|The News Line: Feature
Thursday, 8 March 2012
NO DEBATE ON ‘ACTION’ MOTION – at London Region Equity AGM
THE ACTORS’ union Equity is angry as Arts Council and local authority funding cuts lay waste to theatres and arts organisations across Britain and the battle is on for policies to defend jobs and the arts.
|The platform at Tuesday’s Equity London Region Annual General Meeting, with General Secretary Christine Payne second left
Arts Council funding to the arts is being cut by £71 million this year, an 8.7 per cent cut, and it has made it known that there is to be a massive 29 per cent cut between now and 2015.
The 849 Regularly Funded Organisations backed by the Arts Council last year have been slashed to 585 from next month.
Famous names face obliteration – The Northcott Theatre Exeter, Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, the ICA in the Mall, Tricycle, Kilburn.
The Artistic Director of the Natural Theatre Company in Bath, which has had its Arts Council funding removed after 40 years, said: ‘We won’t go down without a fight’.
That is being replicated across the country. Arts workers and the communities they serve, won’t go down without a fight. In fact they are determined to win the fight and keep the arts alive and kicking against the coalition wreckers.
Equity, the strongest organisation in the arts, has the responsibility to lead the fight against the cuts.
At its London Area Annual General Meeting in the Soho Theatre on Tuesday afternoon, there were just three motions on the agenda.
The first two, dealing with bullying in the workplace and equality for women workers, were both debated and carried.
But the third motion on the agenda was prevented from being debated after an intervention by the union’s General Secretary, Christine Payne.
The motion read:
‘Brutal cuts in funding from the Arts Council and local councils are laying waste to arts organisations across the country this year.
‘In response to its Massacre of the Arts onslaught on 200 arts organisations in 2008, a packed 500-strong meeting at the Young Vic delivered a unanimous vote of no confidence in the Arts Council.
‘This was followed by a mass rally mobilised by threatened arts organisations in Trafalgar Square and a 1,000-strong march through Norwich, which was particularly hard hit by the attack.
‘However, despite the unanimous passing of a motion at the West London Branch calling for Equity to organise a march through London’s West End to take the struggle forward, Equity’s Council did nothing, the movement was dissipated and the cuts were made.
‘Equity General Secretary Christine Payne emphasises in her Review of the Year statement: “It is member-led campaigning that will see this union through these uncertain times. You have the power to fight your corner.”
‘Theatre companies are generally having their funding cut between 15% and 20% this year. This will kill many of them off.
‘This London Annual General Meeting condemns the cuts policy and calls on Equity to mount a national campaign against the government’s policies, at the centre of which must be the resistance to all cuts and closures by all means necessary, including occupations.
‘Equity must call a march and rally in London in defence of our industry and unite with other trade unions for a common front to bring down this coalition with a general strike and bring in a workers’ government that will nationalise the arts and media industries and carry out the necessary socialist policies.’
General Secretary Christine Payne first said the motion was 30 words too long and urged that the final paragraph be removed.
The mover of the motion Tony McEvoy said no, but was willing instead to remove Payne’s quote four paragraphs from the end.
Payne then claimed the motion was ‘party political’ and breached union rules against party political policies.
McEvoy responded that no party was mentioned.
Payne then said: ‘A general strike would not be legal and it would break the rules of Equity to adopt an illegal policy.’
McEvoy responded that a policy in favour of general strike action would not be illegal.
Payne then went on to say that the motion could be debated but it would be ruled out subsequently by the council.
Then Assistant General Secretary Martin Brown intervened and claimed the motion was out of order in any case and could not be debated.
There were then angry interventions from the floor of the meeting with Equity members demanding a debate on policies to fight the cuts.
But the chairman then put Payne’s ruling to a vote and it was carried by 48 to 16, with five abstentions.
Outside the meeting, Equity members were angry that the motion was not heard.
Kika Markham said: ‘We need a policy to fight the cuts and we should have debated it. Everybody has to take action.
‘The union should join with journalists, teachers, the whole public sector to defend culture which Cameron is trying to destroy.
‘This has to be debated in the union.’
Chris Tranchard said: ‘We have to fight the cuts. And not just in the arts. I have read an opinion that only six per cent of the impact of the cuts has been felt so far, and I believe it.
‘I support the Occupy movement. There are going to be so many rendered homeless with the cuts in benefits.’
Christopher West said: ‘The Greenwich Playhouse, in which I have performed, is closing down this week. It’s been there since 1990 I believe, and now it’s closing.
‘The government are putting nothing into the arts, it’s all about the Olympics.
‘We’ve got to defend our arts and our jobs, our careers and our theatres.
‘Theatres threatened with closure should be occupied.’
Maddalena Deichmann said: ‘The point of the union is to fight. It seems very strange that they wouldn’t let you talk. The motion that was ruled out should have been debated.
‘Cuts are devastating the arts, education, culture, across the planet. We need to find new ways to fight. I support occupations as a strategy, as a means to fight.’
Charlie Chuckles said: ‘I think we need a policy to fight the cuts. Your motion should have been heard.
‘The reason they ruled it out is that it didn’t go along with their agenda not to rock the boat.
‘What we need is a Special General Meeting of Equity to organise the fight to defend the arts and defeat the cuts.’
Elise Harris said: ‘The motion should have been heard. We’ve got to defeat the cuts.’
VJ Sahi said: ‘The motion was an excellent cause and deserved to be heard. We have to defend the arts, especially at this time.
‘Equity has the responsibility to lead the fight.’
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