Unions for theatre makers.
Are they working for you?

Is there an appetite for a new type of union organising for Theatre + Performance Workers? An invitation to join the Design + Cultural Workers group of United Voices of the World, a new grass roots campaigning union for precarious workers, and discuss if it would be good to create a Theatre + Performance workers group within UVW.

This was a small group, and became a really useful, focussed discussion. Between us there was a wide range of experiences + viewpoints which helped us get through a lot of questions + ideas.

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What are unions?
- can I be a member of more than one? Yes, people often use different unions to represent different aspects of their portfolio careers. One person in the group was a member of Equity, MU and NEU
- people are often happy to pay subs even if they don’t have an immediate need to use the resources of the union, knowing their subscription helps others in more difficult conditions
- some e.g. designers + freelance producers are often unsure which union best suits their needs
- unions help create a sense of community within our discipline, when often we are the only one of our ‘type’ of worker in a particular job or project
- however, this has a negative effect when people working on the same project are represented by different unions e.g. MU members needs being carefully scheduled but on the same project technicians/stage managers have to work through their lunch breaks each day because they are not as strongly represented by their union

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What do our existing theatre + performance unions do well? NB: more research needed here
- training
- legal advice
- strength in numbers
- some have political affiliation

What is missing?
- uniting all precarious workers who work in theatre, including front of house, cleaners, technicians as well as creatives
- creating a sense of interdisciplinary solidarity, instead of some workers getting better conditions because of their more powerful union membership
- a union that is unafraid to be political + call for real change
- larger unions can be inflexible, taking a long time to process complaints / start campaigns eg. steering a large ship.
- a feeling that Equity is more of a mediator, as opposed to a campaigning organisation
- when the team includes parents, performers with access needs or disabilities, schedules are often re-thought to accommodate their needs, which is amazing, and results in better working conditions for all. Why are our standard schedules + working conditions so ableist?


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What kind of actions and campaigns / organising are relevant the precarious worker?
- as self-employed, nomadic, freelance, we don’t have the power to withdraw labour / strike
- often feel like we can’t ‘kick up a fuss’ because we are replaceable
- others will do this work for less, so I don’t feel like I can challenge the pay/conditions of the job
- can we help each other fight for small but important changes
- we need smart peer-actions for the way we work now. Not replicating or replacing traditional unions
- we can be agile, acting outside the heavy bureaucracy of larger unions

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What would we like to create?
- union logo + email signature for members
- a precarious theatre workers manifesto
- designing/finding different ways of creating power other than striking
- advice for non traditional roles / devising / site specific / ensemble work
- union branded Rider documents to supplement our contracts
- checklists for each stage of a project: a checklist to check through contracts for missing clauses, what to look for on first day of rehearsals, questions to raise at each production meeting, warning signs when reading + commenting on a tech schedule e.g. staggered lunch breaks
- more suggestions welcome

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Learning + Next steps
- join United Voices of the World
- research on existing unions
- learning from co-operative agencies? Membership models, how should we agree to put time and/or money into this? What's the right model for the group?
- link to other learning from relevant D+D sessions e.g. National Library of Things
- learning from precarious workers organising in other fields e.g. Academia
- accessing training and support from unions we are already members of
- reporting best practice from institutions / other countries / where have we seen things done well?
- identifying issues from within our disciplines that we’d like to take forward into campaigns (e.g. I’d like to raise the issue of designers using their own credit/overdrafts when buying costume/props for projects)
- making an email thread / WhatsApp or Discord group to continue the conversation

Who is interested in taking this forward?
- setting up a meeting with United Voices of the World to propose the Theatre + Performance Workers group

- making / adding resources to the UVW web page:

Thank you!
[email protected]

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Other unions that were mentioned

Musicians Union
National Education Union
Unite Community

Orgs that are not unions but are useful resources:
Artists Newsletter