Morris Stemp – New Year Thoughts

Morris Stemp: New Years Greetings – Candidate for MU General Secretary 2022

I just thought I’d take a moment or two out from family life to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. 

What a year – or two – it’s been. I dearly wish for everyone more than simply a return to ‘normality’, as there’s much that was considered routine that will remain in question for some time to come. We will all need to forge a new landscape which makes the most of what we have and as well as enhance where we can to make the musical world go round.

In my election address I touched upon some areas that I believe are crucial to the way the MU might adapt to make more of what faces the industry on the gigging front line, in digital form, from the orchestral world and across musical education. In the main, I talked about organising to achieve better results. 

Many of you will know that the MU to a certain extent lives beyond its means. There will be a time when one or two of the income streams that support the MU (not subscription income) will significantly slim down or disappear altogether, so now is a good time to plan ahead. We don’t want to be looking down the barrel of a shotgun and try to rush changes through that are unpalatable, as I’ve seen in the relatively recent past at the MU. For one thing, the last time this area was focused on, my question was always ‘how does this provide a better landscape for our members?’. We need to be able to answer that question before anything is tinkered with, so we’re driven by what’s best for you as well as the needs of the MU as an organisation. 

Whilst I don’t think I should be promoting a hard and fast plan quite yet, I do have clear ideas about how we might go about such analysis. 

If elected as the new GS, I’d want to take views across the MU as to how we might structurally improve where we are currently and really understand what’s important to you. What we get right currently, what we might look at and be sure that members subscriptions are used most wisely. We should set up a modernising working group to look at it all and make sure the membership is effectively surveyed and can input through focus groups. So if elected I see that moment as merely the start of a consultation process. 

It would include how we can put in mechanisms that will help an organising agenda as part of this overhaul. I’m not talking either about organising for the sake of it, as some sort of mystical trade union mantra. Organisation must have a purpose. What are we trying to achieve? How can we best achieve it? These are all questions that we need to have answers to. But I have many more questions that I believe we also need to ask. 

Do we need specialists focused only on organising areas that would benefit from it? A West End Organiser, for example. Looking at the way the Phantom of the Opera cuts were handled, I think it’s fair to say that the MU have room for improvement. And not just Phantom, I’ve had all sorts of other issues flagged up to me already from people who work under the SOLT Agreement as well as UK Theatres and beyond. We need to look at this. 

Do we use our existing consultative committees effectively in the first place? As someone working in one of our National departments, I certainly know their value – but are they weighted correctly? Why do we have them? We mustn’t shy away from big questions. 

Having traveled to and from all the regions working with all the regional teams, I have a clear understanding of the varying strengths of the teams and how they differ. Are the teams set up so that they can function effectively for each membership size, need and demographic? We need data. 

Currently, the EC and Secretariat decide how the MU rolls out membership benefits and services and yet the regional teams seem to have little involvement in this process. Why not? The officials on the ground know their patch – what do they think membership benefits and services should be? Are there areas that would benefit from targeted funding to support initiatives? Some other unions have allocated funds that provide the means to organise on particular issues and this approach can be extremely effective. 

Membership subscriptions – have we got it right? I hear often people say that they’re too high or that we should take another look at whether one rate is the fairest system. As an employee of the MU dealing first hand with what people are facing right now, that subscriptions were put up again for the coming year made my blood run cold. 

Since we left the Branch structure I believe we miss localism and I’ve heard so many times that members did benefit from seeing and interacting with other members as people don’t meet as frequently and work is scarce. Should there be a network of MU Reps or Ambassadors, who can host meetings in their locale of interested musicians? Perhaps we could incentivise recruitment in some way. Or maybe making it stronger every day is incentive enough. 

Are the Regional Committees functioning as they should? Do we need Regions? We need people in the Regions – Officials and activists – but is what we do now serving the needs of the members effectively in more modern times? We’re back to the question of what our members needs are and how they differ Region to Region. Back also to surveys and a modernising group. 

Do we need someone to oversee how we organise and to see that we do organise effectively? Something for the modernising group. 

Health and Safety – a huge swathe of work has happened over the period of the pandemic. But do we have a H&S expert on staff? No, we don’t. We used to. How important is your H&S? 

So there we have it – many questions. I have in mind how they all should be answered currently, but that needs informing by data and fact, not just my own opinion. We should examine it all and more besides. I make no assumptions with any of these questions. But with all of it, we’ll need the opinions of as many as we can to shape the future of the industry. So feedback directly or through wider forums like this. I’ve put my personal contact details at the end of this and my previous piece. 

The first question though is who will be in the driving seat to look at all these things. I hope you make it me.

Once again, I wish you and yours all the very best for 2022 and beyond. 

Let’s make it a better year together. 

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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