To All People: Equity

Our International Work

International solidarity has been at the heart of Equity’s mission since we were founded in 1930. From founding our international federation of unions, to campaigning for artists freedom across the World, for almost 100 years we have lived our mission of fighting for Equity for all people, internationally.

As the second biggest and one of the most powerful arts and entertainment unions in the world, artists, creatives, and trades unionists from across the world look to us for support. As the world’s largest union representing across live and recorded media, we rely on the solidarity, intelligence, and freedom of our comrades in other countries to protect our members’ interests whether in the UK or across the globe.

Producers, bosses, capital: they all behave globally. The labour movement must behave globally too – and Equity lives this mission. That said, we carefully target our work in line with a framework for where, how, and who we support to ensure we can operate as effectively as possible.

This section sets out the three major strands of this work, the policies which focus our campaigning, and just some examples of that international solidarity in action today, and since 1930.

Photo shows around twenty members of the Belarus Free Theatre with Equity General Secretary Paul W Fleming
A Belarus Free Theatre rehearsal reception to thank ICAF for its support in 2021

Strand 1: Fédération Internationale des Acteurs (FIA)

FIA is Equity’s global federation. Representing unions from more than 60 countries across five continents, and well over a quarter of a million members, FIA is a powerful global force. Equity’s General Secretary is a Vice President of the Federation, and Equity has played a leading role since jointly founding the Federation in 1952 with our French sister union. Over 70 years, FIA has brought together unions in an almost unique way – it is one of the few trade union federations which has always proudly accepted unions from any region of the globe, and both capitalist and communist countries.

FIA’s plays a critical role in the lobbying of international institutions like the International Labour Organisation (ILO), European Union (EU), and the United Nations (UN). Secondly, FIA brings together unions to ensure co-ordination and support on issues of global concern, particularly against global producers and engagers.

In recent years, FIA’s successes have included the agreement of the Beijing Treaty on performers’ rights, the introduction of a Dance Passport to help dancers in Europe access services from all unions, and fighting bad practice by global streamers. Equity is leading on work on Artificial Intelligence (AI), streaming agreements, new media, and the engagement of young members in their union structures.

Equity also has a long history of supporting and nurturing trade unions around the globe – from projects sponsored in Eastern and Central Europe to fight neoliberal rollbacks of rights through sharing skills with local arts & entertainment unions there, to a relationship in the early days of a Ghanaian performers union between 2005 and 2015.

Through FIA we have good relations with performer unions around the world, which are diverse in character – but in most corners of the globe we have an organisation we can reach out to for support when our members need it, and vice versa.

Strand 2: International Solidarity Committee

Equity founded an ‘International Solidarity and Aid Committee’ over 50 years ago. The committee was re-named ‘International Committee for Artist’s Freedom’ in 1978, and from 2024 will be known as the ‘International Solidarity Committee’. Taken together, all those names speak directly to the Committee’s purpose.

Over that time, the Committee has helped countless individual artists suffering oppression, persecution or hardship around the world, often in countries with no union to support them. The Committee helps artists who, if they were in the UK, would be eligible for Equity membership, but also organisations who support those working in the arts and entertainment industries in the most difficult circumstances. Their role is to help financially where they can, and to campaign publicly to bring attention to the plight of oppressed artists.

The Committee led successful international condemnation of the imprisonment of Burmese comedian Zarganar in 2012, leading to his eventual release. They have funded theatre projects across Africa and the Middle East. The Committee led the way in the 1970s and 80s by calling out oppression by fascist regimes in Latin America – and continues to do so to this day. Recently, the Committee has been supporting Ukrainian artists who have found themselves in the UK due to the conflict.

From 2024, the Committee will no longer have to rely on donations and bequests alone, and instead will receive £10,000 a year of central funding from the union to support their activities. They will also have a more direct role in advising the Council on international issues and campaigns, and foster our links with solidarity campaigns of which we are a part.

Strand 3: Global Trades Unionism & Human Rights

Equity is also proud to fight for the rights of all trades unionists everywhere – and has done since 1930. The earliest Equity meetings had collections for the republican cause in Spain, and our first General Secretary and second President were actively involved in supporting the resistance to fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

One of Equity’s greatest contributions was our boycott of apartheid South Africa between the 1970s and 1990s. As a former British colony, South African television and film was dominated by British content, and was practically shut down overnight. This was a fight not solely for the rights of those who would be Equity’s members, but for justice across South African society.

Today, Equity is proud to be a trade union affiliate to Amnesty International, and country specific campaigns in countries like Colombia and Burma/Myanmar. We play our role at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in supporting trade union solidarity globally, particularly on the equalities agenda. Attacks on LGBTQ+ rights are rising globally, and Equity is at the forefront of fighting the rise of the far right who stoke division on a global scale. Through Amnesty, the TUC and other campaigns we are fighting back against attacks on disabled people, women, Black workers, and trades unionists of every background.

When does Equity take up an international cause?

Equity takes up an international cause where:

  • Council or Conference has adopted a specific policy to do so
  • The International Solidarity Committee chooses to support an artist or organisation in line with their aims and objectives
  • Where a fellow FIA union in another country asks for our support
  • Where an organisation to which we are affiliated asks for our support, and it does not conflict with Council policy on the matter

Equity cannot take up every international cause, and our power and effectiveness comes from being a confident, industrially focussed trade union. To that end, we prioritise causes which are for those who would be our members if they live in the UK, and trade union freedom around the globe.

Around the globe