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Equity Conference 2024 - Birmingham - 18-20 May

Equity members from across the UK came together from 18-20 May for our 2024 annual conference.

Equity delegates fight against pay cuts and compulsory redundancies at WNO

Equity members from across the UK came together in Birmingham’s majestic Town Hall from Saturday 18 - Monday 20 May for our 2024 annual conference. 

The event was the best attended Equity conference ever, with the largest number of women and non-binary speakers and the most diversity of speakers and attendees yet seen at an Equity conference.  

As well as 109 reps, 22 Equity councillors and 30 other members, guests had travelled from 15 countries across six continents, including visitors from Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Palestine.  

Members left conference feeling enthused and emboldened for the work ahead. Conference was a time to celebrate the many victories that our members have achieved over the past year, but also to reflect on the struggles to come as we continue to make the entertainment industry a better place to work for everyone. 



Paul W Fleming, General Secretary, addresses conference
Paul W Fleming, General Secretary, addresses conference



Conference began on Saturday afternoon with welcome addresses from our President, Lynda Rooke, and General Secretary, Paul W Fleming. The General Secretary gave his unbiased assessment that this was “the conference of the best union in the best city in the best region in the world”.


Thangam Debbonaire MP
Thangam Debbonaire MP addresses conference


Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire MP was the first guest speaker of the weekend, she delivered a rousing speech to conference telling delegates that “You tell the story of who we are as a country. You bring us face to face with our contradictions. You document our successes”.

On Saturday afternoon the important work of conference business got underway. The first motion was submitted by the Race Equality Committee and related to Arts Council England’s (ACE) warning that ‘political statements’ made by individuals linked to organisations can cause ‘reputational risk’, breaching funding agreements. 

Conference carried the motion which asked Council to call upon national arts funding bodies, and the Charity Commission, to make it conditional that funded arts institutions, and individuals working within them, are allowed full range of political expression. 

The motion was particularly timely considering recent revelations that ACE’s risk guidelines were formulated in relation to the Israel-Gaza conflict. 

We then saw a motion from the LGBT+ Committee which was carried following an excellent speech in favour. The motion detailed instances of harassment at work, such as the menacing actions aimed at Drag Queen Story Hour. The motion called on Council to develop political education resources for Equity members and consider how Equity can contribute to the wider anti-far-right movement.

On Saturday evening we honoured our overseas guests at an International Reception in the Town Hall. We welcomed guests from Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Estonia, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Palestine, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, and USA.


Six young international visitors attend the international reception
Visitors from FIA Future Now at the International Reception


Al Vincent Jr., Executive Director of Actors Equity from the USA, told us how workers in Disneyland were balloting to join a union for the first time, delegates sent solidarity greetings to our sisters and brothers in the USA and were delighted to learn later that the ballot was overwhelmingly successful. 


Al Vincent Jr., Executive Director of Actors Equity
Al Vincent Jr., Executive Director of Actors Equity


The most moving speech of the night was from Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society’s Abdelfattah Abusrour, who called on artists to stand in solidarity with Palestinians facing injustice. Abdelfattah asked “How many more lives should disappear, how many artists should disappear, before we realise…Not in our name. Not under our watch as artists”.


Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society
Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society



The second day kicked off with a speech from Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana. Zarah’s inspirational words resonated with our members as she told the hall: “Let’s build a better brighter world where arts and entertainment are accessible to all, and every single person has the opportunity to reach their potential”.


Zarah Sultana MP addresses conference
Zarah Sultana MP addresses conference


We were then privileged to hear from Marie Kelly from ACTRA National, which represents 30,000 recorded media performers in Canada, on their successful battle for collective agreements in commercials.


Marie Kelly from ACTRA National
Marie Kelly from ACTRA National


An emergency motion to provide all support that is required for a campaign to stop cuts and redundancies to the Welsh National Opera (WNO) chorus passed unanimously. The motion also reiterated that the union ‘will not accept compulsory redundancies, or the desire by WNO management to have the flexibility of a full-time contract with all the precarity of an unsustainable cut to their basic earnings’.

Conference then considered a motion to be taken to the 2024 TUC Congress. The motion noted that whilst it is illegal to charge upfront fees for work-seekers in most industries, the performing arts and entertainment industries are exempted from this ban. Equity delegates will call on the TUC to support the repeal of this unfair exemption and call for casting directory fees to be borne by producers, not workers.

The fringe

On Saturday afternoon 14 fringe events took place, making this the largest ever fringe programme. 

Highlights included hearing how trade unionists are fighting for Justice in Colombia, a discussion on building union and student power, and the General Secretary’s guide to Equity’s radical history. 


Four panellists sat at a table at a Justice for Colombia fringe event
Justice for Colombia fringe event


Honorary Life Memberships

One of the highlights of conference is the awarding of Honorary Life Memberships, the union’s highest honour. This year awards went to Abdelfattah Abusrour, director of Alrowwad; Viv Parry, Equity Stage Committee; Yukiko Masui, dance activist; and Tonia Daley-Campbell, Equity Midlands Councillor. 


Viv Parry, Yukiko Masui, Tonia Daley-Campbell, Abdelfattah Abusrour (HLM recipients) join Lynda Rooke (President)
Viv Parry, Yukiko Masui, Tonia Daley-Campbell, Abdelfattah Abusrour (HLM recipients) join Lynda Rooke (President)



The final day of conference saw further motions and powerful speeches. It was particularly inspiring to hear from so many young members and first-time delegates. 

A motion carried from the Student Deputies Committee asked Council to actively campaign for the abolition of student tuition fees, a return of maintenance grants and more funding opportunities for lifelong learning. This resonated with delegates given the devastating lack of working-class representation in the creative industries.


Joshua Bendall, Student Deputies Committee
Joshua Bendall, Student Deputies Committee


Conference also passed a motion from the West End Deputies Committee which called on Council to campaign for a change in the law so that those who work six days a week accrue extra leave for that sixth day, pro rata. This change will benefit workers across the UK, furthering the cause of a just work-life balance for all.

Delegates left Birmingham tired but inspired. We left with hope in our hearts that together we will build better performing arts and entertainment industries and, with our international comrades, we will create a world in which art and social justice can thrive for all. 

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