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Read the MU General Secretary Speech From 2023’s Delegate Conference

In her opening speech at this year’s MU Delegate Conference, General Secretary Naomi Pohl describes how the Union is making progress in negotiations, campaigning and lobbying – and how we are improving what we do for members all the time. Read her full speech below.

Published: 25 July 2023 | 1:00 PM Updated: 28 July 2023 | 11:06 AM
Across a long room full of delegates sat at tables, we see Naomi presenting to the group, speaking into a microphone
"In my five-year term as General Secretary, I want to ensure we increase our representation of previously under-represented musicians." Photo Credit: Musicians' Union

The MU Delegate Conference is an important part of the Union’s democracy. Conferences are held every two years and help to form MU policy.

This year’s Delegate Conference takes place at the Park Regis Hotel in Birmingham on Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 July 2023.

Welcome everyone to MU Delegate Conference 2023. I am delighted to be standing here as your General Secretary. It was such a privilege to be elected and I take my responsibility to members very seriously.

It is a challenging time for all musicians and we know our members have been through incredibly tough times over the past few years. However, we are making progress in negotiations, campaigning and lobbying and we are improving what we do for members all the time.

Collective strength as a Union

We are showing our collective strength as a Union. We are in some high profile disputes, including with BPI representing the major record labels, the Royal Opera House and we are still in consultation with the BBC to avoid job cuts.

We have carried out a ballot of the Royal Opera House Orchestra where 90% of members indicated that they would be willing to take strike action. If there is a strike, it will be our first since musicians took action against the BBC in 1980.

We are representing our members' interests vigorously within the music industry, to Government and through our membership of the International Federation of Musicians. We are listening to members and making sure their voices are heard.

Membership is increasing and the Union is celebrating its 130th year. Despite the threats, we’ve got many reasons to look forward to a bright future for the profession of music and I believe the MU is more relevant to musicians than ever.

Strategic and operational improvements

Alex [Gascoine, MU Executive Committee Chair] has outlined some of the changes we’ve made at the MU in the past year or so, for example becoming less London centric.

We have various National Officials based in the North of England, including Matt Wanstall, our new Assistant General Secretary, and in Scotland. It’s no longer the case that National Officials have to be based in HQ in London, and this means more access for members around the U.K.

We are cutting unnecessary costs and being more strategic in our spending as well. Our new HQ is more modern and cheaper to run than the old Clapham Road building. We generally run at a deficit and our costs have increased significantly with inflation.

However, we aim to achieve a break-even budget for 2024-2025, ensuring the Union is future proof while also updating members’ benefits and ensuring you still get maximum value for your subscription.

We are more environmentally conscious and cutting back on physical products, focusing our communications on a digital strategy and ensuring our merchandise is responsibly produced.

Equality, Diversity and Diversity 

In my five-year term as General Secretary, I want to ensure we increase our representation of previously under-represented musicians.

We still aren’t as diverse as we should be and this impacts on our recruitment and retention. All members want to feel represented in our staff, on our Committees and in our communications.

We have made some significant headway and our Members’ Conference last year was our most diverse, inclusive and accessible event to date. I have plans to make further improvements and will be meeting with our Equality Networks and Young Members Network to involve them in the change.

Membership and protected characteristics

We have an ambitious equality action plan with targets for recruitment of musicians, which is available on our website.

Our current break-down of members with the following protected characteristics is:

  • 8% Global Majority members
  • 4% Disabled
  • 9.25% LGBT+

John Smith [previous MU General Secretary and current Chair of PPL] will remember when we started collecting diversity monitoring data from members and what a mountain it was to climb when we began with nothing. We now hold EDI data on 54% of members which gives us a good picture of who we represent and where we could do better.

In the last 6 months, musicians recruited to the MU have been:

  • 19% global majority musicians
  • 10% disabled members
  • 10% LGBTQ+

This is a great sign that we are engaging with musicians who may not previously have thought the MU was for them.

Music and technology 

Another crucial policy area which is very close to my heart - we are keeping up to date with technological change and negotiating deals to ensure our members are fairly paid for new uses of their work.

We are still leading the charge on fair remuneration from music streaming and the Government is convening a working group to look into this issue.

We are also involved in developing policy on artificial intelligence. Microsoft say there is no copyright infringement when AI ingests existing artistic works in order to create new ones. We must defend and improve copyright and once again take on large international interests in order to ensure our members are paid the royalties they deserve.

Political updates

We have more influence in the Labour Party with a seat on the NEC [Labour’s National Executive Committee].

I also attended the Labour National Policy Forum this weekend with our Head of Government Relations Isabelle Guiterrez and members Andi Hopgood, EC [MU’s Executive Committee] Vice Chair, and Xenia Horne.

We have an active role in developing policy which will inform the Labour Party manifesto for the next General Election. We have been briefing them on issues of importance to our members including music education, streaming, touring in Europe, rights for freelancers, equalities issues, artificial intelligence and the BBC licence fee.

We have also, against all odds, gained more influence among Conservative ministers and have recently met with the Treasury, as well as the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. Our lobbying helped to achieve the extension of the higher rate of orchestral and theatre tax relief which was a significant win.

Everything we achieve is a collective effort

Meanwhile, our brilliant activists and officials continue to fight for better pay and conditions across the music industry, arts sector and education. Defending jobs and representing our freelance members. We will launch a new freelance campaign this year which will focus on improving the treatment, pay and conditions of self-employed members in all disciplines.

I’d like to acknowledge Horace Trubridge for his work as General Secretary during a very difficult time for musicians. He remains actively involved, representing members' interests, in the International Federation of Musicians and PPL.

I’d also like to thank all our wonderful activists, our EC [Executive Committee] and other Committee members, and my colleagues who work extremely hard on your behalf. Everything we achieve is a collective effort and we're a great union because of that.

There are 27 MU staff at Delegate Conference this year because we felt it was important that they see our democracy in action. This helps further develop their understanding of the Union and build the relationships they have with you, the members.

Sponsor thanks and closing thoughts 

Finally, I'd like to thank our generous sponsors for this event - PPL who sponsored the band for tonight. If you’re not a PPL member yet, you should be! Hencilla Canworth who provide our member insurances and Morrish Solicitors who provide legal advice to our members. Both Hencilla and Morrish supplied drinks for our evening events. Please say hello to them if you get a chance!

We have 17 motions from members for this year's conference, covering a wide range of topics, as well as some great speakers and 20 important rule changes. We’re going to have a great and busy democratic Conference. Thank you all for coming.

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