Letter 5 from Kathy Dyson to MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge

The following letter was sent to the MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge, on 19th November, along with those members of the EC whose email addresses were known. At the time of publishing the letter here, there has been no response at all from any of them.

Dear Horace,

I hope you’re well. I write in response to the mass email you sent to all the members on Monday 16th November attempting to justify asking the Executive Committee (EC) to extend your five year term as General Secretary (GS), without an election, then why that decision was rescinded and finally initiating your GS Election campaign without any formal nomination process or election procedures being followed. I believe that two defining characteristics of a leader should be honesty and transparency and, in a democratic membership organisation such as the MU, a fundamental commitment to open democratic process and the rule of law especially pertaining to the MU rule book.  I feel that you have been neither honest or transparent in making the initial decision, in communicating it to members or in the reasons for rescinding it. You have also used the situation in a blatantly opportunistic and inappropriate way to launch an election campaign.

It might be useful to have a timeline of events here to provide evidence for my statements above. At the February EC in 2020, you asked for an extension of three years to your term of five years as GS which elapses in 2022. You remained in the room during the discussion in direct contravention to the ‘declaration of interest’ policy that happens at the start of every EC meeting. As you stood to gain some £536,445 in salary and benefits for those three years (assuming no further annual pay 36% pay rises), I feel this was wholly inappropriate action on your part and may well have prevented open and objective discussion of the issue.  The EC made the decision quickly on the basis of flawed information about a precedent to extend former GS, John Smith’s term of office and legal advice which has never been made public.  John Smith stood for election every five years, as you well know, because you were there at the time, as was I. To misdirect the EC on the exact nature of this is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. Had the request to extend your term of office come from the EC itself or indeed, been part of a wider long term strategy or a serious need to save money, they could have proposed a rule change at one of two biennial conferences in 2017 and 2019 and the whole issue could have been properly and openly debated and voted upon.  I also cannot believe that the legal advice you say you had, allowed you to breach your own rules. There has yet to be any kind of clear or serious justification for your request to extend your term of office and I’d like to ask: how does it  benefit the members and the union itself? The huge sums of money involved in your salary and benefits package, make for eye watering reading when most musicians are struggling to survive, with the live scene dead and as you point out, 38% of musicians falling through the cracks in the government schemes. Many musicians I know are facing a miserable winter on Universal Credit and waiting 4 hours on the phone trying to get through to the DWP to make a claim.

To move on: the decision was mentioned in abridged minutes with no proper explanation and so some of us questioned it in several letters. Mike Kidd in particular wrote a detailed letter asking for a proper explanation especially of the legal context. This letter was discussed at the March meeting and a similar cursory response was provided in abridged minutes in July. In between, in April, before the decision was communicated to members, Dave Lee was featured in  the trade paper ‘Music Week’ explaining the extensions and detailing the dubious way in which the decision was made. The only justification was that having an election would cause disruption. Presumably, your decision to stand for election now would be to cause a justifiable disruption. Finally, a short paragraph was put into the July Musician Magazine amongst a whole raft of congratulatory messages and endorsements yet no reflection of the opposing view which we know had been conveyed to the EC and the Secretariat.  If you had been open, honest and sure of the rightness of your decision, why not email all the members as you did on Monday to tell them all about it? Why prevaricate, slow down publication of minutes, refuse to respond to genuinely concerned letters and make a mockery of the democratic process that you should be upholding? Elections are about much more than “trouble and expense” and are at the very core of our democratic movement, which sets us apart from other bodies within the music industry. Elections give the executive of the union an opportunity to reconnect with the membership, renew their mandate and offer themselves up for scrutiny through giving the members the chance to cast their votes. Elections demonstrate to members how to exercise their power to shape the direction of their union.

Next we come to the Certification Officer complaint. Due to the lack of clear justification or answers on the issue, Mike Kidd drew up a fulsome and detailed submission to the certification officer about a breach to the union rules and questioning the whole process. The detailed and forensic nature of it would have done a QC proud, never mind an ordinary musician member.  The CO judged that the complaint fell within her juristiction, gave 9 weeks notice of the hearing in which to prepare and invited the union to submit it’s evidence by 11th November. On the 9th November,  at the very last minute, the union asked for  a 24 hours’ extension, held an EC meeting, and rescinded the decision. By refusing to take part in the CO hearing, you set a precedent; Mike has refused to withdraw his complaint and the CO has postponed but not cancelled proceedings. She may well open them up again.  We have to assume therefore that the original EC decision would not hold up to any kind of scrutiny and that you were not prepared to stand by or justify that decision to the union legal body. Can we conclude that, had Mike not made that complaint, you would have profited personally from an ill-conceived and illegal decision?   

Then we come to your email where you concoct a story around some rather lame election promises and nobly decide off your own bat to rescind the decision and bravely stand for election. That was the most dishonest action of all; not standing by your request for the extension or the poor EC decision and apologising, but pretending that you were not forced into it by a member of extreme integrity and commitment. I find it particularly galling and inappropriate that you should have used that email communication to begin campaigning for the next GS election before it is even called. It is an abuse of your power and access to the MU database and the worst kind of opportunism. It is again a flagrant disregard for MU rules and proper, open, democratic process. 

Frankly, Horace given all of the above, I’m really not sure whether your particular brand of ‘stability and continuity’ is what either the membership or the organisation of the union needs right now and I question your fitness for the role. It seems to me, and has for some time, that radical change is required in a whole raft of areas in order to properly support musicians through the pandemic and beyond. Here are a few areas that I think we need to tackle: the restoration of full grant funding to musical organisations – the creeping neoliberal move to commercialisation over the past decade has been a disaster; a new properly funded and revitalised national music education and instrumental teaching plan; a serious and committed push to raise the status of the artist and cross music industry campaign to take on the data giants who have continued to coin in billions whilst keeping the musical creators and musicians destitute. As a union, we need to decentralise and organise – that’s what proper unions do – they use the power, strength, skills and energy of all the members to create hope and positive change. In these days in particular, we need to empower and support members to organise themselves and to help each other through. In my view, a completely new broom is required which challenges the status quo (which is clearly destructive and dysfunctional on a number of levels) and actively works on behalf of musicians in an energised, and proactive manner. As I mentioned in a previous letter, which you have ignored, this pandemic is only the beginning of a series of disruptive and dangerous crises including a global economic depression, the chaos that will ensure around Brexit and the ending of free movement and the underlying existential threat that is climate catastrophe. We have to face these and be uniquely prepared, adaptive, imaginative and above all about collective responsibility and action towards each other. We need to work together for each other in solidarity across genres, across the whole country. You can be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic if you like, by tweaking minor organisational details and making them out to be important but what you should be doing is firmly steering the ship away from the iceberg and out of danger.

Kathy Dyson

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

One thought on “Letter 5 from Kathy Dyson to MU General Secretary, Horace Trubridge

  1. Thank you Kathy Dyson for this comprehensive and erudite letter. It is unequivocal that Horace Trowbridge has behaved in an underhanded and unprincipled manner, to say the least!
    As someone who has recently rejoined the union, I was appalled to discover what has been going on at an executive level.
    Now more than ever, we need a union of integrity and strength to fight and restore the rights of musicians. We don’t need greedy fatcats. It is grotesque and desperately inappropriate. I couldn’t believe it when I learnt of Mr Trowbridge’s enormous salary. Utterly shocking, in such a small union. What the hell is going on?
    I’m hopeful that people like you and Mike Kidd will succeed in holding this disingenuous CE to account.
    Thank you again.


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