Greetings all, I hope you are well and in good spirits. Below is my second letter to Horace
Trubridge GS of the MU in response to the corona virus and the issues for musicians. Please
share, especially MU members.
Letter to Horace 2 23rd March 2020
I hope you and the family are well and continue to be so.
Thank you for acting in response to my letter (albeit without the courtesy of a reply). It was
good to see the MU mentioned in the national press at last and to read your comments about the estimated loss of income (£13.9m) to members, and also the establishment of a fund of £1m to immediately help members with one-off payments of £200. Also, thank you for the fb video message to members – the reassurance is good, but the fact is that the situation remains challenging to say the least. If we estimate that 5000 members will be helped by that and approximately another 5000 will be covered by government assistance via their employment status (i.e. 80% of their income), that leaves approximately 22,000 members with no immediate assistance and no income either.
Currently the Chancellor has not moved on changing the protections for the self employed
who are being pushed towards the universal credit system which is unlikely to be able to cope with the numbers applying, and takes 5 weeks to come through, at the best of times. At £94 a week, many arts union leaders are saying that it’s not enough to live on. (If only they had lobbied with other unions before and thought about all the vulnerable people across the UK who have to live on it and deal with destitution and poverty on a daily basis.) Last week Philippa Childs GS of Bectu, was lobbying the government strongly on the need for parity of income support with the employed, and Andy Chamberlain of the Association of Independent and Professional Self Employed has issued the Chancellor with a writ this morning on the basis that the policy is deeply discriminatory, and needs to be changed with immediate effect. Of course Universal Credit has always been discriminatory against the poorest and most vulnerable, and now we find ourselves in the same position too. None of these policies will be initiated nor implemented overnight – the Tories have systematically cut the funding and hollowed out the civil service, the local authorities (the NHS) and those who are placed to administer any income support.
The general consensus from a number of reliable data sources across the earth is that this
crisis is set to last for a year, in which case, it is imperative that a) the chancellor is pressured to change his policy asap and b) that music industry bodies and mega corporations with huge reserves are mobilised to provide sufficient money to musicians to help them to survive over the coming months. During the 2017 GS campaign, as well as promoting your strong leadership credentials, you made a special point of emphasising your personal high level connections within the UK and global music industry which you saw as essential in maintaining the presence, influence and effectiveness of the MU. Your yearly trips to SXSW were supposed to be a time when these connections were developed and cemented in person. You quite rightly said that I did not have those connections as a freelance jazz musician and teacher and I still don’t. So, now’s your chance to use them to mobilise these powerful men to do the right thing and help those who have created and performed the music that has enabled them and their companies to aggregate huge profits at the expense of ordinary musicians. As well as the record companies, I include putting massive pressure on the streaming services: Spotify, i-tunes, Amazon and any other big industry organisation with clout and money. Encouraging members to sign petitions may give the semblance of acting but we all know that these are only indicators to those in power and they can and do ignore them if they want to.
So, here are my suggestions for actions this week:
Create a larger benevolent fund for use by all members if necessary, using your industry
connections to leverage some of the vast reserves they are holding to provide immediate and ongoing help. It will need to be at least £320m to provide a basic income and this is small change to the major industry players, corporations and streaming services.
Continue to lobby hard and publicly in collaboration with sister unions and music
organisations/alliances for parity of income support between self employed and employed.
Currently the govt is saying administering this to the self employed would be too difficult.
However HMRC could provide tax rebates and use last years returns to give 80% of income,
and the MU could push for this.
Or if the MU policy is now to back universal income, then double down to promote this. The action and words though will have to be a good deal stronger than those to date, to have an impact.
Begin to mobilise members (they now have the time) using a proper and positive organising model – our strength is in our numbers and you need our help. Rather than signposting members to other websites for advice, and links to petitions, why not galvanise the membership online via the regional offices and RC’s to see how they can apply pressure, actively help with campaigns and look out for each other? You have a wealth of talent, skill and experience in your regional organisers and officials, why not use them for the purpose they were originally intended: as organisers.
As the old jazz tune goes ‘Now’s The Time’ Horace. The members need practical long-term
assistance and empowerment to organise themselves, and you as the leader of the union need to persuade the powers that be in government and the music industry to step up and help. The status quo is not an option and the ‘existential threat’ now to the MU is that, should this help not be forthcoming, members will be unable to pay their subscriptions and the longterm future of the MU will be in question. It would be a sad end after 132 years and I for one do not want to contemplate it.
All the best,
Response from Horace Trubridge, General Secretary
Thank you Kathy, we are all extremely busy right now helping members with genuine
hardship inquiries so forgive me if I don’t enter into lengthy correspondence with you.
I’m pleased to hear that you approve of our hardship fund which was quickly put together
following a decision taken by the EC last week. Rest assured, all Ideas are under discussion
or being put in place so keep checking the MU updates for further news.
Finally, the most important thing right now is that we all pull together and our actions are
exclusively focussed on helping the members survive this terribly pandemic.