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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Pohl

Behind the Scenes: Party Conference season

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Well, it’s been nearly three weeks since I announced my bid to be the next MU General Secretary. I have received so much support and encouragement; thanks to everyone who has reached out to me so far with offers of help or backed me on social media. One member commented that he’d like to see me as GS because I’m a nice person and I do a great job (thanks Frank). I certainly intend to try and live up to that throughout my campaign and beyond. Over the next few months, I plan to give members a sense of what I do day to day in my role as Deputy General Secretary of the MU. September and October are always particularly busy; for me, a big focus at this time of year is our attendance at both Labour and Conservative Party Conferences. In recent years, we have had a stand at both Conferences and this gives us an opportunity to talk to Party members about our key campaigns. In 2019, we focused heavily on music education and it was clear from the conversations we had that this is an issue of importance to people across the political spectrum. When we hit on something that matters to our members and also resonates with the wider population on a significant scale, there is a chance of positive change. As I’ll expand on in a later blog post, we are making real progress with music education, particularly in Scotland and Wales but also hopefully with the support of the Labour Party in England. Last year there were no Party Conferences due to Covid and we didn’t book stands for this year as we weren’t sure the events would go ahead in person. However, they did and we took the opportunity to host fringe events focusing on our #fixstreaming campaign. At Labour Party Conference, I was on a panel chaired by MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge, with artists Tom Gray (#BrokenRecord) and Eliza Shaddad, as well as Kevin Brennan MP. Essentially the campaign is about fair pay and contract terms; core to our work as a union and to the Labour Party. However we are also gaining support among Conservatives and the reception we held at Conservative Party Conference demonstrated that the issue of fair royalties for musicians from music streaming is of cross-party relevance. In the past week, Esther McVey and 44 Conservative backbench MPs came out in support of our call for fair streaming royalties and the small change to the Copyright Act we need to make this a reality. This backing from within the Conservative Party gives us a far greater chance of achieving our ultimate goal, equitable remuneration (guaranteed royalty payments) for musicians. On #fixstreaming, this month I also represented the MU on a panel at the Mama Festival and Convention in Paris. It is fantastic to see other territories looking to the work we’re doing in the U.K. They wanted to hear all about the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry and how the Government is taking forward some of its key recommendations; as I said at a meeting with the IPO recently ‘the world is watching’. Next stop on the #fixstreaming tour is Resonate in Glasgow and I hope to see some MU members there. Other key events this month were the Youth Music Awards and Music Week Women in Music Awards, both of which were incredibly inspiring and life affirming. At the Youth Music Awards, some fantastic young artists performed and the MU awarded Jimmy Power with the Inspirational Music Leader Award. Congratulations to him. The Women in Music Awards started with speeches from Alison Wenham OBE and Lara Baker who explained why they set up the awards as a catalyst for change. Nadia Khan of Women in Ctrl and Carla Marie Williams of Girls I Rate also gave powerful speeches when picking up their awards and it was clear that representation of women in the music industry, including and especially women of colour, is beginning to increase. Nadia said "listen to women, believe women and if you have the power make sure they're paid properly". This resonated with me for many reasons, but in particular because of my work on the MU's SafeSpace service for musicians who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse. Fear of not being believed is one of the key reasons why women don't report and we have to encourage a culture of reporting or things will never change. Congratulations to all this year's Women in Music award winners.

In addition to my more visible external-facing work, there is a huge volume of work going on internally at the MU and I oversee HR as well as being involved in the big office move in London and managing colleagues. I am working on improving the working culture of the union and getting a suite of up to date policies and procedures in place in consultation with the staff union reps. Moving HQ to London Bridge is going to reduce the Union’s running costs and provide a better located office and meeting room space for our employees and members. These are major projects that I hope will carry us forward as an organisation.

Finally, the elections for the MU Executive Committee and our six Regional Committees are underway and I've been involved in that process. (Thanks to my colleague Phil Kear, our brilliant Assistant General Secretary who has been doing a lot of leg work on the election process!). The Union’s Committees play a key role in shaping our policies, campaigns and influencing what we do from members’ services to collective bargaining. Our Committees should be diverse and representative of musicians of every background, genre and working in each area of the business. This is one of the key principles I would take forward as General Secretary; it’s about being more representative and inclusive of minority groups within the Union and also ensuring that members get equal access to benefits wherever they based in the U.K. and however they make music. More on this to follow in a future blog post.

Thanks to the MU’s Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) John Shortell, and the activists on our EDI Committee, we now have some great equalities networks within the Union. I visited a couple of network meetings to talk about activism and am hopeful that the Committees will be more diverse going forward. The Union's Section Committees, looking after different industrial areas, are up for re-eiection in April and that will be another opportunity to encourage activism and ensure maximum engagement and participation in union democracy. I am fully committed to making members’ activism count, to showcasing the range of members we have on our key Committees and to meaningful consultation.

I really believe we can further improve what we do and ensure that all musicians are proud to belong to the union, advocate for it and know that their input matters.

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