MU GS Election Address from Morris Stemp

Morris Stemp
Candidate for MU General Secretary in 2022

Election Address

5 years ago, Kathy Dyson stood to become your General Secretary in the main focusing on why the MU in her opinion needed to organise better rather than carry on simply being a body that provides services and insurance products. Some of these are of great value, there’s no doubt about it. The work I do in Collective bargaining and around the law and Health and Safety makes a big impact. Not to mention how vital Public Liability Insurance is for some.

But more than ever now, we need to organise our members so that we can focus the will of our members front and centre again in Society. Because as your General Secretary, I would be nothing without the power and influence of the MU behind me.

The MU is you.

All of you, and me. The General Secretary, i.e – what I want as a proud member of the MU, is to be the voice for you, the members. I want us to change attitudes with the weight of our loud voices to improve on the money you earn, to find more opportunities to make great music and to make sure you are treated fairly. I intend to be heard and to be seen; not to disappear.

So I say: we need to organise. Many members may well feel they don’t want that, simply being happy with their public liability insurance, email communications and their much maligned expensive diary.

But what do I mean organised? Not everyone seems to understand what a Trade Union can do with organisation. I’ve heard it said more than once recently from the MU, we sent a letter but we didn’t get a reply. What more can we do?

What more can we do?

We shouldn’t shy away from openly talking about serious issues that are important to our members and then tackling them head on, even if that rocks the boat sometimes with the government, funders or employers. Yes, we must be mindful to allow dialogue to be as effective as possible first, of course. But what then? When SEISS payments didn’t go to so many of our members – what did the MU do? It seemed to go a bit quiet.

There was good work from us and from other unions to get some financial support in the first place with SEISS and the Furlough scheme. And maybe, the government had little option but to proceed in the way they did. But what about those members who received no payments? The MU did some good research and surveys of our members to find out just how many missed out on support – we all know the stats of that. But when the Government don’t adapt and amend to support those who miss out – what then? Were we in Parliament Square making our voice heard? Were we in every city centre, on every village green? No, we weren’t. That is to say – you weren’t. And why weren’t you? Because internally the MU seems to have forgotten that we are able to organise. Would you have been willing to make your voice heard? I believe you would.

But your voice wasn’t heard because your voice wasn’t harnessed. Officials like me were even told that we weren’t allowed to say anything negative in a personal capacity on social media about the lack of support or against Government policy. And was anything else done when we got no further joy from our efforts? We did ride on the back of some members and non-members who protested about this, but we organised little.

There’s the ‘organise’ word again.

What happens when people use their music and their instruments to highlight strongly held beliefs? It invariably makes the news. The protest that happened in Parliament Square did make headline news – but it should have been the MU, galvanising our members to have their voice heard, not just in Parliament Square – but everywhere. We should have been on every village green, on every street corner: at the Senedd, in Holyrood and Stormont with all our parliamentarians and across the media.

To see the way the musicians of the future and the audiences of the future haven’t been exposed to music education properly; how the landscape that brought me to music has been dismantled, makes me so sad. It’s becoming a middle class preserve again as only those that can afford tuition learn. There’s nothing wrong with being any class. But how can the musicians of the future be truly diverse if some communities aren’t exposed to instrumental music? I couldn’t have become a musician if my family had had to pay for lessons for me. Money shouldn’t have to matter: every child should have free access to instrumental lessons.

Have you seen the result of the campaign to clarify the lawfulness of fees for musical instrument tuition in Scottish schools, put together by Ralph Riddiough and others? Who would have thought, uniting together in a common cause and pushing all the politicians to do the right thing or be hit where it hurts – in the ballot box – who would have thought that would pay off! Scotland now leads the way on this and it is for us to ensure it happens elsewhere in the UK.

It’s a bit Trade Union that, isn’t it? Organising people to put the will of the membership at the forefront of what we do.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above I believe that much can and should be achieved through dialogue and working with people, organisations and Government. But if it’s not working, if they’re not listening or being supportive in the way they should be – what then? We’re a Trade Union in the end, the united voice of the collective will of each and every one of you. We should have no fear in speaking out. Even the ones who don’t want to be organised who are happy with their insurance products. Sometimes we have to actually stand up and DO something.

I’m concerned that we don’t do enough in so many areas. I don’t see and hear us fight for the things that are important to our members. Do we, in fact, even know what our members want? There’s a question. It’s time we found out. We need to build what we do from the ground up, not be talked at from the top down.

Orchestral musicians used to be paid as professionals on a level with Doctors or Head Teachers. Maybe that was during the period when the MU truly punched above its weight. It’s no coincidence that Tube Drivers in London have a basic salary of around twice the amount of tutti orchestral players. The RMT are well organised and shout about it when they need to. They are currently organising action from their membership as the government refuses to increase the funding for TfL for example, the underfunding of which will lead to higher fares and cuts to services.

