted by members who’ve asked me what I mean by the idea of the MU becoming an ‘organising union’ – I thought it would be easier to explain it like this….

What’s Our Big Conversation About?

“Dare For Better” will start with a big conversation about how we’ll get to where we want to be – improving pay, fees, terms and conditions, discussions about how we set the narrative for the type of landscape we want to see in our industry. Getting there by working together to achieve it and empowering you, the members, in the process. You are the union and we should never forget that.

In this discussion, in trying to explain what I mean in the simplest terms: I’m reminded of the image of the big fish gobbling up all the little fish as it chases them and they swim away in panic. The little fish then decide to work cooperatively and organise themselves into a bigger mass to challenge the big fish. So big in fact, that they charge at the big fish who swims away in panic itself. The tables turned. Unison had a similar successful campaign using an ant analogy. Other unions like RMT have built their membership increases around effective campaigns on improving pay and conditions. Sharon Graham at Unite is doing similar. We are entering a new era of union activism and focusing on workplace issues to build our power. We can be part of that. We should be.

For too long we’ve done things a certain way. But….we should stop and ask why? Why would you carry on doing something the same way if it is providing diminishing returns, or members’ working lives and income are not improving?

So, ‘Dare For Better’ will do what it says on the tin – help you to help us, to dare for better, achieve results, and involve you in achieving that.

How Organising Works

It will ask the big questions we need to ask. It will involve you in asking those questions and having big conversations about what you want to see the union doing better. But to succeed it will mean us working together to find the solutions. Acting together too. Standing together. Shoulder to shoulder. We all have to play our part and dare for better.

That’s how an organising union starts to win things. Turning those key questions into key issues to become key campaigns to change hearts and minds in order to get the key improvements we want to see. All achieved by working collectively, and being unafraid in that pursuit of our objective. Like the old saying goes, the only fear we really have is fear itself. 

The Challenge

It’s always easier to sit back and do nothing. Or say something is too difficult. Or rest on our laurels. Or accept baby steps. Or play it safe. Or say it’s always been that way. Usually in the hope that the power of capital – the bosses, the employer, the engager, the labels etc – will be sympathetic, or listen and reward us out of the kindness of their hearts. 

No battle was ever won that way, nor by hoping things will get better naturally or on their own.

They won’t. 

It doesn’t work that way.

But being afraid is how we’ve been conditioned to think.

Imagine the union’s founder, Joseph Williams, had thought like that? He didn’t, he was brave, set up the union, and dared for better. He organised musicians to work together and fight. Travelling the country in his campaigning for a better deal. So should we. There is never any substitute for presence. Boots on the ground.

The current system is one we’ve inherited over the last 40 years. Society has made this, devalued what we do, made us accept scraps, and the establishment are keen to preserve this system because it works for them.

It keeps us passive, controlled, divided, and unambitious in our demands. Most of the time we are unaware of this and even go along with it. We can’t even keep pace with inflation using this approach.

The Dilemma

We work in an industry that seems to reward financial individualism over collectivism, yet it requires absolute collectivism from musicians to achieve a remarkable musical symphony for instance. 

So why do we accept this as the status quo?

How do we change it?

How can we, as MU members, promote collectivism in an industry that rewards such financial individualism?

Ask yourself …..

What do you want as a musician?

Are you getting it now?

If not why not?

How can you achieve it? 

How can you help your union achieve it?

How can your union help you achieve it?

My Promise

If elected, I propose a series of different debates, seminars, and working groups, bringing in union organising experts, researchers, looking at the way those who engage us can be better challenged and even educated about how we all move forward in our mutual interests. 

We Must Change Our Rules

Our rules do inhibit us from better outcomes, too much power rests in the hands of the few. So, we need to change them to redefine how we can improve our activism, equality, diversity, and inclusion – so that we truly reflect all of our members, future members, and our industry. We must do this to attract new members and stand a better chance of retaining our existing ones. This is about empowering you, the member, to take back control,  with the union’s help. To ensure the union’s constitution is a help not a hinderance to progress. Things like proportionality and fair representation, and self organised groups within the rules, with the ability to raise substantive authoritative motions for the executive and conference in their own right are the norm in most successful trade unions, but not in the MU. Power without responsibility and responsibility without power lead to disengagement and disillusion. We have to change this.

Together, we can bring forward a blueprint for the future shape of our union, and how we’ll win our key issues to improve pay, fees, terms and conditions, build our collective approach and build our union’s strength. Part of this will also be about looking at our key challenges so that we set the narrative for the landscape we work in.

Setting that narrative is vital if we are to improve outcomes for members in sectors like music education, to get the shift we need on Brexit, or to make the case for better regional funding or post Covid recovery programmes, to get members back to work and earning again. And let’s not forget that as part of this we need to consider how we can create a healthier, more environmentally friendly industry,  sothat the infrastructure is there to work more locally for members currently left behind, or  for those who have caring responsibilities.

Not Just A Leap Of Faith

I’ve spoken to so many members who question why after decades of membership they only stay in membership because the MU is ‘all we’ve got’. The least worst option. I find this depressing if I’m honest.

This is not how it should be. We should be giving members hope, providing ambition and vision. A union we can all be proud of.

But I know many members value what we do too. I agree. We do some amazing things. But if we want to take ourselves to the next level to improve things, make musicians want to be with us for positive reasons, to stay relevant, and be the best we can be, we need to do things differently.

This is not just a leap of faith, other unions have achieved their objectives by going back to what our predecessors did well. Discovering that organising works.

Another example, even though I’m loathe to use anecdotes from the war. When our trade union predecessors returned from world war 2 they brought with them a vision for a better world, for a richer social and cultural life with aspirations too for better welfare, schools, workers rights and pay, and our NHS. They planned it, they worked together, they organised themselves and fought for it, they built campaigns, and won, and did much of this in the darkest days of war. They knew things would never be the same and they forced the politicians and bosses to sit up and take notice. They didn’t go cap in hand. Begging. Neither should we.

Covid has made us question many things we do and why we do them. Practices have already changed and some are using what’s happened as cover to further attack our fees, pay, terms and conditions.

We cannot allow a new form of a Covid austerity to take hold of our thinking.

So, do we dare for better?

Do we take our lead from the organising and collective strength of those who fought and won?

I think we should.

The time is now, we may not get another opportunity for a generation or more. And honestly, I don’t think we can wait that long.

Change will start if you elect me as MU General Secretary. Then we will ‘dare for better’.