Should our union(s) be inclusive or exclusive?

Stephen Aintree, 9 August 2012

I called this session with my “member of the Equity Northern Area Committee” hat on, more to see what was engendered by the question than to necessarily reach a definitive answer. (I originally used the singular “union”, as I was most interested in the Equity model, although members of BECTU and the Musicians' Union may also be interested in the debate.) The several people who attended the session were from a pretty broad spectrum; there was another Equity - minded actor, an actor who was less used to union matters, another who had recently re-entered the profession, and someone who wouldn't describe themselves as an actor at all, but worked in the performance art area with several different hats. (Not literally!)

I originally wondered - does including more and more members actually dilute Equity's “message”, and would a more exclusive, closed-shop type feel mean that the union's voice could and would be more powerful, more centred? My own view was that some sort of exclusivity could perhaps help that hope, but one viewpoint, put forward by Phelim, was that “I was a member, but I didn't feel included.” This led me to think that in fact, being more inclusive may in fact mean that you have to work harder to get your voice heard; you have to think about it more - a good thing!

Sue McCormack's view was that “the union can be inclusive if it's got the right energy and motivation”, and this led us to the thought that, whatever your view about the original question, the union(s) should engage; if not, it won't matter whether it's inclusive, exclusive, or even there!

Phelim also suggested that, for example, Equity should think about offering an open space forum; an interesting concept for a union that could be seen to have gone the other way, ditching an open AGM for an Annual Representative Conference.


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