11 September 2020
Equity, like any trade union, exists to challenge and change the structures of work and society which oppress any and all working people; those barriers which counter our members’ professional interests. Throughout our history there have been many moments we can be proud of when we have acted in pursuit of that aim, but it is folly to pretend that Equity’s mission as a trade union has made us immune from the prejudices and structures of the society in which we exist. A lot of things have gone wrong - from our founding in 1930 right through to 2020.
Racism attacks the lives of our Black sisters, Black brothers and Black siblings. It attacks our sisters, brothers, and siblings of colour. It is not a beast of their creation, and can only be tackled with true allyship from those who benefit from it. As a white trades unionist, racism is my problem to fix, listening to what Black and Ethnically Diverse voices are saying now, and have been saying for generations past. I will do this trying as hard as I can to be cognisant of my own witting and unwitting prejudices- and those of the union which our workforce needs.
As I start my term as General Secretary, I don’t want to just apologise for or acknowledge the problems. I want to apologise for, acknowledge and fix the problems. We can only tear down the structures which oppress Black members and members of colour - whether within our workplaces or our society - if the union is fit for that fight. In the coming months I will work to change Equity’s structures to make us actively anti-racist. To build a union our Afro-Caribbean, African, South Asian, East/Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and all Ethnic Minority members can be truly proud of. We will do this through open engagement with our members wherever they are. We will do this knowing that it’s not ‘job done’ until all members who experience racism can be confident that we’ve built the society and world of work which they have always been entitled to.
I want to record my particular gratitude to the members and activists who have pushed us to do better, have stuck with Equity to make us better, and have engaged with such passion and generosity. This includes the Independent Commission for Race Equality who are currently identifying, in an uncompromising way, how, where and when the union has and does behave in a way which falls short of our principles.
Despite this, current and former committee members, councillors, deputies, branch officers and activists have worked loudly, and quietly, to make Equity a union which truly includes them. Our most recent Race Equality Committee had one of their most productive periods ever, with tireless work to improve opportunities for UK based Black artists and artists of colour, pressing for real strategies to increase work and opportunities for British East/Southeast Asian artists and driving a new approach to monitoring. When their union has not supported any members or activists in the way they’ve needed, whether wittingly or unwittingly, I am sorry.
To Black, Asian, and Ethnically Diverse artists who have left, or never joined, I commit that we will build a union you can trust. When we have earned that trust, your membership will make Equity so much stronger for every working person in our industry and in our society.
Our union believes three things: All working people have the right to be artists. All artists have the right to a dignified life at work. The cause of labour is the hope of the world. We cannot live these things if we leave Black artists and artists of colour behind. Allyship cannot just be asserted, Equity and I will fight to earn that status.
Paul W Fleming
General Secretary-Elect, Equity