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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Pohl

The MU's work in the pandemic

A member kindly suggested that I write a brief blog post about the work carried out by the Union in support of musicians during the pandemic. Perhaps not all members read MU communications and so some of this work may have been missed. Getting the message out about work we do for members behind the scenes is not always easy and although we do try our utmost via emails, socials and the magazine, we have to regularly refresh our communication methods to try to get our message out more effectively.

If I was elected, I would be more present and active across social media than previous MU General Secretaries and this is just one small way in which we might convey the Union's value to a wider audience.

So here is a brief recap of our core work during 2020-21:

  1. The MU Coronavirus Hardship Fund. The MU moved £1m into a Hardship Fund in the early days of the first lockdown and grants were made available to our members up until the end of 2021. Qualifying MU members who continue to suffer financial hardship as a direct result of the pandemic, can still get a grant via the Union's Benevolent Fund as of 1 January 2022. Many generous donations were also received from members and organisations to the Fund for which we are extremely grateful. Thanks in particular to members who held gigs and events to raise funds via Crowdfunder; every £200 raised meant another grant given to a musician in need.

  2. Subscriptions holidays. In addition to offering the Hardship Fund, the MU's Executive Committee agreed to grant members in hardship a subscriptions holiday. This was a period of free membership for those who needed it in difficult times. MU members were characteristically disciplined and generous about this and the Hardship Fund so although we ran at a deficit during the pandemic, the Union's finances were not hit as hard as they might have been had every member applied. It was clear that musicians only applied if they really needed the financial support.

  3. Lobbying and campaigning. Members of the Secretariat* as well as colleagues in our National departments and in the devolved Nations spent hours each day engaging with decision makers and lobbying for increased Government support for members. We needed clear guidance and a plan for workplaces to reopen, as well as financial support for freelancers in particular. The latter came with the announcement of SEISS (during which announcement Rishi Sunak name-checked musicians specifically) but despite all our efforts, and that of fellow entertainment unions and industry organisations, the gaps in support remained. Thanks to all members who took our impact surveys, wrote to their MPs and kept us informed about the situation on the ground with their employers and engagers. This year, our focus will be on building back our pay and agreements post-pandemic and lobbying for a longer term plan to deliver a stable and sustainable arts sector.

  4. Information and guidance for members. The Union reacted quickly in the early days of the pandemic in releasing information and advice for members on a daily basis as Government guidance changed. Members have said that our e-newsletters took on a new significance and provided clarity in a confusing and rapidly changing environment. Thanks to our Regional Organiser in Scotland & Northern Ireland and our Regional Organiser in Wales who ensured the guidance was updated for members in the devolved Nations. Our brilliant team of National Organisers updated guidance for each area of the industry and our Communications and Government Relations department managed it all incredibly effectively. A true team effort.

  5. Industry reopening. We were at the forefront of work during the pandemic to develop guidance and good practice for each area of the industry, for example when recording studios were among the first workplaces to get going under social distancing. Our focus was to get musicians back to work safely as soon as possible. Given the gaps in Government support, this was essential and the guidance we helped to develop proved effective and practical. Thank you to MU colleagues, Stewards and our Health and Safety Consultant Roger Sutton who worked incredibly hard on this.

Alongside this, we continued to provide our usual range of benefits and services and provide advice to members on an individual and collective basis through our Regional Offices and national departments. Thank you also to MU activists who continued to take part in Committee meetings from home during the most difficult period for musicians in living memory.

I am extremely passionate about the great work of the Union and there is so much we do well. However, as I have said, I believe that my leadership would bring about positive change in the Union in many areas. Working with members more closely, listening to and engaging with our many activists, visiting workplaces and ensuring I am accessible, open and present, I believe we could make the MU more representative and inclusive of all musicians. I want to bring musicians together and ensure the MU is a modern and forward-thinking Union they can be truly proud of.

A vote for me is both a vote for continuity and a vote for positive change. This isn't about ripping it all up and starting again; it is about building a better Union together. Let's push things forward.

*the term Secretariat refers to the Union's senior management team of General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary.

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