Letter 4 from Kathy Dyson to MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge

June 1st 2020


Dear Horace,

I hope you are well.


I write in response to your editorial in the latest edition of the Musician magazine
and in particular to the claim that ‘Our union is doing everything in it’s power to
support it’s members at this challenging time and to plan for music’s future.’
In
my view, a three months subs holiday (£60), a hardship fund providing grants of
£200 and writing lobbying letters to the government, does not constitute doing
everything in your power. May I ask what responses you received from your
letters to the Chancellor and Culture Minister? Similarly, how did Sir Kier, Tracey
Brabin and Jo Stevens respond – do they understand the particular needs of
musicians? Are they planning to support music and culture as Corbyn was in the
last Labour Manifesto? How will they help? Can we see and respond to them in
turn? If you are working with other music organisations and lobbying groups so
effectively, why is there an almost total absence of debate about what changes
need to be made within the economy and the music industry to support
musicians and creators? Re campaigning: I find it unlikely that the Tory
government will respond to the Ivors’ and MU’s call for a review on streaming –
why would it? – the Tories love people who make vast sums of money and their
cabinet is full of them. Likewise, any amount of hardship funds (which, though
welcome, is like putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound) does not address
the issue of how musicians will make a living when the furlough payments and
self employed grants are set to end in the Autumn.


A union leader would need to plan strategically rather than just react, in order
to actually help members as opposed to seeming to help them. To claim
somewhat randomly that ‘Music Will Survive’ without the creators and
performers (and everyone else associated with live music) being actively
supported, is just plain foolish. What is clear is that the data giants and
streaming companies agree with you and are already well ahead in this regard:
music will survive and they can very happily live without live musicians; some are
already talking openly about AI generated recorded music for their businesses.
As one of them so succinctly put it: ‘live musicians are a biohazard, machines
are not.’ They want music because it makes them huge sums of money with very
little outlay; consumers want music for free or very little because they love it
and can access all of it on any device at any time, and musicians want to play
music because it is our life blood and we are stuck in the middle of this with no
realistic sustainable way of making a living. Especially now with the live scene
gone. I am fully aware that the MU has been campaigning for years for fair
remuneration for musicians for online music and streaming to little effect, and
now this issue has come to the fore in the starkest of terms. Google, Apple,
Amazon, Spotify, Sony, Universal and all the other big boys are continuing to
profit hugely from the sale and streaming of music online – the billionaire owners
of these companies made an extra $343bn during the first three months of the
pandemic. Meanwhile, the live music scene globally is actually dead, not even on
life support but dead, and every single musician that I know across all genres
has no gigs in the book at all and presently no idea when, where or if there will
be any in the future. The best case scenario, and one which the big festival
promoters and theatre impresarios are predicting, is that perhaps things will
start up again in 2021, but only if musicians, companies, venues and touring
infrastructures can survive long enough, and if the government can be
persuaded that continued music and arts funding during the pandemic and it’s
aftermath is worth doing. The ensuing global economic depression will affect the
ability of musicians to make any money or perform live, as will the travel issues,
costs and bureaucracy around Brexit. This is not to be unduly negative but to
understand the depth and complexity of the long-term situation we musicians
find ourselves in, with, at best, indifference from government and the data
giants, who want to continue to drain the blood of creative musicians and
aggregate almost fantastical sums of capital which they seem to be using to
create even more power. So, I say to you once more: why not use ‘all your
channels of influence’ that you claim to have and your much vaunted music
industry connections to put pressure on Apple and co to give large capital sums
from their vast profits now, to save the live music industry AND to increase the
amount paid for streams to musicians rather than record companies and others
so that we can at least live and be sustained. These companies are not going to
give things voluntarily; they have to be persuaded, cajoled or shamed into it, and
that requires a hard hitting campaign which really takes them on. I feel there
would be broad support from a whole range of music organisations and those
who attempt to make a living from live music. Now is the time in a global
depression, to take the moral high ground, flag up the appalling inequalities of
the system and get some big financial support for live music. There has never
been a better time to re-energise the fair remuneration for creators and
performers campaign as a rallying cry and really, what have we got to lose?


In the next few months, the harsh reality out there is that the Chancellor is set
to wind down the furlough scheme from August when employers are required to
pay towards wage costs, (which they may or may not be able to do) and then to
end it completely by October. (From the Financial Times survey in May, almost
half of all UK businesses expect their cash flow to dry up within the next six
months.) There is also just one more payment to the self employed who are
eligible, and thereafter the governement are somehow expecting everything to
miraculously start up and resume as before, assuming of course that the virus
does not return in the winter months. This is an expectation from mostly
independently wealthy Tory politicians who have never worked in a real job or
run a small (or large) business, and for whom most of this economic and social
reality is largely abstract. Now is the time for the serious campaigning to start to
ameliorate the worst effects of the coming depression and Brexit on members,
and it requires that we roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. Indeed you
may not be popular with the powers that be for taking them on, but this is the
role of a trade union leader and one which I feel you continually shy away from.
As Len McClusky so famously said at at TUC conference a few years back:
Trade Unions – we’re on the side of the angels. And so we are, not on the side of
the tech and data giants, big business, or Tory politicians.


This is all part of a larger argument about who benefits from the economic crisis
caused by the pandemic: private tech giants or people? As a trade union, we
should be about empowering and organising our members to help themselves
and each other within an overarching strategic plan, which seeks to deal with
some of the grossest inequalities within the music industry that this pandemic
has shone a hard light upon. Upping your campaigning game to really engage
with these issues may not be popular with those is power but it is required if you
are to have a hope in hell’s chance of seriously helping anyone or saving the live
music scene. You need to have a strong campaigning plan now, that fits with
and enhances your MU strategic plan for the next five years (if it indeed even
exists) and members need to know what that is in order to support it. Writing to
MPs is all fine and dandy, but something a good deal stronger and more
concerted is required now.


In conclusion, I find it deeply condescending, complacent and insulting to
freelance and struggling members whose future is looking doubtful, to say that
you have got the response to this crisis right. I seriously doubt that given the
complex and dynamic nature of what we face, (to say nothing of the ongoing
climate crisis) anyone could ‘get it right’. However, you have much more chance
of getting it right in the future if you engage deeply with officials and members
about what to do and how to tackle it, than imagining that you are able to do
this alone. You need all the help, the data, the debate, the ideas that you can get
from the hive mind, and that means engaging fully in the democratic process of
the union and debating with people you may disagree with or who may oppose
your strategy (whatever that is). To be frank, if you think that you have got this
right, you need to resign now rather than extend your General Secretary-ship
(under somewhat non-transparent and dubious process), because it indicates a
complete lack of understanding about the nature of what we are dealing with
here. Like the Covid 19 epidemiologists, you need to be modelling a number of
different scenarios and working on ways to deal with them using all the skills,
ideas and help by galvanising and organising members across the nations and
regions of the UK. With this in mind, are we entitled to see and debate what you
are ‘planning for music’s future’ exactly, and how that helps all members or is it
a secret?


Finally and most importantly Horace, whose side are you on?


All the best,


Kathy.

Published by MU Members for Change

MU Members For Change is a broad and diverse coalition of members within the Musicians’ Union. It exists to facilitate communication between members; to aid the delivery of member voice to the Executive Committee; and to promote democracy within the Musicians’ Union. Enquiries should be sent to: mumembersforchange@gmail.com

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