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  • Naomi Pohl

What makes a great General Secretary?

The Musicians' Union has published a job description for the role of General Secretary in advance of the upcoming election, along with a skills and competency profile.

It is crucial that whoever is elected into the role has the right skills and experience and can do the job. The job spec is available here: https://musiciansunion.org.uk/about-the-mu/how-the-mu-works/mu-democracy/general-secretary-elections/job-description-skills-profile


I can tell you from my experience as Deputy General Secretary that this is a big job; the responsibilities are wide-ranging and every day brings a new challenge (or multiple challenges). Take the past 24 hours for example. The current Secretariat members spent the day discussing the state of the industry and what support our members may need during the Christmas period and in January, given that the UK Government have advised members of the public to 'stay at home'. I am meeting UK Theatre today to hear about how touring and Regional theatre is doing. How are the pantos? I can see from social media that some featured artists are cancelling tours and a sense of dread is setting in. Members of the public may want to stay at home now in order to save Christmas. What will they do come January? We need to urgently influence the Government, via UK Music and through our own lobbying activities, and we must work with the live sector to secure urgent financial support. Horace has been on the phone to Keir Starmer; we must make the case again for freelancers. We are getting another survey out to find out if members are having work cancelled. Statistics and evidence are crucial to effective lobbying and campaigning. We are also looking at how and when we can make further hardship grants available to members (these will continue into 2022). I reached out to a couple of other industry organisations to see if they would be making further hardship grants available for musicians too.


Meanwhile, we have multiple internal issues which are ongoing and time-consuming, for example recruiting into a role in the North of England. I am directly involved in the recruitment process and have overall responsibility for HR matters. We have advised our staff to work from home once again and discussed with them a move to hybrid working next year; part-home and part-office-based. I also met with our staff pension provider yesterday for an annual review and will advise staff that they can move to a more environmentally friendly fund if they want to, something we have recently offered for the MU members' pension scheme.


Yesterday, I met with colleagues from Equity to discuss the Creative Industries Federation's proposal to set up an Independent Standards Authority to investigate bullying and harassment, particularly where freelancers are involved. While we welcome the proposal and there are multiple cases I have dealt with through the Union's SafeSpace service where an independent authority or regulator would have been hugely helpful, we have some outstanding questions and concerns. A joint letter will be sent setting these out and seeking further engagement with the entertainment unions. I have several ongoing SafeSpace cases including one which again involves freelancers and a high profile person in a position of power within music. While progress is being made finally, the culture of the industry needs to change urgently and we can't afford for the roll-out of any new initiatives to take another year or more.


I hope this gives a small glimpse of the range of work we handle at any one time. The next MU General Secretary needs great leadership skills: you need to bring people with you internally and externally as you make decisions and represent members to the wider industry. He or she must also understand the Union as a business; be able to make significant financial and staffing decisions, manage people, manage change, ensure we have a secure future as a Union. He or she must also be able to build and maintain relationships with members and activists, with the industry, with other Unions, with major employers of musicians, with politicians across the political spectrum and involve the Executive Committee in decision making. You have to know when you can make the call and when you need to seek counsel. When an error is made, you have to react confidentally to tackle it and either resolve the issue or ultimately take responsibility for a ball dropped. You must be trusted and therefore you must be honest and transparent, while maintaining confidentiality where appropriate and necessary.


You also need to be chief negotiator, so a wide range of experience in collective bargaining is essential. I have been negotiating collective bargaining agreements for nearly twenty years and have done so in theatre, with orchestras, in recording and broadcasting, opera and ballet. How could a candidate without this experience be an escalation point for the many negotiations we undertake and provide suitable advice and guidance to our Organisers and Officials?


I absolutely love this work and I believe I fulfil the job description and possess the relevant skills and competencies to secure the Union's future and build its standing within the music industry and trade union movement. We must have the right person at the top or the union could slide backwards. Let's Push Things Forward and ensure we have the brightest possible future.


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