I’m currently the Orchestras Official for the MU. Prior to working for you as an official, I was a violinist in the Hallé Orchestra for 15 years, the last 8 of which as Steward. I was active as an MU member in the local branch and district, for those that remember them, as well as being a delegate to conference.

I know how it is to sit in an orchestral seat as a long-standing member of the band as well as an E&D. I’ve worked in education – doing workshops, teaching violin to primary school kids as well as privately in my own home. I have coached youth orchestras and dealt with private schools who seem to think that the world revolves around them. I’ve been a busker, done recording work, chamber work and shows.
I’ve done paid gigs, unpaid gigs and put on gigs as home promotions. I know how it feels to be in your shoes as a working musician.

However, fighting for and pushing to help musicians as an official of the Musicians’ Union has now been my career for longer than I was a violinist, but not longer than I was a musician – I’m still one of those and there’s no changing that. Missing playing, as I did, I’ve picked up a cornet and now play in a brass band and a 10 piece brass ensemble; they give me my musical fix and the camaraderie that I so took for granted.

10 years or so as the North of England Regional Organiser saw me organise our members across the region to provide them with the best environment to flourish we could, rolling out what the MU can do for them in the way I felt best suited our members. Protesting about the lack of a band in theatres across the region, interacting and working closely with other unions to support each other and negotiating new landscapes for buskers to inhabit notably in Liverpool and York all proved very effective. As well as making sure the regions orchestras were well supported, both collectively and for individuals. So much good work was done over the decade.

But for the last 6 years I’ve been travelling around the UK making sure that the collective agreements that the MU have with orchestras are improved upon annually and that each of the MU Regions and their teams are supported in the way they interact with orchestras. From Glasgow and Edinburgh to Bournemouth, from Ulster to Scarborough, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gateshead, Manchester and of course London, I’ve seen and heard what’s been going on in these teams on the ground and for our members. I believe we need to take a good look at how we’re set up, to fight your fight. Are we light in some areas that need more time spending on them? Or do we concentrate too closely on areas that are less important to you? We need to look at it.

My knowledge of law is wide ranging and detailed, from Employment Law, Equalities Law, the process for the County Court to the Health & Safety Act and other areas. As a trained and accredited Health & Safety Officer, I know well how this applies to musicians’ lives. As a Mediator, I’m trained by ACAS and have rebuilt relationships between members and groups of members stuck in cycles of despair. As a Non-Legal Member of the Employment Tribunal, I sit in a judicial role from time to time on more complex cases away from straightforward unfair dismissals or unlawful deductions from wages, mainly on discrimination and whistleblowing cases. All this legal experience brings a real depth of knowledge to the way I view industrial issues and deal with disputes.
Negotiations, industrial relations and how we interact with those around us are therefore a natural habitat for me.

I often see or hear from candidates in situations like this say why you shouldn’t vote for other candidates, rather than why you should vote for them. That’s not my style. The other candidates are who they are and I have no doubt that you can decide for yourself. I certainly hope to rejuvenate the democratic processes of the MU which for me have been in decline for quite some time. This starts now with a healthy GS election, multiple candidates each standing with wide ranging experience and ideas.

I don’t promise jam tomorrow because who can promise anything these days? But I do promise you that everything that can be done, would be done and those who know me, know this is my way.

That’s why I’m standing – to put your needs at the front of everything the MU does: to organise strongly where we need to, because nothing else is good enough.

To become your General Secretary, I need your nomination and then your vote.

There may be people who read this and don’t agree with what I’ve said. It’s just as important that YOU come to the nomination meeting and take an active part in voting for someone else. Make it the right person but don’t leave it to chance: it really is too important.

All of you who have come into contact with me over the years know how I would approach the job of General Secretary. Those that don’t, please be in touch. I also welcome comments, questions and debate here on this blog – don’t hold back! It’s only through dialogue that improvements are made.

Do encourage prospective members to join now and be part of this process. It will make a difference – we’re stronger together.

If I am elected as your General Secretary, I’d still require your input, your ideas and the weight of your collective voice. I would need your support and you will be guaranteed mine. As I’ve said already, the MU isn’t the General Secretary or any of the Officials: the MU is you, with the team of officials and the General Secretary as the sharp end of that pyramid.

Society doesn’t appreciate what you do in the way I believe it should and we need to do so much more about that than write letters to the powers that be.

We need to shout about what you do and how important it is to the fabric of society and the cultural life of the nation – indeed not just the UK. We need to make sure that people as well as governments, councils and organisations understand how vital music is, because so many just don’t know it. And the weight of their voice may change how music making and music education is funded as if it’s seen as important to the voters it will become important to our politicians.

We have much to do.

We start with the nomination meetings.

Morris Stemp
morris.stemp@ntlworld.com
07989 478372

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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