Equity at the 2012 TUC
17 September 2012
Media interest in the 2012 TUC in Brighton revolved around coordinated industrial action by public service workers and the debate on the TUC investigating the practicalities of a general strike, but a close runner up for column inches and air-time was Equity’s motion on organising in the fashion industry.
Dunja Knezevik (left), a member of the Equity delegation and a working model, was in great demand. She was interviewed in the Independent on Sunday, appeared live on political correspondent John Piennar’s BBC Radio 5 Live Sunday evening show, spoke live on five different BBC local radio stations on Monday and wrote a comment column for the Guardian on Tuesday. In addition, Equity’s campaign to get the high street stores to sign up to a code of conduct got coverage in Vogue, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the New York Magazine and the Belfast Telegraph.
Dunja spoke eloquently from the TUC rostrum of the gap between the public perception of modelling as beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in beautiful places and the real, unregulated fashion world of long working hours without breaks, been treated without respect, been denied suitable food, been photographed inappropriately without consent and being sexually harassed.
Sheila Bearcroft of the GMB union, herself a garment worker, seconded the motion making the link between the mistreatment of often very young models in the UK and the chain of child labour behind the fashion industry running from the cotton fields to clothes sweat shops. Shelley Asquith of Unite talked about the importance of trade union organisation and proper terms and conditions in an industry that attracted so many young girls and boys to aspire to work in it.
Equity’s second motion on freedom of expression was proposed by Rhubarb the Clown who told the TUC of Equity’s successful campaign for the release of Burmese comedian Zarganar, who had been sentenced to 59 years in prison for daring to criticise the Government’s handling of the aftermath of cyclone Nargis.
“I’m proud to have supported the campaign my union ran to secure Zarganar’s release and delighted to say that when I met him earlier this summer, I found that despite ill health, the death or exile of most of his close family and the continuing threat of prison, Zarganar uses his freedom and his talents to find ways to educate the world about the treatment of migrant workers in South East Asia and the continuing persecution of Burma’s minorities including the Royhinga,” he told delegates. Equity has also been campaigning on the murder of an Afghanistani actress, a British theatre producer jailed in Uganda for producing a play about gay life in the country, the jailing in Russia of members of the Pussy Riot collective and a comedian murdered in Somalia.
Natasha Gerson seconded BECTU’s motion on vulnerable workers, which incorporating Equity’s amendment about cuts to funding for drama education and the reduction in paid opportunities for young people. The motion called on the TUC to convene a campaign for new employment rights that tackles and discourages the abuses suffered by vulnerable workers. She said: “Young people setting out on the road to a career in the arts find that the only path they can afford to take is lined with the promises of unscrupulous employers offering short-term pain with the dubious incentive of long-term gain. In the professions we represent this often means that performers are asked to take part in projects for no, or at best low, pay with the ‘sweetener’ of being able to add their experience to their CVs.”
Christine Payne seconded the National Union of Journalists’ motion on BBC cuts which called on BBC director general George Entwistle to establish a new plan for the future of the BBC and called on government to stop using the BBC as a cash cow and ensure that the future of quality public service broadcasting is protected.
She told Congress that she was surprised to find herself in agreement with the Daily Telegraph which in August wrote about the Olympics coverage: “A national broadcaster, free from political influence and free from advertising, is a treasure we only really appreciate when it can be directly compared with its foreign counterparts.”
“For my members, the BBC is instrumental in nurturing and developing their talents – it gives them the opportunity to work with great material from new and established writers and to appear in high quality programmes that are only possible with the involvement of the best production and creative workforce in the world.
“In the Midlands, members are fighting hard to hang on to what is left of BBC Birmingham – they fear it will only be a matter of time before The Archers and the daytime drama “Doctors” are moved away from the region. 19% of the licence fee comes from the Midlands but by the end of 2012 less than 3% will be spent there.
“There is no doubt that these cuts will weaken the BBC and a BBC weakened by these cuts will be much more vulnerable to its enemies - enemies who have consistently argued for it to be privatised.”
Vidoes of all TUC 2012 speeches can be found here: http://www.congressvoices.org/congress-2012-archive-video/
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